Wes alum urges support for globally hard-hit restaurant business

I’m Luke Pang, a 2010 Singaporean Freeman scholar. I double majored in Neuroscience and Psychology at Wesleyan, and upon graduating, decided to postpone my medical school studies to explore the culinary world.

I worked in the kitchen in Convivio and Ciano in New York City for a year, and upon deciding to commit to the culinary world once and for all, went to Cornell to pursue my Master’s in Hospitality. I joined Les Amis group in Singapore and moved through various functions – revenue management, operations and franchising. Currently I’m the Director of Operations for Singapore and Hong Kong for Saladstop, a Singaporean salad chain that started 10 years ago. We are present in the South East Asian region through 60 outlets in 9 markets. It has, and continues to be a wonderful and scary journey. All of this would not have been possible without Professor Alice Hadler’s wonderful class on food that I took in my sophomore year and the wonderful support of my family.

 Singapore has steadily taken steps to curb the progress of the Covid 19 virus, and recently, the government introduced a month-long circuit breaker. Basically a “soft” lockdown, 80% of businesses will have their employees work from home and visits to one another’s houses are banned. We can still go to the supermarket and to restaurants, but all meals have to be consumed at home. The main aim of this circuit breaker is to reduce transmission of the virus. Although a recent cluster within the immigrant workers dorms has led to cases jumping by 1400+ on 21st April, I am pretty confident the spread of the virus is being handled with a tight grip through active swab testing and strict control measures. The Singapore government has also injected a large sum of money to keep businesses afloat and employment rates from soaring. 

While local Singaporean cases have fallen quite quickly, the restaurant industry that I am in has taken a huge hit. 

Human traffic has dropped by 80-90%, and revenues have plummeted in tandem. As a company, we had to undertake severe cost cutting measures (unpaid leave, pay cuts etc) and we will have to part ways with a good number of our team during this difficult period. Malaysia, our neighbor whom we depend on for labor and supplies within the restaurant industry, has instituted a Movement Control Order (MCO). Another name for a lockdown, this prevents Malaysians from crossing the border daily into Singapore for work. This has caused a large number of Malaysians to lose their jobs, and for those Malaysians who have chosen to stay in Singapore to earn a living, an increasing cost burden. As Singapore does not have its own agricultural land and depends on its neighbors for food imports, we have had to make preemptive decisions to ensure business continuity. Landlords (Singapore is home to a large number of Real Estate Investment Trusts) have been very resistant to adjusting rents in tandem with the drop in traffic, and this will be a continuous discussion that tenants like us will have with them.

While we weather this period as best as we can through creative topline generating and cost-saving measures, I am constantly reminded of 

1) how interdependent our economies are and,

2) how we are responsible for the livelihood of the team, just as how they contributed their time to building the business

Many of my industry friends are scrambling to help their retrenched workers find work in other growing industries e.g. food delivery/supermarkets/warehouse, or to place their affected workers in suitable short-term housing. The restaurant industry is primarily a people-centered business, and without them, this industry would disappear. Wherever you might be, please support your local restaurants as best as you can (food pick up, food delivery, cash vouchers etc). If you are holed up in your home under a lockdown or quarantine, there’s no better way to pass time than to eat your favorite meal from your favorite restaurant, and support them at the same time.

Wishing everyone the best of health, and to a quicker recovery of the economy as we all do our part!