With the world suffering through a pandemic and economic recession, would you leave a stable, high-paying job you had held on to for more than 10 years to venture into something completely out of your depth?
Most people would reply with a resounding, "No".
Ishrat Deva, however, is not most people.
When I met the 38-year-old in a remote industrial area in Yishun, he was busy running around his beef noodles stall while customers lined up to order.
I couldn't help but notice that his stall was at least half the size of the other stalls.
But he seemed to be making up for it by working twice as hard.
As I soon found out, he's always had that dedication in him.
From nightlife to hawker life
Ishrat, who goes by the name Roy, was offered a part-time job at Zouk 12 years ago.
He worked his way up and eventually became an assistant manager at the company.
He told me his job "paid well" and was "chill".
Life, as it appeared, was going perfectly fine.
But in September 2020, Roy decided to take one of the biggest risks in his life.
He tendered his resignation and gave himself a deadline of one month to start something new.
"The reason I left Zouk is because I felt empty... like there's no job satisfaction. Especially during the Covid-19 period — the feeling got a bit more intense. So I took the opportunity to do something different. That’s why I started this shop."
Named after his beloved wife Suzana, Beefzana is located at #01-12 of a coffee shop at Block 2 Yishun Industrial Street 1.
The stall sells affordable beef noodle dishes and is open daily from 8am to 9pm.
A leap of faith?
As Roy went through the menu with me, he admitted that starting Beefzana was a leap of faith.
But that's an understatement. His was bigger than just a leap.
You see, Roy had zero cooking experience prior to Beefzana.
The only dish he could cook was sambal chicken. That's it.
So like any other sane person, I asked him: Why on earth did you open a beef noodle stall?
Roy replied: "I just wanted to do something different. Sometimes, when I go out to eat with my wife, I'll look at the stalls and think to myself, 'I could do that on my own'."
And so he did.
In the one month after he tendered his resignation, he taught himself to cook beef noodles by watching online tutorials.
Within that same month, Roy sourced for suppliers and equipment, rented a shop space, and created an entire menu — all by himself.
Next thing he knew, Beefzana was born.
"A lot of my friends were really shocked. 'Beef noodle? You can cook meh?' — they would give me that kind of reaction.
When I started out to do this, it was not fixed. It was just like a "let’s see what happens" kind of thing. First thing I did was to find a shop, and I found it. I told myself, 'If have, then okay. If don't have, then never mind.' Along the way, everything just happened within that short period of one month. So whatever I needed, I just got it. Slowly after a while, I started to feel more confident."
Opening day: Murphy's Law
On his very first day, however, things didn't go as smoothly as he would've wanted.
His noodle boiler station stopped working and the fuse caught fire.
"Anything that could have gone wrong basically went wrong lah," he said.
Roy also needed some time to get used to taking orders, preparing the food, and cashiering all at once.
On top of juggling those tasks, feedback on his food was polarising.
But Roy was not discouraged. In fact, he welcomed both compliments and constructive criticism.
However, the judgements weren't limited to criticism of his food.
"Not Muslim enough"
Roy, whose birth name is Arulmani S/O Devasayagam, was born a Christian.
He converted to Islam 12 years ago, prior to marrying his wife.
He never felt the need to explain or prove that he's a Muslim though.
Until last month.
A few days after Beefzana started, doubts about his faith spread among the customers and hawkers.
Roy admitted that he isn't the most religious person, and working at Zouk certainly didn't help refute those accusations.
When I asked Roy how the accusations emerged, he was hesitant to disclose the guilty party.
But he explained that his stall's halal status was the trigger point.
Although Beefzana is Muslim-owned and every ingredient that Roy uses is halal-certified, the stall itself isn't.
Roy had tried to apply for a halal certification but the process was a struggle for him.
"I tried to find out what was the requirement but I had to pay a lot of money that I already needed to set up the shop. I also had to go for a two-day course. At that point, I was busy preparing for the shop, I didn't have much time."
Thus, others began saying that Roy was "not Muslim enough".
When he heard those allegations, he knew he had to do something.
"In that moment, I was very pissed off. I really was. But I don't want to come here... first month, then fight with everyone. If you're not sure, just ask.
Why would I leave my well-paid job at Zouk to con people of their S$5.50? Just doesn't make sense."
Roy then decided to address this issue publicly on Beefzana's Facebook page.He explained:
"There was a few reasons why I made the post. I needed to do something because it will affect my business and I have people working for me also. It's not fair to them.
It also got me thinking... I'm here selling food to this community so I felt that it would be good if everybody knows who is this person and where is he from. If people want to buy food from me, I'm sure it will help if they know who I am."
Overcoming the odds to finally get here
As I continued chatting with Roy, I realised that there was a more profound reason as to why he stood his ground.
Growing up in a poor family with an abusive father, Roy struggled with his self-confidence.
He told me he stuttered a lot as a young boy and never thought he would amount to anything.
When he was 15, his parents left Singapore for India without explanation. They remain uncontactable till today.
Roy was left with his two brothers.
At that young age, he dropped out of school to do odd jobs as a cleaner, factory packer, production operator and a cashier.
His elder brother was not around often as he regularly went in and out of prison, so Roy took care of his younger brother, in the rented one-room flat where they lived.
Roy described the flat as "a place worse than the rubbish dump".
"We didn't clean the house and threw everything everywhere. We were just alone, nobody to look after us. We got into a lot of trouble, a lot of fights."
When he was 17, Roy was caught for housebreaking and had to stay in a boys' home for two years.
But when he got out, his circumstances remained the same. He served the mandatory two years of National Service, and went back to doing odd jobs.
Everything changed in 2008.
A hiring manager from Zouk took a chance on him and offered him a job, which he took up immediately.
That hiring manager was Suzana, Roy's wife.
Both of them ended up falling in love and Roy decided he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.
That was also when he read up more about Islam, Suzana's religion.
On July 22, 2008, he officially became a Muslim.
"It changed my life lah. Now everyday on my way to work, I would recite some prayers, pray that God help will ease my affairs for the day. I feel like the reason why I was able to get Beefzana up and running in only one month was because God allowed it to happen. I owe a lot of things to my faith."
It's no wonder he felt compelled to speak up. Anyone in his position would do the same.
Roy had lived a restless and angry life until he found Islam.
But what got him here today is a combination of his newly chosen faith, as well as his grit and determination to overcome the odds.
The people who accused him of not being Muslim enough didn't understand what he went through.
They did not know Roy at all.
Well, now they know a little more.
Stories of Us is a series about ordinary people in Singapore and the unique ways they’re living their lives. Be it breaking away from conventions, pursuing an atypical passion, or the struggles they are facing, these stories remind us both of our individual uniqueness and our collective humanity.
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Top images by Syahindah Ishak.