Alumni Alumni Stories Starting a Business to Bring In Indonesian Flavour to Singapore

Starting a Business to Bring In Indonesian Flavour to Singapore

Starting a Business to Bring In Indonesian Flavour to Singapore

Nabila Cholida, our Bachelor of Business (Majoring in Management and Marketing) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) alumna, shares her success story about Papa Ayam - the first Ayam Geprek brand in Singapore, and what inspired her to pursue her entrepreneurship journey.

Nabila Cholida Papa Ayam

What are you up to right now?

Right now, I am working on the third branch of my restaurant chain in Singapore — Papa Ayam. This pandemic has taught business owners to adapt to changes. So, my partner and I are experimenting on a new concept, which is to open a cloud kitchen with takeaway and deliveries being our focal point. We are also franchising the brand, so I have plenty of meetings with potential franchisees.

Can you tell us more about your current business and what makes you decide to venture into this business?

Living miles away from home has taught me how to survive on my own — it can be as simple as cooking for myself. Since I came to Singapore to study, my mother trained me to cook over the phone and gave me recipes over our chats. After I graduated from JCU back in 2018, I wanted to start my own business because it gives me a sense of freedom to work on my own, along with financial freedom. One day, I realised that there was a dish that was trending all over Indonesia, but it was not yet in Singapore, called Ayam Geprek. Locals might assume it is similar to Ayam Penyet, but it’s a whole different concept. So, I decided to team up with my best friend, who is now my partner and husband. He had experience working in commercial kitchens and also a degree in Accounting from JCU. So, we decided to divide our responsibilities so that I would do the marketing and hiring (HR), while he focused on operation management and reporting. We did a lot of research for the recipes, target markets, locations, and even fundamentals such as how to incorporate a company in Singapore. Then, in late 2018, we incorporated Papa Food Singapore Pte. Ltd., and in February 2019 our first Papa Ayam (our brand) outlet opened in 313@Somerset, becoming the first Ayam Geprek brand in Singapore. Our concept is one-of-a-kind, as we make the sambal (chilli sauce) traditionally by mortar and pestle in front of the customers. The sambal comes with a range of spiciness from level 1-15. This is how we make sambal in Indonesia, especially in my hometown. Thus, I find it joyful to be able to share how Indonesians traditionally make sambal. It is a new concept that is not yet offered anywhere in Singapore. We are glad that it is accepted by locals who are spice lovers and non-spicy eaters alike. With the great support from our customers and our team, currently we have three branches in Singapore and one franchise outlet.

If you could highlight one memorable experience in your entrepreneurship journey/ experience so far, what would that be?

The initial stage of my entrepreneurship journey has become one of the most unforgettable. Though there are many types of capital, what we needed the most at that time was money. We obviously tried to get capital from investors, but nobody had faith in us except our parents. We were new to starting a business, so that’s fair.

Then, my father supported us mentally and financially, even though my family’s financial condition wasn’t good at the time because my mother got diagnosed with cervical cancer (she is doing fine now). It was tough, but that moment is the reason I keep moving forward. I do have bad days or times I feel like giving up, but that stage of my journey reminds me why I started this.

What are some of the lessons learnt or challenges faced? How do you feel studying at the Singapore campus of James Cook University has helped you in your career?

Starting a business is challenging but starting a business in foreign country is a different level of challenge. So, I believe that we have to be aware of the political, economic, and social conditions of a country where we are going to conduct a business in. I had one subject in my study at JCU, Singapore about this, and I can finally relate to how crucial it is, as it's going to impact the business in many ways. I also find it very challenging to hire, especially in the service industry. Admittedly, in real life, there is no exact theory from the textbooks that I can really apply, but the case studies I did during my study have helped me to find a better approach in hiring and maintaining employees.

What do you miss the most about your time at JCU?

To be honest, I miss almost everything! JCU’s student hub where my friends and I spent most of our time having group discussions, rushing for submissions, and studying for exams. I have fond memories of winning best projects in the MDP (Multidisciplinary Project) & applied research at the Convergence conferences. We worked hard for the research projects and spent a lot of time together.

I also miss IndoJCUS. I was a member of the executive committee back then, and we arranged many events together. To be honest, I miss the moments when we showed that we care for each other, just as simple as sharing tolak angin (Indonesian traditional medicine) when we needed it. It was lovely.

What would be your advice for current students?

Enjoy your time in JCU! Attend and pay attention to each class. You never know what information in class might be useful to you one day. Surround yourself with people who have positive energy and are supportive towards you. I believe it's good for your mental health.

When you feel like giving up, just remember your privilege to study at JCU Singapore. So don’t waste this opportunity; make use of it.

So, what's next for you?

My current focus is to expand the brand and franchise it. When we are ready, we would love to diversify the business.

I also plan to pursue doctorate study when I am ready. It is a long way to go but I would love to have a “Dr.” in front of my name.

Lastly, JCU's strategic intent is ‘Creating a brighter future for life in the tropics world-wide through graduates and discoveries that make a difference’. How do you think you have made (or are making) a difference?

Well, to make a difference for others we should first make a difference in ourselves. I was 19 when I had to lead team members that were mostly older than me. Leadership is trained, so I trained myself to be a leader that empowers my team.

After a year of operations, we are confident to franchise the brand. In early 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic started to grow, our first franchisee, who was an ex-Singapore Airlines flight attendant, came on board. I am glad that they made a profitable outlet and developed it further. I am grateful to help them.

Apart from building more brand awareness, our objective to franchise the brand is to give a platform to others who have passion in F&B and/or for aspiring entrepreneurs who do not know where to begin. Intensive training and continuous support will be given so that they are confident to run their own Papa Ayam outlet. A bigger store means that a bigger team is needed, allowing us to create more job opportunities for locals and support the economy as we make a meaningful difference to the lives of others.