By SGN | 4 Feb 2021
Amy’s story revolves around an unconventional path to becoming a food entrepreneur post-Columbia Business School MBA. Despite the ongoing pandemic, a singular passion for food drove her to open Native Noodles, a new restaurant in NYC, serving Singaporean hawker favorites and noodle dishes!
What motivated you to set up your restaurant, Native Noodles?
After working in the financial services and consulting industries, I couldn’t see myself feeling fulfilled climbing the corporate ladder. I realized that I wanted to create something of my own. To find my passion, someone gave me advice to look at what I was doing with my free time. It was clear to me that my passion was food.
I decided to apply for a MBA to build a solid business foundation and test my ideas before starting anything. I wrote my essay on my vision to open restaurants that would bring people happiness and feelings of togetherness through food. I did not expect to get in but when I did, took it as a sign to keep going! While at business school, I honed in on the idea of bringing my beloved Singaporean hawker food to NYC and ended up piloting the concept at Queens Night Market in my final semester. The rest is history!
What has surprised you along this journey?
Many things, but one that stands out is the physicality of the food business! Working in restaurants and selling Laksa at Queens Night Market in the last 2 years taught me that you really do get stronger from all the heavy lifting and hours on your feet.
A great surprise has also been how starting your own business opens your eyes to the kindness and support of people around you. I met my mentor who is now a partner on the restaurant’s kitchen side while at Queens Night Market. I also met industry experts such as Food & Wine magazine’s Dana Cowin through Queens Night Market events, and she has been extremely supportive from Day 1. Same goes for Michelle Loh at SGN, who gave Native Noodles the invaluable opportunity to cater for the National Day Event in 2019 where PM Lee was in attendance. I am excited to pay it forward as I build up my own knowledge and experiences as well.
Your advice to other like-minded food entrepreneurs?
I think most entrepreneurs will say this, but be prepared for the emotional rollercoaster that comes with creating and owning your own business. You have to believe in the idea enough to withstand many challenges, instability, and feelings of doubt. Plan for success and visualize the goals you want to achieve with your business. You will get there!
For food entrepreneurs, my advice is not to worry too much about having the perfect product before launching. It’s more important to get your product out there, iterate based on feedback, and know that it can evolve. Part of the fun is experimenting.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
It’s difficult to say since I am so focused on just getting our first location open in February! Once our restaurant operations are smoothly up and running, I definitely want to get our Singaporean dishes to other neighborhoods in Manhattan beyond Washington Heights. Whether that’s through opening new stores, or expanding our reach through cloud kitchens, I see Native Noodles reaching a larger audience, bringing comfort to Singaporeans who want a taste of home and introducing others to our culture and local cuisine. I also look forward to exploring ways that Native Noodles can make a difference in our local NYC community, addressing important issues such as food insecurity and reducing waste.
How do you stay connected to family and friends in Singapore?
My family is extremely important to me; I wouldn’t be where I am without their unconditional love and support! I try to visit my parents and best friends from home at least once a year. I was back most recently for 2 months in September 2020 and was blown away by the interest and support fellow Singaporeans had in what I was doing! I had the opportunity to learn fish mongering at Ghim Moh Market’s Hock Leng Fish Stall and apprenticed at The Scholar Chinese Restaurant at NUSS Guild House – all these came out of the kindness of people who wanted to give me learning opportunities to help in my restaurant career. This year, it’ll be 10 years since I moved to NYC, but Singapore will always be home.