Fong Wai Kheng, fourth generation owner of Tong Heng - Singapore's top confectionary that's 100 years old and sells its famous diamond shaped egg tarts

Ep 141: Inheriting a 100-year-old family business | Fong (Co-Owner, Tong Heng)

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Welcome to Episode 141!

It’s not every day that you get to inherit a 100-year-old family business, but that’s exactly what Fong Wai Kheng has done.

Fong is the fourth generation of his family to run Tong Heng – Singapore’s top confectionary shop most known for its trademark 💎 diamond-shaped egg tarts. 

Ask pretty much any Singaporean (I did), and it feels like 99% of them will have heard, eaten and love those egg tarts!

So of course, I got curious. 

And asked Fong if he’d be up for a STIMY interview!

After all, family businesses are tricky.

There is: 

🍿 The legacy you’ve inherited & must now maintain 

🍿 The relationships you need to navigate (you can’t split family/work) 

🍿 The challenge of keeping your brand relevant (a huge issue for Tong Heng at one point until they went through a massive rebranding exercise) 

🍿 All the ups and downs of keeping a business alive.

A business that first came about because of Fong’s great-grandfather who fled China in 1901 (end of Qing Dynasty) to work as a coolie in Singapore.

His great-grandfather eventually earned enough to start his own pushcart coffee business but… the local “gangs” came around for protection money.

The great-grandfather had none, but promised to have the money ready next time. 

Unfortunately, the gangsters won’t hear of it.

And proceeded to beat him up.

Or at least, they tried too.

Because what they didn’t know was that Fong’s great-grandfather had been trained in martial arts by the soldiers in the Qing Court (+ he was also 1.87m tall!). 

So Fong’s great-grandfather beat up those gangsters instead. 🤣

News spread. 

The community gathered and gifted him with a pistol before appointing him as its protector!!

Want to know what happened thereafter? 😏

You’ll just have to listen to this STIMY episode with Fong to find out. 

P/S: Let me know if you’re interested in doing a studio recording in Singapore! There’s plenty of space at Hepmil’s Limpeh studios. 😉

P/S: This episode is available on YouTube too!


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    So This Is My Why podcast

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    • 2:54 Childhood 
    • 5:00 Expectations in joining the family business?
    • 6:32 Have you had enough fun?
    • 10:26 100-year-old confectionary shop – the origins of Tong Heng
    • 12:22 Tong Heng’s trademark egg tarts
    • 14:22 Gangs & protection money
    • 14:44 Martial arts
    • 16:50 After the war
    • 17:55 His two aunts
    • 20:24 Pulling a surprise
    • 25:06 A new shop
    • 27:38 Cracking thousands of eggs?!
    • 29:40 Massive rebranding exercise to appeal to the Gen Zs & Gen Alphas
    • 33:23 Tension in the family?
    • 34:41 Going viral
    • 35:00 Branding decisions behind Tong Heng’s trademark yellow packaging
    • 36:15 Tong Heng’s faithful customers – the grandmother & her grandson
    • 37:30 The future & staying in their own lane
    • 39:35 Advice for other family business owners?

    If you’re looking for more inspirational stories, check out:

    • Loh Lik Peng: Founder & CEO, Unlisted Collection – how he went from being a lawyer to founding a hospitality portfolio with 40 hotels & restaurants (including 9 Michelin-starred restaurants)
    • Karl Mak: Founder, Hepmil Media – Building a Viral Meme Business in Southeast Asia
    • Phil Libin: Co-Founder, Evernote
    • Justin Byam Shaw: Co-Owner of the Evening Standard & the Independent – on building the UK’s largest media empire
    • Adrian Tan: The Late President of the Singapore Law Society & King of Singapore

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    External Links

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    Fong Wai Kheng, fourth generation owner of Tong Heng - Singapore's top confectionary that's 100 years old and sells its famous diamond shaped egg tarts

    STIMY Ep 141: Fong Wai Kheong [4th Generation Owner, Tong Heng]

    Ling Yah: Did he not know about this?

