Spirit of Enterprise
The Spirit of Enterprise (SOE) Awards is an annual affair celebrating prominent and promising entrepreneurs in Singapore. The organising institution, SOE, is a non-profit charity that aims to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurship through various programmes.
Given out at the SOE Awards Ceremony every year, the SOE magazine comprises the work of the organisation and stories of the winners of the SOE awards. I had the great pleasure of writing these stories through multiple interviews with entrepreneurs, student interviewers and the SOE Board of Governors.
Read past issues here.
SOE-Nexia TS Entrepreneur of the Year Award
As the smell of freshly roasted duck wafts through the restaurant kitchens and the servers smile politely and ask guests how their night is going, Dian Xiao Er has capped a reputation for being a stellar casual dining establishment offering authentic, healthy and enjoyable food at a mid price point.
In 15 years, Dian Xiao Er has expanded to include 12 outlets in Singapore and one in Shanghai—a feat made possible by the owners Mr Samuel Yik and his wife, Ms Eliza Gunawan. However, the couple did not begin their roots in the Food & Beverages industry. Mr Yik started his career as an auditor and accountant for six years before deciding to open an eatery selling traditional Singaporean food.
Despite the absence of professional culinary training, Mr Yik taught himself to prepare the dishes and sought innovative methods to approach the restaurant business. He purchased German ovens that allowed a flexible, convenient and hygienic cooking process, enabling consistency and increasing productivity without sacrificing quality. Dian Xiao Er’s distinctive herbal roasted ducks would come out tender on the inside, and crispy on the outside. In other words, delicious.
But modern technology did not save the company from hitting obstacles. Just two years into the business between 2003 and 2004, Singapore was hard hit by the SARS and Avian flu epidemics, and Dian Xiao Er saw a dip in their customer base. Despite the decline, the couple persisted, and brainstormed solutions to combat the downtrend.
From cooking up new dishes to offering a slew of promotions, Dian Xiao Er weathered the tumultuous period, and eventually business was back on its feet and doing better than ever. Over the years, Dian Xiao Er’s popularity grew, and Mr Yik saw an influx of customers and the number of outlets climbed to 12.
In 2016, Mr Yik decided to expand the establishment’s horizons to China, and it was not long before Dian Xiao Er Shanghai opened its doors to a new, but ardent market. Response was phenomenal. “Before the restaurant opens, there will already be queues forming outside the restaurant,” recalls Mr Yik.
Part of the couple’s triumph also lay in their management methods. Dian Xiao Er’s management group endeavours to provide their employees substantial career prospects, comprehensive staff welfare and competitive wages. The combination of these traits led Mr Yik to bag several prestigious awards, including the Singapore E50 Award (2016), the Epicurean Star Award (2013) and the Singapore Prestige Brand Award (2007).
This year, Mr Yik adds another accolade to his belt, the SOE-Nexia TS Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2017. The award is presented annually to a past SOE Honouree who has built strong growth for their company and demonstrated ingenuity and tenacity in their pursuit of excellence. When asked about the contributing factors of his entrepreneurial success, Mr Yik pauses for a moment. “Entrepreneurship is about having solutions for the wellbeing of the society, and having the optimism to propel through the hard times.”
Despite his well-found success in the region, Mr Yik aspires to grow Dian Xiao Er by entering international markets, with his sights set on cities like London, Sydney and New York. “I would like to make our Singaporean dishes renowned, so everyone around the world could get a taste of our food,” he shares.
With Mr Yik at the helm, there is no doubt that Dian Xiao Er will continue to make headway, and in time, the brand name will be synonymous with delicious Singaporean food everywhere in the world.