When we arrived at BreadTalk IHQ at 12pm on a Wednesday, a queue was already unfurling from Food Republic.
Customers were making a beeline for First Street Teochew Fish Soup, which moved in to the food court about three months ago.
The owner of First Street, William Lim, had inked an extravagant expansion deal with the BreadTalk group in late 2019.
BreadTalk Group's founder George Quek initially approached Lim "long long ago" for the partnership, but Lim wasn't ready at that time.
The two have known each other for decades since living in the same Teochew kampung in Hougang.
When our media session concluded two hours later, there was still a queue at First Street.
In comparison, business at other stalls was significantly less brisk, although they had their own customers as well.
When asked about First Street's popularity, 64-year-old Lim said that he's "used to it."
"They've been queuing for so many years! But of course, I'm happy lah."
It's not hard to see why — silky fish slices bathing in mild yet flavourful broth, at relatively affordable prices, would be a draw for most Singaporeans.
The pomfret was our favourite out of the three (the other two being mackerel and red garoupa). It is also the most expensive, with prices starting from S$11.
More outlets to come
Lim tells Mothership that there are plans to open more outlets, although he does not have an exact figure in mind.
Instead, he'll be taking it one step at a time to ensure that the quality of his fish soup stays consistent.
New staff will need three to six months of training before they can properly slice, skin, and de-bone fish.
"Maybe there'll be 100 outlets in the future, who knows? Like Din Tai Fung," Lim muses.
Rise to popularity
First Street wasn't always this popular.
About three decades ago, when Lim was just starting out in his 30s, he barely made enough to cover the rent, and didn't pay himself a salary for five years.
"I really had no customers! Because it tasted awful!" the owner said.
But Lim kept his nose to the grindstone and refined his recipe until gradually, the queues began to form.
When his sons Aaron and Desmond Lim started helping out about eight years ago, the business flourished even more, as the duo could connect with a larger audience thanks to their operational and marketing know-how.
"Business took off not like an aeroplane, but like a rocket!" Lim joked.
In fact, Lim finds that his sons are better than him at what they do now.
That's not to say he's retiring soon, however.
"I'll continue working as long as I'm able to," he said.
Top images by Mandy How, Karen Lui