Mediacorp actor Yao Wenlong, who owns pao fan speciality restaurant Sun Gourmet Kitchen (新煌亭), first opened the eatery in late 2019, months before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, the restaurant drew snaking queues of customers -- about 90 per cent of which were Singaporeans -- eager to try his pao fan.
Understandably, business took a hit -- it plunged by 90 per cent -- when borders closed due to the pandemic.
More Malaysians eating at his restaurant
However, with the easing of border restrictions this year, the actor told Mothership that business has since improved up to "80 per cent of pre-Covid business levels".
His clientele is also split evenly between Singaporeans and Malaysians.
Yao joked that he once “got sick of eating pao fan” when he was working there almost daily, but now he misses its "homely" taste as he has not been able to visit the shop as frequently while filming Channel 8 drama, "Strike Gold".
He lives in Johor Bahru (JB) with his family and shuttles between the two countries daily.
The commute takes about four hours both ways.
While Yao is away, his business partner, who is a chef, manages the restaurant.
The actor's celebrity friends are very supportive of his business.
This includes "Strike Gold" co-star He Ying Ying, who enjoys Yao's pao fan so much that "she got a friend to dabao it back to Singapore".
Although Yao hasn't been to his eatery as often due to his busy filming schedule, he will soon be able to do so -- all thanks to the cast of "Strike Gold".
He told Mothership that the cast will head to JB in early November to have a meal at the restaurant after the filming wraps.
Not opening in Singapore anytime soon
Although his pao fan is popular among Singaporeans, Yao mentioned that they have no intention to open an outlet in Singapore anytime soon, citing lack of manpower and monetary costs as their main concerns.
He once suggested opening an outlet at a hawker centre, but the idea was rejected by his partner as hawker stalls are “too small” to prepare pao fan in.
They also considered selling frozen packets of the soup so people can enjoy the dish without having to travel to JB.
The idea was ultimately scrapped because Yao's business partner felt that the freezing process affected the taste of the soup, affecting the consistency in taste.
"OG" Pao fan restaurant in Malaysia
According to Yao, his eatery was the first and only restaurant specialising in selling pao fan in Malaysia at the time of opening.
That soon changed when more restaurants selling pao fan began to open, and this also meant losing some of his customer base to these competitors.
Yao told Mothership that he believes this is one of the reasons why it will be difficult for business to return to pre-Covid levels.
Staying positive, Yao mentioned that this "friendly competition" isn't a bad thing.
“It’s inevitable to feel stressed [about the competition between other pao fan eateries]. Only when a business does well, will other people follow suit and open a similar business.”
Sun Gourmet Kitchen
Address: 7, Jalan Austin Heights 8/3, Taman Mount Austin, 81100 Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Opening hours: 12pm - 10pm, daily