    Fong Wai Kheong: Oh, my grandfather had no idea. He wouldn't approve of that, of course. It's like, why do you want to showcase? Why do you want to spend the money? He was a very frugal man. Yeah.

    So One day, because my grandfather was so heavily involved in so he Oh, I'll for long, come back,

    uh, quite late today. o'clock then My aunties called up the contractor and said, Okay, now is the right time. Bring So the two case just covered whole front section of the coffee shop. So there was no entrance, of the past, I mean customers who came regularly to have coffee um, we put on the showcase And sales was very good. You know, when people walked past, they saw, Oh, I didn't know they sell egg tarts. Oh, they sell cookies. And the people

    Uh, Sales was very good.

    We like maybe two, one or two trays of egg But that day, that the, the sales just skyrocketed to maybe seven trays or eight trays.

    So when my grandfather came back about um, He saw the long queues. He saw the business that blossomed and he kept quiet.

    He just went to his favorite he just stood and

    Ling Yah: Hey STIMIES!

    Welcome to the So This Is My Why podcast.

    I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah. And today I'm very pleased to introduce to you the great grandson of one of Singapore's most well known and oldest confectionery around.

    It's almost a hundred years old, having been established in 1935. And let's face it, when you run a business that's gone on for that long, that's a challenge. When you run a business that is entirely family run. That's a whole other level of challenge as well. So we have Fong come in to pretty much share about his life.

    What was it like growing up where the business was such a huge component of everyone's life? How did the business start in the first place? And also How did they do the big rebrand that they did a couple years ago where they were no longer just targeting their traditional 50 to 70 year olds But also the gen z's the gen alphas the 15 year olds.

    Why has it been so successful?

    We explore all this and more in this episode.

    So, are you ready?

    Let's go. I

    Hi, Fong. Thank you so much for joining me today on the So This Is My Why podcast.

    Fong Wai Kheong: Thank you for inviting me.

    Ling Yah: So, I first met you through Alvin, who was a previous guest on this podcast.

    He's a mutual friend of yours. So when I was in Singapore, he said, let me show you a little bit around. And then he brought me to your shop, Tong Heng, which I had not actually heard of. And you were there to kind of show us around.

    And it was just incredible for me to realize that actually there's this shop that's been around for almost a hundred years and you are the fourth generation and you are known around this country for your egg tarts in particular, which are diamond shaped.

    I wonder, growing up as a fourth gen, this family business must have been your life. What was it like growing up for you?

    Fong Wai Kheong: It has been fun actually, growing up in the coffee shop. When I was a young child, I wasn't supposed to be part of the crew to make the cookies. So, I just ate them. And I got to choose what I wanted to eat.

    And so a lot of good memories. Playing with the dough at the shop, seeing my grandparents making the egg tarts by hand. And also enjoying the the drinks, you know.

    I drank Horlick when I was young. I would just pour it onto the plate. Let it cool and then I sip it from the plate. It's a very old fashioned way of drinking.

    I saw a lot of people that came into the shop. That was the old facade of Tong Heng.

    It was a very old fashioned coffee shop. And I really enjoyed growing up especially during the Chinese New Year.

    The family has very interesting practice. We do not go visiting each other.

    We will all meet at the shop. So it was like the point of gathering for the family during Chinese New Year and . All kinds of relatives come over a different time of the day, then they will come and eat something and then they will present the ang bao and gifts, then they'll go on to their next destination.

    Everything centers around the shop for the family.

    Ling Yah: What there an expectation for you that you must enter the family business?

    Fong Wai Kheong: Okay when I was young, I was not involved in the operation. I was there because I'm a family member. Then when I was in my primary school

    I helped my auntie to start the shop at those kiosks which is not at Tong Heng. So we had a food kiosk.

    Since young I was actually helping out in the food business. About 4, 5 a. m., I would go and buy the noodles. And then, by about 6. 30 a. m., we would be at the snack shop to bring down the laksa, the prawn broth. Then they would start selling the breakfast. Then I would go to school.

    So that was, like, my childhood when I was young. Monday through Friday.

    After that, I grew out of this because I was busy at school.

