Monday, January 27, 2014

The Stories Behind The Nurturing of Vegetarianism (1) -- Bamboo House

Ex-Bamboo House
Vegan Eatery @ Hougang
It has been quite a few years
since I had some update on this blog
about some exciting vegetarian endeavors
that I have been participating.

The past few years have been
awesomely hectic,
but also enriching, heart-warming and eye-opening.
While things now are taking a relatively slower pace,
I thought it's a good time to review together
some important events in retrospect.
This may also help clarify my mind
and reaffirm how things are going to evolve in the next steps =)

Japanese Private Dining
In 2011, I officially left academic biotech research
and started, along with two friends,
a small vegan restaurant, Bamboo House,
in Hougang, Singapore,

Given the financial education I had between 2008-2011,
I knew very well, that time wasn't an appropriate time
to start a F&B retail;
-- due to poor economy, and
especially healthy vegetarianism in Singapore
was still in the infancy stage.

However, I decided to plunge in,
to not just give it a try, due to curiosity,
but also and mainly,
to experience the true colours behind vegetarian F&B;
-- although the official explanation was that
Bamboo House could serve as supportive wing
to The Veg School which just started in 2011.

Also, the landlady of Bamboo House,
who was a Buddhist friend of mine,
offered a lower-than-market-rate premise rental,
along with other incentives
e.g. free rental of kitchen equipments, crockery, restaurant furniture etc..
It was worth taking the chance, amidst hostile weather towards vegetarian biz,
given the precious blessings from the landlady.

Bamboo House kicked started after very short 1.5months planning,
including minor renovation, recipe testing, minimal publicity
and pooling of relatively small capital (below SGD20k).

Business for Bamboo House wasn't rosy as expected,
from the every beginning.
The residents at Hougang were concerned about
the middle price range at Bamboo House
and skeptical about the taste of meatless diet,
with low salt, low sugar content, without any fried items...

One of Bamboo House partners left within the first month
due to her family pressure and prejudice that it was a wrong investment
and my stubborn resistance not to compromise
the way I design the menu and manage the restaurant...

The path became tougher, left with just Siaw Wei and I.
It took both us for about 6months to harmonise
upon external criticisms on the lack of food variety, location, pricing etc.

All throughout, Bamboo House couldn't breakeven every month.
We added a bit more variety, invested more money in marketing and publicity,
organised value-adding Holistic Meetup events to boost the crowd.
But we still couldn't close the loss gap.

We later noticed that it's mainly due to a very small vegetarian market in Singapore.
In order to boost our revenue to breakeven point,
we decided to adopt two strategies:
i. food delivery service island wide
ii. private dining program

Business revenue chalked up drastically and
the loss gap narrowed during the month
with bookings of food delivery and private dinings
and we were hopeful that we will eventually breakeven in another 1year..

However, our cash flow were soon running out.
Both Siaw Wei and I had been topping up every month
and certainly was concerned of digging deeper into our personal saving reserves.

I then started to talk to different private investors and big companies
to pull in fundings.

We were almost successful in convincing a private investor
who had a big heart for organic movement,
but in the end the investment didn't take place.
The reason given by the investor was that
I couldn't spend full time in Bamboo House
and was worried that Bamboo House will not run well without my supervision.

-- I was a bit ashamed of myself,
as that time, due to zero income from Bamboo House,
I indeed agreed to collaborate with an academy in Kuala Lumpur
to teach Nutrition courses.

With such agreement,
I would be spending most time in Kuala Lumpur,
and Bamboo House would have to be supervised
by an inexperienced staff (which the investor is not confident with)
-- Siaw Wei was still keeping her full time job then,
so, with my departure to KL,
she definitely couldn't handle Bamboo House alone.

Bamboo House eventually sustained for some 13 months
till the monthly cash top up hit our "stop loss".
Actually, without some small amount of funding from two good friends of mine,
Bamboo House would have closed earlier.

When Siaw Wei and I made the decision to close down Bamboo House,
we were still hopeful that Bamboo House will succeed
given a longer period of stabilisation.

We figured out food delivery and private dining were
two promising factors.
But funding was a critical issue.

At the juncture of renewing the rental contract with the landlady,
Siaw Wei and I were discussing whether we could adjust our stop loss,
but after putting in all factors in consideration,
especially when F&B was taking too much time to manage,
etching into Siaw Wei's family time, my teaching time at The Veg School
and avenues of basic income,
we had to close it.

Bamboo House is physically gone,
but the spirit is still around,
for the birth of Bamboo House had never been
an agenda of profiteering
but a mission to nurture vegetarianism in Singapore.

Up till today, consciously or subconsciously,
I tell people around me,
if ever anybody have the passion and a deep pocket
to start up a healthy vegetarian eatery
(and don't mind losing for a few years),
I am ever ready to be the consultant,
to transfer the experience, culinary skills and healthy recipes ^.^

For friends who had been supporting Bamboo House,
this is a deep down the heart expression of gratitude
to have allowed Bamboo House
to pull through the difficult times
to have a precious 13 months to learn and serve the vegetarian community!

All in all, Bamboo House had been a blessings!! ^.^

Kee Yew

. Bamboo House

{Learning Holistic Wellness for Wisdom and Compassion}


  1. great job. good effort. We appreciate your Love.
    Thank you very much.

  2. Good morning Mr. Wong.
    Keep up the good work!

  3. I remember visiting Bamboo for the first time and being greeted by your warmth and hospitality. To hear that it was closing down last year was really sad for me, as it was where I held my first workshop. :)

  4. Over the next few years the population in the north east (Sengkang, Punggol) will expand dramatically - my mum and I always end up travelling all the way to town to get healthy vegetarian. We hope to se Bamboo House return with simple, healthy dishes sometime in the future here in the north east area!!

  5. Hi friends, I would like to know
    1. What was your special memory/impressin about bamboo house?
    2. What kind of service and environment was given in bamboo house?
    3. What was your impression on bamboo house staff?
    4. Anything special about dishes?


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