When Jake Pang was faced with the challenge of losing at least 20 kg to qualify for a boxing competition, it wasn’t the long hours of physical training and mental fortitude required that got to him: it was the lack of healthy food options.
During his training, he had to stick to a strict diet of proteins and greens but he quickly realized it wasn’t easy to get meals like that in Singapore. “Salads were [often] drenched in dressing and vegetarian joints were heavy with carbs,” Jake explained.
With this idea taking seed in mind, Jake roped in his friends Edmund Goh and Desmond Sim and Wafuken was borned.
Wafuken is an amalgamation of “wafu”, meaning Japanese-style, and “ken” (short for kenko) which means health and wellness in Japanese. At its core, the brand is all about providing healthy and delicious meals to boost nutrition as part of preventive care. Their meals are Japanese-style whole grain bowls topped with restaurant-grade meat which subscribe to a sous-vide style of cooking – where ingredients are packed in a vacuum-sealed pack and submerged into a temperature-controlled water bath. In this way, moisture and flavor are said to be retained.
Select half- or full-sized proteins such as chicken breast ($4/$6), smoked duck ($7/$12), oyster blade steak ($8/$14); and top it off with sides like miso cauliflower ($2) and chilli jam tofu ($1.50).
1. Who are the people behind Wafuken?
Jake: Wafuken was founded by Edmund, Desmond and myself. It all started when I had the idea of a healthy concept that I could pick and choose the food I wanted based on my diet needs. When I met Edmund in the army during National Service, I ran the idea through to see if it is feasible as he had prior F&B experience and culinary training. We eventually decided to launch this idea after my graduation and that was when Edmund roped in his friend Desmond as an investor and also a fellow wellness and fitness enthusiast.
2. Why did you start Wafuken?
Jake: I was overweight for a big part of my childhood and through my Polytechnic days. However, my proper weight-loss journey started when I told my Boxing coach that I would want to try my hand at competing, to which he told me would be out of the question unless I was at least 70kg. At that time, I was over 90kg and did not dare to weigh myself after hitting that. Eventually through the proper dieting and training, I weighed in at 61.4kg on competition day.
The biggest issue I had during this journey was not the training or diet, it was the lack of option while I was dining out. Back then, the options were limited to Salad places that were drenched in dressing, or vegetarian joints that were heavy with carbs. So this led to question 1.
3. How did you start the business?
Jake: We incorporated our company in 2014, but our first outlet started in June 2015. We only had funding from the 3 of us, with a mix of personal savings and family loans. I can’t disclose the amount, but it was on the low 6 figure sum.
4. What were your biggest challenges launching your business?
Jake: In Singapore during the period we started, the F&B industry was predominantly made up of big players with a long track record and/or established brands. On the other end we have the hawkers that we all grew up loving. So we were in a spot where we had to compete with named brands or companies that had experiences or resources unavailable to us. So I would say navigating through the landlords and justifying our brand was one of the biggest challenge. At times, even when we found a unit that we really liked, we were not able to get the space despite putting in our offer first because a more known brand is competing for it. This goes hand in hand with convincing the public to come and give our food a try. However, I would like to add that it is currently much newbie-friendly nowadays and it is great to see.
5. In brief, what is Wafuken is all about?
Jake: Healthy food has a stigma for being bland or tasteless, but at Wafuken, utilizing modern techniques and the freshest ingredients, we aim to conquer that thought. With a fully customizable menu, you will be able to select what you want based on your diet needs.
6. Why healthy food?
Jake: In health, there are pretty much 2 options, prevention and medication. Medication is something we are all too familiar with, from something trivial like a sore throat from having too much fried food, to life-threatening conditions like heart disease. Prevention on the other hand would usually garner thoughts like supplements or vaccines. We believe that the best thing you can do for prevention is actually to start with your nutrition, many illnesses major or minor are closely tied to our diet choices. At Wafuken, we hope to destroy the stigma of healthy food and therefore help people on their journey on to a healthier holistic lifestyle.
7. What do you envision the future of healthy food to be in Singapore?
Jake: With more healthy concepts popping up all the time, I am very happy to say that we are on the way towards a healthier Singapore. I do hope that the increased demand for healthy food and ingredients would in turn cause a reduction of cost in these ingredients. That way, we would be able to lower the investments of the people that are trying to give a healthy diet a try.
8. What is one advice or tip you would give to those who want to start an F&B business?
Jake: The 3 main costs involved in F&B would be rent, food cost and manpower cost. Rent is usually locked in so you are not able to do much after. Singaporeans are foodies so cutting back on food cost would be noticed immediately. That leaves us with manpower cost that we have to watch over, and at the same time the people makes or break your food. What I’m getting at is that this is a balancing act in itself, just like nutrition.
Wafuken promo code for After Clinic Hours readers (2020)
Wafuken is giving the first 100 After Clinic Hours readers an exclusive 15% off their food orders via order.wafuken.com
Promo code: ACH15
Date of expiry: 1 July 2020
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Jolene lives for avo toasts, yoga and is a little more OCD than she cares to admit. She never fails to start her day with morning coffee and is very partial to flat whites. She is obsessed with interiors and homeware, and is currently taking her RYT 200h yoga teacher training course as an aspiring ashtangi.