    Ling Yah: But did the family say, once you're done with your studies, you must work with your family?

    Fong Wai Kheong: Oh, no, no. They are very cordial.

    They do not obligate. They do not implicate who should be doing what. It's quite voluntarily that people come and help. I've seen many relatives coming in to help.. They are quite happy in participating in the business especially during the peak time.

    When I was done with army and then I went to Canada and then to USA to pursue my degree. When I came back to Singapore, I started working in the corporate world.

    Ling Yah: Citibank, Starhub.

    Fong Wai Kheong: Yes, yeah. When I was in US, I was already doing trading. Actually, I liked doing business. I was doing import export. I Was also going to car auctions to buy and sell cars out of interest.

    So when I started working, after about five, six years, one day my second aunt, her name is Rebecca, she invited me to lunch.

    So I brought her to a nice Japanese restaurant . And then she popped the question, Have you had enough fun? So I said, what do you mean? Well, I see that you're doing okay in the corporate world, but would you like to give the family brand a chance?

    Because I was the eldest grandson of the family.

    And she said, why don't you try and work in the shop and see if you enjoy working there? We hope that you could join the family brand and be part of us and to help the company grow.

    So I said, that sounds like a good idea. So I resigned from my job and then I worked in the family brand.

    When I worked at the shop, my job was actually to, to look at the operation and to walk around, to help out a bit. There was no expectation of what I should be doing. So when I reported to work I was wearing a white t shirt and slacks.

    I literally took off my tie and long sl sleeve.

    There was really nothing I could do because I didn't know how to do anything in the business. I only knew how to eat cookies.

    So I started taking out the dirty pan and I started scraping it.

    My grandma was furious. She looked at me and said, Why are you doing this? I said, Oh, I'm helping out. I didn't know what to do.

    Then after that, I start to learn the trade. And I started to get more involved in the front sales because I was also trained in sales in my previous capacities. And I started to get more involved in the business.

    The workers were a bit uneasy because I was like the eagle's eye watching over their shoulder.

    And I was quite particular about the customer service. So I started to correct how they should be doing things. The old staff didn't like me interfering with their work. They did a sabotage.

    All of them didn't turn up for work. At that time I had a family meeting that night. And I asked my seniors, my aunties, can we work without these workers?

    My aunties just say, of course not.

    The recipes came from our hands.

    And so, okay, let's go for it. So we worked very hard. And we went back to the old recipes, to revive the old recipes, to make things even better. But we couldn't cope with the sales, because sales that time was quite good. Long queue formation, and people came and buy in bulk.

    We worked until 3am every night.

    We still could not finish producing for the next day. But we were very happy.

    So after that I started doing recruitment.

    I started recruiting staff from different countries.

    Mostly not from the same family.

    Let's say someone wants to bring the whole family over to work.

    I would say no. Maybe one sibling, yes, but not the whole family. Because when they do a sabotage, the emotions are very strong. So there's this attachment that they had. So I would just say, no,. I need a very diverse team. So that everybody would do their work and everybody will work hard for the brand.

    I picked up even more into making the cookies so I started teaching the workers how to do the cookies. Which I earned their respect. I built a new team together with my my sibling and my aunt. And we started to grow again from there.

    Ling Yah: So before we go into that, let's just set the context.

    Because your family business started in 1935. So, almost 100 years. Your great grandfather, he came all the way from Guangdong. Yes. Who was he and how did this entire thing start?

    Way back in China during the late Qing dynasty.

    My great grandfather grew up in The later part of Qing dynasty. And during that time, China was quite messy. Because everybody was fighting against each other.

    There were a lot of struggle for power.

    And so, the first wave of the Chinese leaving China was to LA, Los Angeles, which they thought was a mountain of gold. They call it Jinshan. They call it the gold mountain.

    Of course they realized it was a scam because they were sold as slaves for hard labor. Then some came back to tell the relatives and friends that please don't go to Jinshan because it's a scam.

    So the next favorite destination was Nanyang. So what was Nanyang? Actually they didn't know what was Nanyang. Because they, they don't travel out of China,. They were leaving China because it was quite messy.

