A former cai png stall owner who screwed up badly recounts his personal trials and tribulations

Updated: Apr 12, 2020

To begin, a little about myself… My parents used to own a cai png stall. But I pretty much destroyed everything and I’ve been reprimanding myself ever since.

Here's my long story…

When I was still studying in primary and secondary school, I would spend most of my time at the coffeeshop where my parents ran their cai png stall. My mom, a brilliant cook, obviously did all the cooking; my dad, on the other hand, was in charge of serving customers and cashiering duties. He also took care of all accounting related affairs and filed the stall's annual tax returns.

To those who are wondering, running a cai png store can be a rather lucrative business, that being said it very much depends on the size of its customer base as well as variety of items folks routinely order. Typical 2+1 meals will net you about $0.30-0.50 or so profit-wise. Different vegetables yield different margins. For example, the cost of procuring sweet potato leaves is cheaper than that of kangkong. Unsurprisingly selling meat, and of course, fish dishes (usually dory is served) do bump up your bottom line significantly. Take note though quite a fair bit of preparation time is involved as far as fish is concerned– imagine having to debone, slice and cook them. Hence more often than not my parents feel inclined to procure deboned ones from wholesalers; they may cost a little extra no doubt, but a hell lot of time is saved in the kitchen.

Anyways, my family's cai png business fared pretty well since it was strategically located near bustling office and residential districts. Blue-collar workers usually ordered 2+1 set meals; white-collar workers typically opted for 3+1 set meals.

Additional reasons as to why our cai png business was profitable back then, as mentioned earlier, were my mom being a great cook – therefore her food was always top-notch and consistently tasty, not forgetting my father who was an extraordinary marketer and maestro at socializing. Introduce a stranger to him and they could end up becoming best pals chatting for hours. Because he was able to converse with others so darn well, customers could be quite easily coaxed into choosing the more expensive dishes or ordering greater quantities. He was indeed THAT good.

Those days we could afford to live in a landed property at Tanah Merah. My father drove a Mercedes Benz and we owned a separate van used for collecting groceries. In case you were wondering, yes, we purchased all them ingredients directly from the Pasir Panjang wholesale centre. We reckoned it was a lot cheaper than having to get our stuff from contracted suppliers who might further impose hefty delivery fees on top of things. My parents would therefore drive the van to Pasir Panjang every morning around 7-8am, then proceed forth to open the stall for business.

We would be closed on Fridays. Now you may ask, “What? Why Friday? Why not Sunday or Monday?” Because families usually eat out on weekends; and on weekdays (Mon-Thurs) since its business as usual for most we could expect plenty of blue and white collar workers during lunch and dinner hours. But on Friday, many rather ‘pig out’ elsewhere or savour heavier fare like western cuisine. Just to add, during most public holidays we remained opened (e.g: Hari Raya, Deepavali, Labour Day and so on). However we will definitely shutter during Chinese New Year's eve and the following 8 days.

Life was awesome back then. We were well-off. Me, being the only child in the family, received plenty of love and attention from my parents - put it simply I was utterly spoilt by them. They bought me whatever I wanted; When I was studying in a polytechnic, they gave me debit and credit cards for my personal use. I never thought twice about splurging on branded goods and thoroughly pampering my junior college girlfriend (we met at the library while I was doing research there btw). We frequently engaged in heavenly sex romps too - after all she was a libidinous nymph with one really hot, petite sexy body. During her school holidays, we even secretly vacationed in France.

Upon graduation, I did not feel the need to further my studies since I could just take over my parents' business. Deep down I harboured grand expansion plans, which included fulfilling franchising ambitions. Then again, everything had to be put on hold since I was called up for national service.

Fast forward one day, when I was in the army, my officer gave me the bad news… my father had passed away. I later learnt from my mom that he suffered a heart-attack when he went to the stall one early morning to get some accounting work done. He was only discovered lying unconscious on the floor after sometime by another stall owner. Sadly he didn’t pull through… I was just 1 month away from fully discharging my NS obligations. I expended all my compassionate leave alongside normal leave allowances until I ORD-ed just to care for my mom. She was so distraught by my father’s death she ended up being bedridden for weeks. Our stall remained closed for about 2 months in the meanwhile.

She finally found the strength to reopen the store for business. I would drive the van every morning to procure supplies from the Pasir Panjang wholesale centre and subsequently deliver them to the stall. On multiple occasions I witnessed my mom crying whilst cooking, so I would go over to hug and console her… I really loved my mom. She’s a very strong woman. At this point, I was so busy assisting her any residual thoughts of going for further studies went right out the window.