In this series of light-hearted interviews, BiTES celebrates homegrown food companies headed by its next generation of family members. We get a glimpse of the stories behind the brands and the personalities in the boss’ seat.
Your maternal grandfather Say Lip Hai is Jack’s Place founder. What memories do you have of him?
It was a tradition to have dinner with my family every Friday. I am one of 11 grandchildren, and three of us work at the company, but there was never any pressure to join. He was generous and gave us pocket money on school holidays to have treats at McDonald’s. I hear stories from my aunt about how much he cared for his customers. When there was a long queue at the original Killiney outlet, he would drive his old car over and offer to take them to the second outlet (also in Orchard, at Yen San building). He didn’t want them to leave.
When did you start working at Jack’s Place?
(laughs) Since 16 years old, I would help wait tables wherever they needed me. I joined in 2002 as a management trainee after graduating from Deakin University with a Bachelor of Commerce and was involved in the first rebranding in 2003. Currently I’m chief corporate officer overseeing human resource and administration, marketing accounts, information technology and facilities.
What’s it like working with your family?
The best thing is we grew up together and now we work as a team to foster the brand. The third generation is around the same age and we have a strong bond where we can trash out any issues.
What is your strongest skill?
People management. I am able to understand people’s characters, needs and empathise with them. At this year’s staff awards, we had more than 10 staff who have served 25 years with the company. We’re a family- oriented company, and our company D&D is held on the first day of Chinese New Year–this was a tradition passed down by my grandfather as some staff had difficulty returning to their homes during the holidays.
Are you active on social media?
I joined LinkedIn recently, and I have Facebook and Instagram (@guess_jas) but I rarely post.
What do you do to de-stress?
I have been playing soccer every Sunday for 10 years. My position is midfielder.
What kind of food did you grow up eating?
Hainanese dishes cooked by my grandmother. I personally love her Hainanese style beef stew–we tried to recreate it, but it didn’t work. Maybe it doesn’t have grandma’s TLC!
What do you cook at home?
I don’t usually cook. I made dinner for my wife once, with steak, chicken and sides–but it was part of my practice for my Advanced Culinary Placement diploma from At-Sunrice. If we cook at home, it’s usually a barbeque which is easy–I can purchase meats for the grill like steaks and satay from the company, and add on desserts and beverages to complete the meal.
Favourite food trend?
The trend now is for companies to go into collaborations, which is why we have one with Udders ice cream and Smitten coffee. Together, we are bigger and stronger. Udder has created an exclusive mango pomelo ice cream for us, which amplifies our signature mango cake dessert.
Where do you eat out at?
I usually eat at restaurants similar to Jack’s Place to do competitor surveys; Western and Japanese restaurants like ours, and old brands too.
The brief story of Jack’s Place
Say Lip Hai arrived in Singapore from Hainan island and started as a cookboy with the British troops in Sembawang. He learnt to prepare the perfect roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and launched his first restaurant, Cola Restaurant and Bar in 1967 at Jalan Legundi, Sembawang. In 1968, Lip Hai took over the whole kitchen operations of Jack Hunt’s pub in Killiney Road. That led to the birth of Jack’s Place Steak House, which he bought from Jack in 1974 when the expatriate returned to the U.K..
The family built their headquarters at Defu Lane. Jack’s Place restaurants continued to thrive and weathered the mad cow disease crisis in 1996-1997.
Lip Hai passed away in 2009, by which time the third generation comprising cousins Jason Ong, Jerry Lim and Alvin Say had joined the company as directors. The Jack’s Place brand was refreshed in 2003 and in 2014. Halal brand Eatzi Gourmet was launched in 2006, and Japanese restaurant Hoshigaoka was acquired in 2010.
New brand extension Jack’s Cola Café was established, featuring popular Jack’s Place cakes and pastries, pies, and a retail concept which sells Jack’s Place marinated steaks, sauces, craft beers and boutique wines. The group also bagged the RAS Epicurean Star Award 2015 with Champion the third-generation management (Western Professional Category), Silver award (Western Aspiring Category) and Finalist for EXSA Super Star Award (Restaurant Manager, Rex).
Jack’s Place celebrates its 50th anniversary.