George Quek



George Quek Meng Tong is the founder and chairman of BreadTalk Group, famous for the BreadTalk bakery chain.1 He began his foray into the food and beverage business in Taiwan, selling dragon candy in 1982, before moving into the food court business in 1993.2 He started BreadTalk in 2000, a company that became listed in 2003 and subsequently diversified into other food and beverage brands.3

Early life
Quek’s father was a vegetable farmer and later a seaman who inculcated in his son the sentiment that no one owes him a living. His mother was a housewife. The family stayed in an attap house in Hougang and George was the second of four boys.4


As a boy, Quek had a shy disposition and was unhappy with the rigid discipline of school. His creativity was displayed in sketches of the rural landscape around his home, which won him many awards in art competitions.5

After graduating from Xinmin Secondary School, Quek took classes at the now-defunct Singapore Art Academy while working as a cable technician to pay his school fees. He later signed on as a regular in the army at the age of 20, before being conscripted for national service. Quek has said that being in the army toughened him; initially “soft, weak and introverted”, he rose to the rank of sergeant major after five years.6

Upon leaving the army, Quek worked in a Hong Kong handicraft shop in Parklane Shopping Mall, where he did wood carving, metal engraving and wove dragon’s beard candy.7 It was at the handicraft company that he met his wife, Katherine Lee Lih Leng while working as her supervisor. They started dating in 1983 and married in 1986.8

Business ventures
In 1982, Quek left for Taiwan with the intention of furthering his art education at a renowned Taiwanese art institute. However, he began to find work instead, and turned to selling dragon’s beard candy, a novelty in Taiwan at the time. With a loan of a few thousand dollars from his father, Quek and his wife set up a kiosk selling dragon’s beard candy in a major Taipei shopping centre. He designed the signage and marketed his candy as the original Chinese emperor’s snack. Business was slow at first; however, after a few months of intensive marketing, improved presentation and change in pricing, the business took off and eventually expanded to five kiosks, with sales of over $240,000 a month.9

Encouraged by his success, Quek decided to introduce a typical Singaporean hawker fare, bak chor mee (minced pork noodles) to the Taiwanese market. He returned to Singapore to learn noodle-making from a local hawker and planned to open a chain of snack stalls called Singa (short for “Singapura”) in Taipei. Quek started with $100,000 to set up his first bak chor mee and fishball noodle outlet in a Taipei shopping mall, working from 5 am to 10.30 pm every day. Unfortunately, the stall was forced to close three months later due to poor business. Along with the closure, the bulk of Quek’s savings was also lost. Undaunted, he decided to revive the idea and reconceptualised the “Singa” concept after six months.10

With an experienced chef and an expanded menu that included satay, Hainanese chicken rice and prawn noodles, coupled with an adaptation of his recipes to suit Taiwanese tastes, this time Singa became a huge success. By 1992, when Quek left Taipei and sold off the business, Singa had become a popular chain with 21 outlets.11

Quek then went to Shanghai where he set up three successful ice-cream parlours over the next nine months until, feeling homesick, he returned to Singapore in 1993 after spending 11 years in Taiwan.12

Instead of an early retirement as planned, within a few months of his return, Quek, together with a few Taiwanese partners, started the Food Junction chain of food courts, with the first one opening at the Junction 8 shopping centre. The first Food Junction featured food options considered novel at the time, such as conveyor-belt sushi and teppanyaki. The chain grew to comprise 14 food courts located all over Singapore within the next eight years, with one each in Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Nicknamed “Foodcourt King” by the media, Quek also became a major shareholder of seven Megabite foodcourts in Shanghai and one in Beijing.13

In 2000, Quek stepped down as the managing director of Food Junction and launched the successful chain of BreadTalk stores in July 2000. The idea for the bakery stemmed from Quek’s observations of high-quality bakeries in Japan and Taiwan.14 BreadTalk Group became listed on the Singapore Exchange in 2003. Under his chairmanship, the BreadTalk Group has diversified to include other food and beverage brands such as Toast Box, Bread Society, The Icing Room and Din Tai Fung, as well as the Food Republic food courts.15

Awards
2002: Honorary business doctorate, Wisconsin International University;16 Entrepreneur of the Year 2002, Association of Small and Medium Enterprises17
2006: Entrepreneur of the Year 2006 (Emerging Entrepreneur Category), Ernst & Young
2013: Business Personality of the Year, Midas Touch Asia in conjunction with Channel NewsAsia18

Family
Wife: Katherine Lee Lih Leng
Children: Daughter Weirou and sons Jonathan and Matthew19



Author

Sharon Teng



References
1. BreadTalk Group Limited. (2015). Annual report, p. 9. Retrieved 2016, May 31 from BreadTalk Group Limited website: http://breadtalk.listedcompany.com/misc/ar2015.pdf
2. Long, S. (2001, August 31). Food for thought from foodcourt king. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. BreadTalk Group Limited. (2015). Annual report, p. 9. Retrieved 2016, May 31 from BreadTalk Group Limited website: http://breadtalk.listedcompany.com/misc/ar2015.pdf
4. Long, S. (2001, August 31). Food for thought from foodcourt king. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Long, S. (2001, August 31). Food for thought from foodcourt king. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Long, S. (2001, August 31). Food for thought from foodcourt king. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Long, S. (2001, August 31). Food for thought from foodcourt king. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Huang, L. (2009, November 9). Pork floss queen. The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Long, S. (2001, August 31). Food for thought from foodcourt king. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Long, S. (2001, August 31). Food for thought from foodcourt king. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Long, S. (2001, August 31). Food for thought from foodcourt king. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; BreadTalk Group Limited (2015). Annual report, p. 9. Retrieved 2016, May 31 from BreadTalk Group Limited website: http://breadtalk.listedcompany.com/misc/ar2015.pdf
12. Huang, L. (2009, November 9). Pork floss queen. The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Long, S. (2001, August 31). Food for thought from foodcourt king. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Long, S. (2001, August 31). Food for thought from foodcourt king. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. BreadTalk Group Limited. (2015). Annual report, p. 9. Retrieved 2016, May 31 from BreadTalk Group Limited website: http://breadtalk.listedcompany.com/misc/ar2015.pdf
16. BreadTalk Group Limited. (2015). Annual report, p. 9. Retrieved 2016, May 31 from BreadTalk Group Limited website: http://breadtalk.listedcompany.com/misc/ar2015.pdf
17. Page 5 advertisements column 1. (2002, July 12). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. BreadTalk Group Limited. (2015). Annual report, p. 9. Retrieved 2016, May 31 from BreadTalk Group Limited website: http://breadtalk.listedcompany.com/misc/ar2015.pdf
19. Long, S. (2001, August 31). Food for thought from foodcourt king. The Straits Times, p. 12; Huang, L. (2009, November 9). Pork floss queen. The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Pioneers
Directors of corporations--Singapore--Biography
Business, finance and industry>>Business organization>>Business enterprises
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Businessmen--Singapore--Biography
Quek, George
Personalities>>Biographies>>Pioneers