    So my great grandfather came.

    He was almost penniless. He just left everything in China. He came with his spouse and set sail on a boat.

    So life was very tough when he arrived in Singapore.

    started working as a coolie. carrying those grains and rice bags. And he made a daily wage. When he saved enough money, he started his first pushcart. Actually, that was way before 1935.

    As to when he started the pushcart, we don't really have any idea. It could be in the 1920s. Then he started saving up money again and he started the first coffee shop in 1935.

    And when did the egg tarts come in?

    Fong Wai Kheong: Okay, when he started the coffee shop, he saw a lot of coffee shops are Hainanese. And he saw what he sold. Then he realized that, Hmm, I'm Cantonese. I want to be different. So he started selling coffee, tea, toast. Then he started to have a range of pastries. You know, some cakes, cookies.

    And the egg tart recipe, I'm not sure when it started. Probably in the 40s. Could be earlier.

    I wouldn't say we invented the egg tart, because egg tart probably was an influence that came during the colonial period, when the British soldiers were in Singapore, the Portuguese were here.

    And there were some cookies, even today, that we have, that have similar shapes of western pastries, like the egg tart.

    We even have lookalike chocolate cookie, but it's not chocolate. We call it the Golden Short Cake. The flavors of our cookies are a little bit more British, I would say, probably due to the colonial influence. And, to make this recipe work, he could not use dairy products.

    Because dairy products in those era was quite repulsive to the palates of the locals. I'm not sure why the people in that era could not accept anything that's dairy. Maybe they're not used to eating it. There was no McDonald's at that time.

    It could be due to religion. that they did not want to eat anything from the cow, not even cheese of milk. So he had to create recipes using the Chinese ingredients. One of it is using lot as the oil, so to replace butter and flour and other ingredients to make it look like the Western pastries. But of course we are not pro Western pastries.

    We also have a lot of Chinese cookies, like the 豆沙饼, the red bean pastries, the wedding flavors, which we are also quite popular.

    Ling Yah: Wasn't your great grandfather when he opened this shop, this is the time when the gangs would come and say, he needs protection money.

    Fong Wai Kheong: Oh, that was very long ago.

    Yeah. When he started his pushcart. Not at the shop.

    He was a very tall man. I think about 1. 87 meters tall. And he was known to be very fit because he grew up in the Qing court.

    Ling Yah: He learned martial arts.

    Fong Wai Kheong: And he learned, yeah, he learned martial arts. He played with the soldiers and they taught him martial arts and he was very strong.

    And when he became a coolie, he was even stronger. He has built a lot of strength.

    So when he started his first push cart stall , he was like the peacekeeper.

    That when he saw the coolies fighting, he would tear them apart or he would even beat up the bad guys. So one day know, when he first started, the tux came and they asked for protection money.

    So he said, hey guys, I spent all the money to start this stall, this pushcart, and that was all the money that I spent onto the hardware. I don't have any money left. If you could come back tomorrow or the day after, you have my word, I'll give you everything that I've earned. Then they say no, then you get out of here.

    So they started a fight. Single handedly, he beat them up.

    Ling Yah: How many were there?

    Fong Wai Kheong: I heard there were at least seven to ten of them. So The next day he started he, he he created some trouble. So he went He found it very strange. The street was unusually and everybody was talking front of him and behind him. And people started pointing at him. So he knew that he had to face Maybe the police would He had to apprehended for fighting, So he just ignored. um, someone stepped forward. He identified himself chief, approached my great uh, we knew what yesterday, and here is this opened, So he told them, no, no, no, I don't need any weapon. If you need any help, just call on me. So everybody was so happy, and they clapped their hands. He said, oh, we Um, peacekeeper who will keep safe So then his second day of business just blossomed, you know, it was So in the many stages of this brand that again,

    um, there was a little boost.

    Ling Yah: What was the next

    Fong Wai Kheong: when it


    started in everything was was, was then came the World So The shop before World War II was immense hardship We were um, from

    of course,

    uh, we have to endure it. And there was even um, The bomb actually missed our

    And It bombed the cinema. There was a theater our So The the theatre destroyed by one So the shop was actually very popular that time. Then came World War II, so everything

    we endured, My My ancestors, they endured And they tried to put the pieces back So After the wooden frames in front were all shattered. just picked, just used some wood to

    Then, after a while, they started coming back to shop and they started selling.

