We go behind the scenes at the latest F&B openings to find out the highlights and challenges faced.

Among the three Uncle Leong Seafood restaurants, the one at Waterway Point may seem like the odd one out. Not only is it the only branch located in a mall, it also goes by a slightly different name—Uncle Leong Signatures. We talk to 34-year-old owner Ben Soon to find out why.

Tell us how Uncle Leong Signatures came about.

The first Uncle Leong Seafood was at an Ang Mo Kio zi char coffeeshop. Then the landlord told us we had to move out, so we shifted to our Punggol East branch [run today by my brother Jeff]. A few months after, my brother Roy set up the second one at Toa Payoh. When I told my dad that I wanted to set up my own, he gave me the chance to be independent and run my own business.

What makes Uncle Leong Signatures different?

We have our own signature dishes, and a wider variety. Every section of the menu has at least one signature, so that we can differentiate from the other Uncle Leong branches.

How did you develop these signatures?

I discuss with the chef and give him ideas, tell him what dish I want. And we will conduct food tastings, then fine-tune and improve the dish. For example, spicy hor fun is one of our signatures. I like to eat hor fun. I also like black beans and eggs, so I asked my chef to create a hor fun with these ingredients.

Tell us about the décor here.

You can feel the café ambience, which suits the shopping mall atmosphere. I recently set up an al fresco area in the back [facing Punggol Waterway]. I have customers who after a meal can sit there for hours, drinking and chatting.

What difficulties did you face in the beginning?

I hit a lot of walls. It’s very tough to set up a restaurant from an empty shell. All my staff was new at the start. They didn’t have much time to learn as we were rushing to open the restaurant. Every day we kept receiving complaints from customers. But after I had a meeting and talked to my staff, they improved tremendously and started to learn from each other.

What are you most proud of at Uncle Leong Signatures?

That my staff feel that they are not just workers, but part of the family. All of them treat me like I’m their eldest brother. When there are mistakes, I will tell them and ask them to learn, so that they can improve.