Photos: Joanna Goh
Video: Goh Wen Kai
How did funnyman Mark Lee go from selling crepes to chicken rice and coffee? It wasn’t an easy decision but after investing a six-figure sum in his crepe shop at Kallang Wave Mall for the past three months, the comedian decided to cut his losses and transform his business.
Business was so dismal, the most they ever made in a day was S$600 – and the least, he tells us, was a mere S$60. With four workers on the payroll, electricity and water bills and rent to cover, Mark had no choice but to change his business strategy.
“It was our last resort – and my partner Dion [Soh] agreed as well. If not, we would have to wind up our [crepe] business after six months of operations,” he shared in an interview with Toggle at his new store.
On average, they made about S$500 a day and S$15,000 a month. But that was not enough to cover the costs of running the business and they had to top up the accounts with S$20,000 each month, adding on to the money drain. They ultimately decided to transform their F&B business into a chicken rice and coffee eatery and have since invested about S$250,000 and S$280,000 in total.
Thus, marking the birth of his new F&B baby: 13 Stages, which sells seven different types of steamed chicken rice dishes and 13 types of coffee from the 13 states in Malaysia.
Crepes are still offered on the menu at 13 Stages - served with a local twist, coming in flavours such as pork floss, peanut butter and butter and sugar.
WATCH: We check out Mark's newest business venture -- 13 Stages
“We realised that Singaporeans are less receptive towards having a ‘wrap’ as a meal. They prefer something heartier, like rice dishes. But strangely enough, ever since we started selling chicken rice and coffee, we’ve been getting more crepe orders too. People have that as an after-meal dessert now,” he remarked.
It was serendipitous everything worked out, plus response towards 13 Stages during its first four-weeks of operations has been positive too.
“The happiest thing this month is we don’t need to take money out of our own pockets to keep the books in the black,” chuckled Mark, who’s hoping to “break even in nine months to a year’s time” and push out new dishes and open a second outlet.
(Continued on next page: How does Mark split his time between his businesses, entertainment projects and family?)
SPOTTED: Sheila Sim, Charles Lee, Chen Hanwei and Hong Ling grabbing a quick bite and coffee at Mark's new eatery before their rock-climbing activity.
Known for his sharp business acumen and quick thinking, Mark’s no stranger to the F&B industry, having cut his teeth in the world of business with OldTown White Coffee kopitiam chain, which he brought in to Singapore from Malaysia in 2008.
The father-of-three also has several investments and businesses under his name - he co-own the Monsoon Group and recently set up King Kong Media Production, a production house and artiste management agency, in May this year.
Despite his overflowing plate, Mark remains devoted to his day job as an entertainer, hosting and acting from time to time and helming Love 97.2’s morning radio show with his motley co-hosts Dennis Chew, Marcus Chin and Chen Biyu. On top of that he is also a full-time daddy “Uber” driver to this three kids – Calista, 9, Marksonn, 6, and Calynn, 4.
So how does the funnyman find time for everything? Does Mark have secret time management skills or magical elves to cope with his overflowing plate? The answer to managing multiple businesses, it seems, boils down to having equal faith and trust in his business partners.
As for parenting, ferrying the kids to and from school every day makes up for all the lost time and nights spent working when he doesn’t get to read them stories or tuck them into bed, said Mark.
Mark Lee and his wife Catherine at their new F&B eatery 13 Stages.
“I wake up at 6.30am to send my daughter to school, then head to Mediacorp for my radio show. After that, I am either at King Kong for meetings or at 13 Stages. Sometimes I have filming in the afternoon, but I try my best to end my shoots by 4.30pm to send my kids home. Basically, the bulk of my time is spent with them in the car.”
It helps that his wife, Catherine, helps out at 13 Stages whenever she’s free, since the kids are in school during the day.
“To be honest, when you’re in the service line, we do get manpower crunch at times and she’s able to help out. Most importantly, she’s familiar with our business processes and I don’t need to pay her for her services - she’s like free labour.
“What she gets in return is I’ll take care of her for the rest of her life,” he laughed.
Sounds like a winning 'business proposal' to us.
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