Unable to fly, these Singapore pilots became hawkers

Ken Chew (left) and Steven Goh (right) in front of Granny’s Pancake hawker stall, where they did their apprenticeship under the Hawkers’ Development Programme. — TODAY pic
Ken Chew (left) and Steven Goh (right) in front of Granny’s Pancake hawker stall, where they did their apprenticeship under the Hawkers’ Development Programme. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, Nov 24 — With the aviation industry in the doldrums due to the Covid-19 pandemic, two Singaporeans went from flipping switches at their cockpit seats to flipping pancakes.

Steven Goh, 42, and Ken Chew, 46, were captain and senior first officer respectively with Juneyao Air in China. They flew domestic and international routes on the Airbus A320, flying to destinations such as Japan and Thailand.

Goh had been flying for 15 years but had to stop in early February when the coronavirus was sweeping across the world. 

Chew, on the job for 25 years, was grounded in mid-March. Out of work, the two men were having a meal at 20 Ghim Moh Road Market and Food Centre when they realised that Granny’s Pancake — a stall run by Mr Billy Ng, 55 — always had a long queue. 

Goh said: “We tried his product and found that it’s very special and different from other pancakes.”

Intrigued, they asked Ng to mentor them. At the same time, they chanced upon the Hawkers’ Development Programme and registered in end-March.

Singapore launched the programme in January to help new hawkers enter the trade, providing them with training, apprenticeship and incubation. 

To date, about 150 participants have completed the training stage.

Goh and Chew started the programme in end-June, taking classes on business planning and marketing while doing an apprenticeship with Ng.

“Totally different environment,” Chew said of his new endeavour to make peanut and red bean pancakes.

Instead of views of puffs of cloud, he now whisks cloudy mixtures and watches puffs of steam rise from cast iron pans.

His key takeaway was learning how to take care of customers’ wants and needs.

“Being a hawker, you need to have endurance — manning the stall, working without any rest or time to sit down,”  Goh said. “But whenever you get good feedback from customers, it spurs you on. That’s what is keeping me going.”

Their mentorship ended in September. Since then, the two have been running a “simple set-up” to sell pancakes at a coffee shop in Ang Mo Kio, where they experiment with flavours and get customer feedback.

“I would say we’re almost done,” Chew said, adding that they would be ready to move to a hawker stall if they were offered one as early as the next day.

This would entail entering the last stage of the programme, in which participants will receive a 12-week mentorship at their new stall. 

Dreaming big, both men hope to have more than one stall in the future once business is up and running.

The long-term goal is to handle the business from behind the scenes while hired hands take care of daily operations.

They still want to land planes and are waiting for the aviation industry to recover.

“Hopefully within a year or two,” Chew said. — TODAY

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