The second-generation owner of a 40-year-old claypot rice stall, Yuan Yuan Claypot Rice, is opening a new stall in Bukit Batok.
The first generation owner had retired in 2019 as the job had gotten "too labourious for him to continue because of old age".
His son, 52-year-old Raymond Seah, took over the stall and hopes to continue his father's legacy.
But instead of passing on the stall to his own son or another family member, Seah is launching the new stall with someone who he refers to as an "apprentice".
Much loved claypot rice stall at ABC Brickworks Market & Centre
Yuan Yuan Claypot Rice was opened by Seah's father in 1982, and is located at ABC Brickworks Market & Food Centre in Bukit Merah.
The stall originally sold roast meat, dim sum and steamed buns, but when Seah's father introduced claypot rice as a menu item in the 80s, the overwhelming popularity of the dish compelled him to make selling claypot rice his core business.
Seah's father, now 76 years old, had worked at the stall for over 30 years.
But the job required long hours of standing, lifting heavy claypots, and having to endure temperatures at the stove of over 60°C.
Seah is the eldest son, and has been helping his parents at the stall since he was 12 years old, washing bowls and claypots, serving orders, and counting money.
He also learnt how to make the family's secret black sauce, how to chop chickens, boil the chicken broth, and marinate the chicken slices.
In 2017, Seah took over the stall on weekends so that his parents could rest.
He slowly gained the trust of his father's loyal customers, and eventually quit his full-time job in 2019 so he could take over the stall completely.
He has been manning the stall at ABC Brickworks ever since.
Continuing the business, but not through family
Seah shared why he decided to take over the business and continue his father's legacy despite the hard work:
"Yuan Yuan is my dad’s passion and his pride. Throughout the 30+ years at ABC Market, he had amassed a huge following of regulars who would constantly tell him how much they love his claypot rice. I cannot bear to see it disappear after his retirement."
His father left him three words in Chinese when handing over the business — 敢敢做 ("gan gan zuo", which translates to "bravely go out there and do it").
Seah has been guided by these words as he thinks about the future and continuity of Yuan Yuan Claypot Rice.
Though one would assume that like his father, he would also hand the business over to his only son, he and his wife decided against it as they knew how "demanding and taxing" the job can be.
Seah recounted the early days of what it was like taking over the stall from his father:
"After my first solo shift on a super busy weekend, my whole body was burning hot after I got home. Taking cold showers and drinking cold water did not help to lower the temperature.
My body only got immune to it after four days, and since then, I never had this experience again."
But he knew he could not allow his father's claypot rice stall to disappear after he stops working, and wished to preserve his father's legacy and expand the business.
The apprenticeship model
Not keen to have his son take over the business, Seah had the idea to hire and train apprentices.
To make the trade simpler for apprentices to pick up, he adapted the menu to provide just single serving claypots instead of the usual size that serves two to five people.
Since the crux of a good claypot rice is knowing how to control the charcoal fire, a smaller pot would be more feasible for apprentices to get the hang of it.
Seah, however, will continue to make his secret homemade sauce and chicken broth.
First apprentice-led stall opening in Bukit Batok on May 31, 2022
Seah's apprenticeship model is well underway, and he is opening a new stall with a trained apprentice in Bukit Batok.
The stall will open on May 31, 2022.
Here is the menu for the stall:
Seah hopes that he will be able to open more stalls using this apprenticeship model if it is successful, and to bring Yuan Yuan overseas one day.
"I think my dad would be really happy and proud if we managed to let people outside of Singapore try his claypot rice,” he said.
Yuan Yuan Claypot Rice
Address: Blk 273 Bukit Batok East Ave 4, Singapore 650273
Opening hours: Mondays to Sundays, 11am to 9pm
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All photos via Yuan Yuan Claypot Rice.