The pandemic changed an unfathomable number of lives, including those of 20-something Singaporeans Javier and Jaren Hoo.
In early 2020, Jaren, who was 23 and working full-time as a pastry chef, resigned from his job in order to help his father, Hoo Kok Leong, sell pork at a wet market in Hougang.
His brother, Javier, who was previously a financial advisor, followed suit a year later.
Their story was picked up by The Loh Bros and shared on May 12:
Hougang wet market stall
The butcher stall, named HKL Porki, is located at Block 105 Hougang Ave 1.
Jaren and Javier, now 25 and 27 respectively, start work at midnight as they need to prep the Indonesian pork before their stall opens at 6am.
They usually end work at around 12pm and wash up before heading home to start preparations for the next day.
This includes tallying the online orders for next day and answering queries before they can rest for the day.
On average, they get six hours of shut-eye a day.
Overcoming the stigma of working at a wet market
Taking over the family biz is no mean feat, as Javier told Mothership that they faced a myriad of challenges when they first took the plunge.
For one, their work-life balance has suffered as they work odd hours six days a week.
The only times they can hang out with their friends is on Sunday evenings as Mondays are rest days for the Hoos.
Pork is traditionally not sold at the wet markets on Mondays.
Like many young Singaporeans, they grew up speaking English, which made communicating with their elderly customers difficult at the get-go.
These days, they've been able to pick up commonly-used terms in Hokkien and Cantonese, which has made their jobs easier.
Javier shared: "It was actually quite fun to communicate with the elderly in the market as most of them are very friendly and nice to us, nicely correcting us when we said it wrongly. It is all part of learning."
Unsurprisingly, there was also the stigma of working at a wet market, which they had to overcome.
When we first started and told friends that we are helping out at our father’s shop, most of their reactions was, ‘Huh sure or not, very tough one leh you can do it or not?’
‘Huh no freedom, need to wake up so early, cannot go party already’ (and so on), but our answers to them were, ‘Of course we can!’ as we take pride in whatever we are doing now and we really enjoy working at the market.
In the two years that they've been part of the family business, Javier and Jaren have started taking orders online at the suggestion of their regulars.
In April 2020, life changed for many Singaporeans when the circuit breaker kicked in and HKL Porki suffered a "huge impact" in terms of business, which led the Hoos to start taking orders on their Facebook page while they worked on getting their website up and running.
They realised that taking orders online would also incentivise more customers to patronise them as they often received feedback from customers who were unable to secure the cuts that they wanted if the items were sold out earlier in the day.
However, the initial stages of going online weren't easy as it took time for their customers to get used to ordering online - in particular, the older generation was sceptical about buying fresh produce online.
Javier personally delivered the orders as they didn't have enough orders to engage delivery services.
The silver lining about travelling across the island was that he was able to speak to his customers and gather feedback on how to improve their services.
Business slowly picked up when people grew more confident in the quality of the deliveries, and when the Hoos started catering to group buys.
Now, the deliveries are outsourced, and Javier can fully dedicate the time to the management of the online platform while Jaren and their dad take charge of the store's physical operations.
The brothers' only wish now is for them to fully take over the business so that their 53-year-old father "can retire and enjoy life".
Address: Block 105 Hougang Ave 1 #01-39/40/41 Singapore 530105
Opening hours: Tuesdays to Sundays, 6am to 11am
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Top screenshot from The Loh Bros.