We go behind the scenes of the latest F&B openings to find out the highlights and challenges faced.
Within a span of three months, Ah Mah Homemade Cake has sprouted 10 mall kiosks across the island—in Bukit Panjang, VivoCity, JCube, Paya Lebar Square, Bedok Mall, Plaza Singapura, White Sands, Seletar Mall, Tiong Bahru Plaza and City Square Mall.
The woman who brought the Malaysian egg sponge cake brand to Singapore is CEO Serene Ang, 40, who also owns a Taiwanese chain, Snackz It! 可口味, with 11 outlets in Singapore, six in China and one in the Philippines.
We chatted with her to find out what she thinks about the viral expansion of Ah Mah in Singapore and how she accomplished it.
Tell us about your career before Ah Mah.
My background is in accountancy. In 2003, I didn’t want to continue, so I started a Vietnamese and Thai food outlet in Plaza Singapura. Unluckily, my startup was quite affected by SARS and bird flu. I converted it in 2005 to a Taiwanese concept, Snackz It! 可口味, which is more mass market. The brand grew gradually and there are now 11 outlets in Singapore, seven overseas.
How did Ah Mah come about?
I got to know Ah Mah in April through a business friend. I saw the queues in Malaysia and thought maybe I could bring it to Singapore. But another brand, Le Castella, opened much faster than me and was creating quite some hype. My strategy was, if I cannot be the first, then I want to win in terms of numbers. I improved on what I think they didn’t do. We made sure our staff is trained, our supply chain is very reliable, and our product is consistent in terms of quality and presentation. We were prepared to manage long queues and by June I had an expansion plan.
What challenges did you face?
It was tough looking for a kiosk because it’s so competitive, but my many years of experience and networking with landlords, not owing a single day of rent, made it easier. Another challenge was finding people to bake the cakes, because it’s very labour-intensive. Everything is done on-site—no humans, no cakes. With the volume we’re doing, every stall needs about four bakers.
Describe the success of Ah Mah in Singapore. Did you expect it?
It was overwhelming from the first day in mid-July. I was expecting it to be a success but not to that extent, partly because I didn’t expect a location like Bukit Panjang Plaza to receive that much hype. When I first chose it, everyone told me, “Don’t start there.” On the whole, my stalls are selling at least 400 cakes a day and serving at maximum capacity. My Malaysian business partner was so surprised at how well the brand is doing here that he’s following us and opening some mall outlets.
How will you prevent Ah Mah from becoming just a fad that fades?
To be honest, the queues will eventually die down, but you don’t need a queue to be profitable in my business, because the demand is limited by supply. And I also know the selling point of this brand: freshly baked. Is it a food fad? No, because freshness never dies. That’s how I see it.
What future plans do you have for Ah Mah?
I want to make Ah Mah an everyday stall that people turn to whenever they want a fresh cake. I love the queues, but my goal is for customers to get their cakes within 10 minutes. That’s why I need to strategically space out my stalls. I don’t want to expand too much; I have a target of 15 stalls. I am also eager to expand to Cambodia and Indonesia in October or November.