    So, that was another that,

    um, the brand survived.

    Ling Yah: And then your grandfather actually told your two aunts, I don't want

    Fong Wai Kheong: I'm my aunt. But um, is handed all the siblings were involved in the business They had their own outside, but they came back to who are in the shop all the time, like my eldest aunt,

    know, They call it tou tai mei She she helped to look after the you know, he, he started his businesses, business. Then he pulled his brothers out and said, why don't you let continue business and we brothers will go out and we do our own And Everyone was um, My grandfather was actually a very, very kind and nice Um, He never really dictate what He would just let it Um, I I really enjoyed talking to him too um, he was a very helpful man.

    He helped many people who came to the shop, who asked for help, and without even asking for any favors um, quite involved in work, and he was like the spokesperson Chinatown. So whenever the people needed help, he would connect to the office to And that's how people earned the trust in the And Everybody prospered that way. It was quite. Quite amazing,

    Ling Yah: Hey STIMIES, just interrupting this to say that if you are really enjoying what you're hearing, please do subscribe to the STIMY newsletter as well. You can find the link in the show notes for this episode at 140.

    With the newsletter, you get updates on all the new episodes that are coming up.

    Also the behind the scenes and all things about how to build your personal brand online as well.

    So if you'd like to learn more about STIMY beyond these weekly episodes, please do subscribe to the STIMY newsletter. Now let's get back to this episode.

    Fong Wai Kheong: amazing, actually. And when your two aunts took over as well, they brought about a lot of changes. Like the calligraphy that you see on the pillars is by your aunt. Yes. On the boxes also seen by your aunts as well.

    Ling Yah: I think one of them brought in the glass cabinet that's at the shop. What are some of the stories you can share about what they have brought to business as the third My,

    Fong Wai Kheong: My second She's very She was very good at whatever she wanted Um, She did fashion designing.

    She had her own fashion designing boutique. She had her own snack shops The cookie shop, the coffee shop. And... she even helped draw blueprints for my dad at the engineering business. She was quite Then, She wanted to improve the business coffee shop. those era before the 1980s,

    um, the at the time had a the patrons who the shop um, more senior There smoke on the table. They will buy a cup of for three days, for three to newspaper or So one and the legs under another chair.

    So quite unkempt. difficult for young families the shop or to even cookies at the shop.

    at that time, all the cookies kept in wooden cabinets. So nobody really saw what we sold. Only the regulars would come in and say, Oh, I want an egg tart coffee. But Otherwise, nobody really know. Oh, this is just another coffee shop that makes very nice Because She roasts in it was just another coffee shop, and my aunt had this vision.

    The vision was to make it into a retail

    that He he appointed the contractor to make the glass cabinet that's made of stainless on the, with a glass

    Ling Yah: your grandfather did not know about this?

    Fong Wai Kheong: Oh, my had no no idea. He wouldn't approve of that, of course. It's like, why do you want to showcase? Why do you want to spend the money? He was a very frugal man. Yeah.

    So One day, because my grandfather was so heavily involved in so he Oh, I'll for long, come back,

    uh, quite late today. o'clock then My aunties called up the contractor and said, Okay, now is the right time. Bring So the two case just covered whole front section of the coffee shop. So there was no entrance, of the past, I mean customers who came regularly to have coffee um, we put on the showcase And sales was very good. You know, when people walked past, they saw, Oh, I didn't know they sell egg tarts. Oh, they sell cookies. And the people

    Uh, Sales was very good.

    We like maybe two, one or two trays of egg But that day, that the, the sales just skyrocketed to maybe seven trays or eight trays.

    So when my grandfather came back about um, He saw the long queues. He saw the business that blossomed and he kept quiet.

    He just went to his favorite he just stood and And my aunties, of course, were ready, ready to be spanked by him it's like they just changed the whole models like without consent.

