Monday, September 3, 2007

Heart Sell

2 Sep 2007, ST

More entrepreneurial students are learning the ropes about business first-hand

By Wee Jing Ting & Huang Xueling

IT IS the day before the submission of an important project. While her classmates are awake worrying about whether their projects are up to par, Shermeen Tan, 22, has another worry.

'Every night, I stay awake worrying that our drinks won't sell,' she confesses. The undergraduate at Singapore Management University (SMU) is one of the four bosses of Frujch, a cosy bar-cafe located at the university's School of Information Systems.

The spotlight was thrown on Frujch in January when it became the first bar - selling alcoholic cocktails and beer - to open at a local university.

Frujch is just one of seven student-run eateries that have opened in Singapore's tertiary schools over the past five years. Some, like Temasek Polytechnic's Top Table and Restaurant In The Square, were set up by the school so that their hospitality, tourism and culinary students - although not paid - could get a taste of working in a real restaurant.

Others, like Frujch and the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Munchie Monkey, were set up purely because of the students' interests and are operated as real businesses.

Miss Tan and her partners opened Frujch because they 'wanted a place to hang out in school', she says.

They invested about $15,000 in set-up costs, and now pay the university a subsidised rental fee.

Part of the charm of student-run eateries is that the food is as good as an average cafe, but prices are a lot cheaper.

For example, Munchie Monkey - which is a partnership with Itafest, the company that manages Italian restaurant chain Spageddies - offers crayfish arrabiata for about $5 cheaper than Spageddies.

While it is exciting to run your own business, says Miss Tan, it also takes a toll on your social life.

'We easily put in 30 to 50 hours a week at the bar, before school, after school and even sometimes on weekends. We basically have no lives now apart from the cafe,' says the final-year business student with a laugh.

But she is reaping plenty of rewards.

She adds: 'We didn't know anything about running a business, and had to start from zero. Suddenly you have to put all the theories that you learnt in class into application.'

Students Janice Tan, 20, and Faris Hakim, 18, both from Temasek Polytechnic (TP), the latest institution to open a restaurant, are just as grateful for their experience.

Faris, a second-year culinary student who worked at TP's Temasek Culinary Academy as a chef for a semester, believes that his stint at the restaurant will help him achieve his dream of becoming a food critic one day.

He says: 'Working in the kitchen will help me with writing later on, as I now understand the fine detail that is involved in the culinary arts.'

Mr Guy Hoh, deputy director of marketing and consultancy for Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre (Shatec), admits that customers are often sceptical about the quality of student restaurants.

But Shatec, the first institution to set up a student-run restaurant in the early 1990s and which currently has two Western restaurants - Charcoal in High Street and Rosette in Lloyd Road - aims to change this mindset through various marketing efforts and industry tie-ups.

Mr Hoh stresses: 'Customers should dine with a conscience, knowing that they not only enjoy quality food at good prices, but also that their patronage contributes to the students' learning. It's the next best thing to charity.'

Mr Chen Liang Cai, 24, who runs Munchie Monkey with four other undergraduates, says that he has not had any difficult customers yet.

He says most of their customers are usually understanding when the occasional hiccup occurs since they are students themselves.

Frujch's Tan also notes that hers is a safe business, run in school with lecturers to guide them and fellow students for customers.

She says: 'Running Frujch has definitely prepared me for when I want to set up a cafe in future.'


Are you being served?

LIFESTYLE checks out some student-run eateries:

National University of Singapore, Yusof Ishak House, Level 3, 31 Lower Kent Ridge Road
Tel: 6774-4940
Opens: 11am to 10pm, Mondays to Saturdays

A regular cafe decorated with many monkey soft toys. Sells Italian dishes, milk shakes and cakes

Price: From $2.95 for a Caesar salad to $8.95 for a baked rice

The Tourism @ Academy@Sentosa, 12 Artillery Avenue, Sentosa Island
Tel: 6377-7934
Opens: 11.30am to 2.30pm; closed on weekends and school holidays

With its dark wood furniture and warm lighting, this place feels homely enough to make you forget it was once part of the World War II British barracks in Sentosa. Sells Western food.

Price: $12.50 for a daily three-course set lunch

Singapore Management University's School of Information Systems, Stamford Road
Tel: 9386-7852
Opens: 11.30am to 10pm from Mondays to Thursdays; 11.30am to midnight on Fridays; closed during school holidays

The comfy sofas and beds coupled with dim lighting make for a good place to chill out after a hectic day in school. Sells beer and alcoholic cocktails along with some finger food.

Price: From $5 for a Tiger beer to $8 for an Erdinger. Grilled sandwiches for $3.90, nachos with cheese for $3.50, and salads from $3.20

Temasek Culinary Academy, Block 31, Level 3
Tel: 6780-6369
Opens: 11.30am to 2.30pm Closed on weekends and school holidays

Feels like a proper fine-dining restaurant, including the contemporary see-through glass panels that let you see everything the chefs are doing. Sells Western and Asian dishes.

Price: $10 for a three-course set lunch

Shatec (Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre), 64 Lloyd Road, off Killiney Road
Tel: 6325-5669
Opens: 8am to 10pm from Mondays to Saturdays

Appears to be a very posh, fine-dining restaurant but the great service makes you feel at ease instantly. Serves Western food.

Price: Set lunch, with a choice of either pan-fried duck breast or pan-seared seabass, is $16.90. Soups start from $5.50, while main courses like grilled salmon steak start from $22

1 comment:

Shermeen said...

Hello, just wanted to say thanks for putting this article up on your blog! Why? 'cause we were featured on it. hahaha. Do pop by frujch one day before April '08'cause we'll be closed for good after that! :) The reason is because we're graduating and thus, have to let go of the business.

Happy 2008!