Mark Lee and Daniel Ong show Singaporeans two perspectives on facing the crisis as a restaurateur.
Singapore’s food and beverage industry has seen a sharp decline in business even before Circuit Breaker measures were put in place. With the usual lunch hour foot traffic now confined at home thanks to new work-from-home policies, restaurants in the central business district have been feeling the pinch in their revenues and overhead expenses.
Enter Mark Lee and Daniel Ong
Celebrity-turned-entrepreneur stories are common in Singapore, but not all restaurateurs who bank on their fame to gain customers are the same.
Mark Lee, a former comedian with Mediacorp who has had his fair share of life challenges (his daughter has been diagnosed with a rare illness) was also fighting the challenges raised by COVID-19. A report from TODAY said his two chicken-rice restaurant branches were faced with 60%-70% less revenue when the threat of coronavirus first reached Singapore and his regular customers had to stay at home.
While he initially had two outlets for his restaurant 13 Stages, his chicken rice-and-coffee eatery chain at Tanjong Pagar’s Guoco Tower had to close and he is now down to just his Kallang Wave Mall branch. He has not retrenched any of his workers.
Daniel Ong, as previously reported by Alvinology, had to close down two of his 3 Rookery branches as foot traffic in the Central Business District was nil. He also had to lay off 27 workers and said in his Instagram posts that he needed support for his business as well as relief from rent.
Daniel, an ex-Mediacorp DJ, went into entrepreneurship in the F&B industry but began to post about the hardships of the business on March 28.
Comedian vs DJ? Chicken rice vs western food? Pivot vs entitlement?
The difference between the two entrepreneurs could not be more stark when it came to facing the COVID-19 crisis and how it devastated their industry.
According to a report from TODAY, Mark had yet to lay off any workers, and was instead focusing on a quick pivot to delivery services for his business. He said that focusing on one branch that was quickly transformed to cater to delivery orders only was what mitigated the losses.
The report said, “My business is still doing fine. It has been catching up — we’re now looking at a 20% to 30% drop from (our usual business volume) instead of 60%. But it can’t compare to the past,” he told 8days.sg.
Mark was candid but blunt about the difficulties, even with his stake in other industries like wellness and grooming. He mentioned that his ownership in a separate salon and barber venture was also in trouble, but he isn’t hopeless.
He added, “This is a problem everyone in F&B is facing, and it’s a matter of reacting quickly. Sometimes you don’t even have time to think. You just do it.”
The report also featured Mark’s wife, who allegedly made some deliveries herself, with one order amounting to $1,000 for one condominium!
Daniel, on the other hand, had been complaining on social media about the abysmal outlook for F&B businesses, and even bared the costs of operating his business. He mentioned how he needed $25,000 for overhead expenses as well as an additional $40,000 to pay his workers.
In an Instagram post on March 28, Daniel said, “Can you be on the other side for once? I’m pleading. Because past these next few weeks… We are all not going to make it. Defaults at 50% or more. It’s dire now. And we can’t wait for two weeks for an email reply for you to check with your bosses…we are going down now. Now.”
As for pivoting to a delivery service business model, he instead urged his customers to call the restaurant directly instead of using third party platforms to order as his revenues are not the same if they do the latter.
CapitaLand, who allegedly owns the propertry that Lee rents out, reportedly waived a few months’ rent, for which Daniel was very grateful.
Netizens, however, were not happy with his pleas as they alleged his social media posts were still showing a lavish lifestyle and luxury cars. They mentioned that they would not listen to his words until he sold some of his alleged belongings like the luxury cars seem in his posts. His wife recently posted about an abstract painting she created with her daughters.
Singapore’s Circuit Breaker measures have put a stop to in-store dining, and only allow delivery and take-out services. People who want to take-out food also have to bring their own containers.
It is boils down to a case of looking at a glass of water and deciding if it is half full or half empty. Be like Mark Lee, not Daniel Ong. Both are very successful businessmen who have achieved amazing business successes before the Covid-19 pandemic hits and it is likely they will continue to be successful in their own ways. However, in times of hardship, optimism and positivism is what differentiate a great businessman from a mediocre one.