    Ling Yah: And so your grandfather

    Fong Wai Kheong: Um, No.

    He accepted and he said, let's continue. So, all the tables and chairs were gone. No more coffee shop at that time. But that was the end phase of our shop the condition of the along Smith Street was quite that time. because it was built without foundation. It was just made of, uh, And the Singapore government wanted preserve the structures. preserve the Um, heritage, uh, buildings.

    So they chased away all these tenants. And we were one of them because we rented from Then when we asked them, how long They said, oh, we don't know. Maybe one year, maybe three years. Because they have to do a lot of structural to make it I um, heritage, uh, um, the Stairway there was uh, holes in between the steps. So you must know when to step left, when right. to in shape. We had

    Ling Yah: And you found a new place, which we saw then

    Fong Wai Kheong: my saw this, she the the guy, and we bought over the shop. It was not Then we, It was because South Bridge Road was a road that people do not open after They call Road, which was quite prone to robbery.

    Ling Yah: When 19...

    Fong Wai Kheong: That was in So when we took over the shop, the moving part was quite interesting. They literally pushed the oven across So Everything was moved by hand, there was no mover even, because it's just So when we started the then my auntie did something

    Because Later on I asked her, why would you dare the shop after Along that road it medicinal halls that herbs, uh, pawn shops, jewelry shops, maybe two tailors, But none of them would open after sunset. So by 30 p. m., that's it. They would pull down the go. There were a few cases robberies, so they were afraid that the robbers would come

    However, my auntie opened she just filled the whole shop with fluorescent It was so bright that you could see like a shining star from far away, hundred meters away. And people would say, Hey, we're hungry. Let's go somewhere to eat. Then there was this shop that soybean drink, sells, uh, chee cheong fun noodles, and

    It was quite, quite, quite an interesting twist that there was this shop that was opened along the road. And at that time people would just park freely on the, by the roadside. Then they come for supper. So when I asked my aunt, why would to after sunset, we don't have much money from selling all this.

    We don't mind even if they come because not much money And Please help with some noodles too. So she was quite candid thing. What was, no robbers rob us jewelry. We don't or silver. nothing expensive for So that was another change in business.

    Ling Yah: I want to talk about more broadly as well, because a family business is not just your few aunts. There were many, many people involved in the entire operation. Don't you have one aunt that specializes just in And she can just take one egg and just how it is.

    Fong Wai Kheong: Um, we have different So, My aunts, all of them have I have aunts.

    Uh, One of them is a housewife. So, she's more like the legal Um, then The other aunts are quite hands on So aunt, uh, in Um, She does the cracking of the And She's so familiar with the eggs that she sometimes could even tell if the egg was spoilt. So one day the farmer's daughter came session. So My aunt her skill to the farmer. um, from this egg I could tell how old the hen

    The farmer was shocked, it's like, how do you know? You're not even a farmer. oh, I crack thousands of eggs So, yeah, it's second nature to me. So we we, we have a very close relationship with our farmers because we require the um, natural Grains, food. feed uh, better So no adding of chemicals things to make up for the coloration So very old fashioned because we don't use on the recipe we just We just use very fresh ingredients and that is how cookies

    Ling Yah: And for a business has been running for so long, there's that challenge of keeping it fresh making sure you appeal to the younger generation Yes, the younger generation now is very different from the ones before and you recently did this massive rebrand. What was behind the concept of

    Fong Wai Kheong: We have done the year around 2000 we did one Uh, packaging then, After that our brand it was very, very challenging for us our costs and our revenue beginning to dip year. If you talk about two to 3 percent dip year, after 10 years, or more.

    And we uh, when the cost keep revenue keep dropping Of course we could raise price, but that does not really solve the problem. Because the problem um, people to Then started analyze and to understand that, Oh, after so many years have also Right And the younger their pursuit of food is different no tea is we We have been searching for a brand for about 10 years. So I was with my sister, we few brands, just, The vibes just didn't quite us, until we this branding company.

    His name is is called Ann The gentleman is Larry He's also our So when we, my sister approached him. He said, Oh, I'm your customer. Then what do you need? I said, Oh, we need to rebrand. Are you able How much does it cost?

