S'porean woman falls in love with Toast Box server, marries him in 6 months & sets up own stall

Despite spending practically 24 hours a day with one another, the couple still enjoy each other's company.

Fasiha Nazren | February 14, 2021, 01:52 PM

If you're a foodie, you would know that Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre has some popular offerings like minced meat noodles, thin-crust pizzas, and BBQ seafood.

Located on the second floor of the market is Can't Stop Eating Toast, a stall that sells drinks in addition to toast.

Owned by Renee Tan, 35, and Wang Lijun, 36, the couple have been running the hawker stall since 2011.

Photo by Juan Ezwan.

On a day-to-day basis, the more reserved Wang would be the one making the drinks and taking orders while the affable Tan would whip up breakfast sets for her customers.

While they may look like your typical coffee uncle and auntie, they hold a story that is more than ordinary.

Met at a coffee shop in Raffles Place

Tan and Wang first met at the Toast Box outlet in Raffles Place.

But this isn't your usual rom-com meet-cute.

Tan, who then worked as a sales associate at a pushcart stall in Raffles Place, was a customer, while Wang was a coffee boy at the coffee shop.

She said: "I would order toast and ice lemon tea at his workplace every day and that's how I met him"(This is also why their hawker stall is called Can't Stop Eating Toast.)

Wang, on the other hand, told us that he had noticed this regular customer for a while before he decided to make a move.

"One day, I was suddenly overcome by the impulse to ask for her phone number," he said.

That is before his wife jumped in to say: "You didn't ask for my phone number, it was someone who asked for you!"

Photo courtesy of Renee Tan.

From then on, they started messaging each other and their relationship bloomed.

Proposed six months later

Six months into the relationship, Wang did the unexpected: He made a surprise visit to Tan's pushcart stall and went down on one knee with a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a ring in the other, asking for her hand in marriage.

Grinning from ear to ear as she recalled that memory, she told us:

"I was very surprised because he's not a romantic. He's not a sweet talker and he's not the type to say the three words (for those who don't get it, it's 'I love you'). So for him to do that, very good already."

Tan on the day of the proposal. Photo courtesy of Renee Tan.

Even though they've only known each other for less than a year, she just knew that he was the one for her.

Although Wang is a man of a few words, he shows his affection through his actions.

"Even then, he was already mature and I felt like I could rely on him. He gave me a feeling that I can depend on him. He never promises anything, but he will always do what he says."

But this wasn't their happily ever after. There were several hurdles they had to go through, including Tan's parents.

As Wang was a Chinese national who was living in Singapore on a work permit then, her mother was initially wary of his intentions, especially since their courtship only lasted for six months before he proposed to her.

In fact, Tan told us that she went to the Registry of Marriages (ROM) before telling her mother that they were getting married.

Married at 22 and 23 years old

The couple got married in 2008 when he was 23 and she was 22.

"Back then, it wasn't so common for a Singaporean woman to marry a man from China. My father was supportive but my mother didn't agree.

She was worried that my husband wanted to marry me for the PR status and would leave me to go back to China."

Beaming with pride, she gladly told us that he managed to prove her mother wrong.

She said: "We have our own house and we have a son. Now my mother is very happy for me and from time to time, she will come over to visit her grandson."

Their marriage hasn't been all peaches and cream, though.

Quarrelled often

The couple remember quarrelling a lot in the early days of their marriage, especially when Wang opened his own coffee stall at a coffee shop in Jurong and Tan was still working as a sales associate.

The fights, she told us, was mainly due to her not understanding the nature of his job, which she initially thought was merely just "making and serving drinks" to the customers.

What she didn't know then was that on top of that, he also had to face the expensive rental fees and faced a manpower crunch.

Eventually, she made the tough call to quit her job in order to support her husband at the coffee stall.

"I quit my job so we could stop quarrelling. It was only then I understand how hard it had been for him. F&B and sales are two very different things. To me, a sales job you only need a mouth. F&B you need everything: You need the skills and you need to sacrifice a lot of time.