    Fong Wai Kheong: brand Um, Can we have a meeting? So The Quite an open Some questions will pop up.

    Ling Yah: Like what?

    Fong Wai Kheong: And then he Oh, so how long your brand has been around? And I said, Oh, maybe about 80, So So target Oh, they are in the 50s Then he asked which was So you want to target at this demographic Not bad.

    So, Then he asked, So what is 20 plus Then The answer was 70. wrong? Then at 70, can they eat a I mean, it's realistic.

    It's like, You know, when people age, they will eat The preferences will Then uh, a rebrand that lasts 20 So That's why I asked, so what is 50 plus 20? So It's Then how do you continue it started to that How should we change whole formula So it suggested to move demographic to from 50 to 15, 15. So Larry said, Wow, this kind of Because the really Their IG They're in your brand doesn't do discount, tie Plain Very difficult. But he took up the challenge. He said, I'm also, that it

    Ling Yah: started

    Fong Wai Kheong: um, doing a lot of And he often is in the eyes of You will not what we do. Of course we couldn't like, Why do you this way? Why do you make the box just... But, but, my seniors were very supportive, fortunately. We just let Run the whole thing.

    Ling Yah: There wasn't tension must have been some who said, Oh yes, go for going, No, that's

    Fong Wai Kheong: There was some resistance, of course. Larry always reminded us, Your eyes are You're 70 You can't see this 15 year olds. You have So it was, we will use the word blind that we trusted. Um, Even the mock up box he made, you know, this

    It was very flimsy. made of, uh, paper. The pentone color was And it looked Then he just said, But when it was it was To attract the 15 year old to the brand, cannot force them to come Like giving them a brochure, Posting on Facebook, Instagram doesn't help. Everything Um, the news

    So we, they created a lot of animation, that makes the, that made the And it started to spread So I started to see young people coming to the You're talking about 13 year old, 15 year old.

    Ling Yah: Because it went viral on Instagram.

    Fong Wai Kheong: It went viral amongst Because we cannot infiltrate into media.

    Ling Yah: What was it that drew the attention, though, that went viral?

    Fong Wai Kheong: be the the new set.

    Ling Yah: Which is the packaging?

    Fong Wai Kheong: the graphics,

    Ling Yah: What was the rationale behind some of those artistic decisions?

    Fong Wai Kheong: We left it to the designer it. Of course, consulted All the elements art form relates back to the shapes and the But it's something um, Something So this to the people. and I started seeing them coming And they buy, and they put it in their mouth. And they take a picture, and they share social media, and they even

    So there's something That's very difficult You could only attract Products like tea. That is a no brainer. are um, food. for old brand food, it's very make them adopt our food.

    And why did we target the 15 year old? Because when you plus 20 later, the brand, branding will last years.

    Um, They will be in their 30s. Then they will have their own young to our brand. So then, there's a brand

    Ling Yah: Um, And let's not forget you also have the older part of your customers as well.

    You told me once the story of this grandmother who came in a taxi. Can you share that story?

    Fong Wai Kheong: That was quite long I was at a shop in Chinatown. And one day, saw a taxi that stopped in the shop. The taxi didn't move away. an lady, with, I assume it's her that alighted from the she just And to give me a feedback. she I tasted um, it's not so good Then I said, Can I pay you back taxi fare? Or give you a box of cookies? No, no, no, no. And then she turned around and she went back taxi. She lived in Yi Sun, which is about 30 And I was by her gesture. just came to give me a feedback. Of course her grandchild could Facebook messaged us.

    But because she loved the brand so much, she wanted to personally come down just was um, so and I felt so touched that she such a thing and it I just yeah, I really have customers that love the brand much that they would give feedback.

    Ling Yah: And how else are you reaching out to these people? Because you have the very young, you have the very old, but easy be drawn by other new brands that come out all the time. How do you think about bringing the forward?

    Fong Wai Kheong: Um, We don't have a very far vision, other than this branding that we hope will last years. Because many things are changing. Ingredient going through the roof.

    have also evolved and evolve with the onset of lot of changes to, we just have to be mindful with every decision we make. sometimes decision make can also hurt I can say now 'cause we do not know the trends As to um, we are not involved in competing with other brands. We feel that we are own brand. We do things, and we do what we think And we accept that there are other out there who are better than us.

    They are making more money than us, but We have so the whole approach in Because if start to give discounts, start to start a price war, it will only hurt lines. So the point? Just you're good at.

    Ling Yah: do you, how do you see your role in the company evolving? How does that fit in when you're working with so many family members? Honestly, my role actually is quite I am more in I I help o out There are decisions I in, forward. And then my siblings involved in the decision making. And my brother. So we work as a family. And each have our do. We are all busy in our own ways.

    Any advice for people who also are family companies, or they're working with someone who is very, very close to them. And it's great when things go well, but it's not so great when tensions arise. Any advice for those kind of people?

    Fong Wai Kheong: I'm really not in the position to advise anyone, especially businesses, I see the factions, individualistic then it's very difficult brand to So for family I feel that corporatize You have to um, excel. Let them grow The difficult part is when the family member workers. let's say a family member steps manager and he starts to dictate Then the staff will very it's good the ownership of the brand to the family.

    Then operationally let the staff excel. Guide Um, areas, Promote them. Increase Okay.


    Ling Yah: For those who are listening to this Oh, I've never had Tong Heng before. I'm coming to Singapore. What should they get? Because you have a lot

    Fong Wai Kheong: Our most popular is tarts. But these are best eaten within six hours.

    So I would recommend egg tarts. We have quite a array of Chinese Some some colonial We call them Feel free to come and In fact, we have Uh, and now it's ready in. You and, uh, take a seat and enjoy

    Ling Yah: Fong, it's been such a pleasure to have had you on. having done both non family work and also working with the family as well, Do you feel like you've found your why?

    Fong Wai Kheong: Found When I started working in the my vision was very different because in the corporate world you fight very hard, whether for for to But when I step into the family Okay. everything just it's very different because everything just down and I started to see I learned patience. to think of problem solving.

    And that, uh, one of So to, to what I I think it's, um, it has been a very rewarding journey to be part of the And to still be able There are more challenges ahead, of course. But my family, my siblings, we are still working as a team. We are holding on tightly to each other. And we ahead of... COVID was one of the most difficult that thought we didn't

    Ling Yah: You did better

    Fong Wai Kheong: We did ever, Yes, we did better better because we started our uh, framework. We were not on app based which they were asking for 35 So, those would, our not make money. In fact, that would kill faster. So we we started our own delivery We a delivery company to do the delivery um, when to order, how soon they will get it. They may get it And Our customers were very kind and They were so supportive Um, I'm very thankful COVID brought about changes, not just to my brand, the economy as a whole. It made people want to step forward For example, in the past, when ask a hawker, do you do delivery? They say, no, we But COVID, it was different. Everybody do delivery. Because survival was And some along the way. And Each obstacle that we dealt with, we were very careful because it could break us. Fortunately, we did better each time.

    Ling Yah: And what kind of legacy do you that this brand will continue to smile to people touch more lives. hope that on we are not around in the future, We hope that they will still remember existed we are, I think we are one of the oldest Chinese around. And we are happy that list. And with the support More we will continue our customers. And what do you think are the most important successful

    Fong Wai Kheong: Um, Most perseverance and also to see ahead. Yeah.

    Ling Yah: And where can people go to find out more about... Who you are, Tong Heng is, buy

    Fong Wai Kheong: Just go into Google and for Tong Heng. Usually we are in the on the list. Um, Our location is at for me, I a nobody. So, um, sometimes. Yeah, that you come to my shop and.

    Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 141. The show notes can be found at If you want to see the video recording of this, just head over to YouTube and look for sowthesmywhy.

    The video was actually taken in a studio called Limpeh Studios in Singapore. And if you too want to have a setup very similar to what I've done, just head over to for more information. And if you haven't done so, please do subscribe to So This Is My Why, and see you next Sunday with a new episode.

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