Previously, he would wake up at 4am and will only end work at 12am because he was the only one, no one wanted to work in a coffee shop back then. So when I started to help him, at least he could take a nap for two hours in the afternoon."

Working at a hawker centre

As the rental fee was increasing and Tan was expecting their first son, Wang thought that it was the right time to move on to a hawker centre, where it would be less taxing for the both of them.

Tan said,

"I was heavily pregnant and still had to serve customers. My husband was very worried and tried to offer S$12 an hour to hire part-timers, but even 10 years ago, no one wanted to work in a coffee shop."

A month after giving birth to their son in Nov. 2011, the couple received some welcoming news: They had successfully bid for a hawker stall in Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre, where they are based now.

Photo courtesy of Renee Tan.

However, what they didn't know was that their stall was located at the back of the market, which was already saturated with drink stalls.

To set themselves apart, they decided to offer breakfast toasts as part of their menu.

Earned only S$35 on first day

Unfortunately, that didn't seem to help them much as they earned only S$35 on their first day.

As this continued for the first three weeks, she remembered an uncle who told her: "If you continue with these prices, you cannot be successful. You'll only last for half a year."

"10 years ago, we charged around S$3 for a breakfast set. But some aunties and uncles told us that it would be better if we reduced our prices. So we charged S$2 for our breakfast sets and S$0.50 for a small cup of coffee."

In the 10 years since they opened their business, they only increased the prices once due to the rising cost of raw ingredients: From S$2 to S$2.30 for a breakfast set and from S$0.50 to S$0.60 for a small cup of coffee.

Even then, Tan told us, that's not the cheapest coffee you can find in the entire market.

However, the business has picked up and now, they're happy to have regular customers to call their own.

To cater to the younger crowd, they also have more offerings on GrabFood including chicken luncheon meat fries and KitKat croissant.

The full menu. Photo from Can't Stop Eating Toast's Facebook page.

A breakfast set. Photo by Juan Ezwan.

Even though they only make enough to bring back "one person's salary", Tan and Wang said that they're content as long as they have enough to live comfortably.

Tan told us, "We're happy because even though we don't earn a lot, it's just enough. Every day I see the aunties and uncles come back to eat their breakfast also I already feel very happy."

Happy to work together

While many people perceive that there are more cons than pros when it comes to working with their spouse, this couple begs to differ.

To her, it's easier to work together as they now understand and go through the struggles together.

"When we first started, we did quarrel a lot. But now we've learnt that if it's a small thing, just don't talk and keep quiet. Let each other cool down and everything will be ok.

When we go home, we don't talk about work. Just talk about happy things and spend time together with our son."

Photo courtesy of Renee Tan.

And despite seeing each other almost 24 hours a day, she's glad that they still enjoy each other's company outside of work.

"[I don't wish to have time set aside for myself] because I wish for the other person to stick beside me. I'm happy with the fact that he can do that."

Learn a lot from each other

It was also Wang who taught her how to make toast, from slicing the bread to toasting it at an optimum temperature.

Sighing as he recalled the first time she attempted to toast bread, he said: "She was not in the F&B line so she learned everything here. There are some things that she does wrong, like not slicing the bread nicely or toasting it too much until it gets too dark. So I have to tell her nicely what she did wrong."

But he was also quick to sing praises of his wife.

"I learned a lot from her. It's because of her hard work that we have this shop today. A lot of the toast ideas were from her after she was inspired by the things she see on the internet.

If not for her, I probably wouldn't be able to continue working after three years. She's really helped me a lot in order for this shop to reach its 10th year."

Before we ended the interview, we asked Wang if he had anything to say to his wife for Valentine's Day.

"You better think carefully, ah," she jokingly warned him.

After they shared a little laugh, in his own simple words he shyly said: "Thank you for giving me all the happy years we've had together."


Can't Stop Eating Toast

Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre, #02-59 3 Yung Sheng Road, Singapore 618499

Opening hours: Mondays to Saturdays, 5:30am to 1:30pm. Closed on Sundays.

Top image by Juan Ezwan.