The food and beverage business has brought riches for entrepreneur Ricky Kok, but his early days in the game were more about survival than anything.

Mr Kok, the managing director of coffee shop operator Chang Cheng Group, grew up in a poor family where getting out into the workforce at a young age was a necessity.

His first job was as a cook at a seafood restaurant at the age of 15.

Ten years later, he opened his first economy mixed rice stall at Toa Payoh, with some mean braised pig trotters and kung pao chicken recipes up his sleeve.

Building his own business was more tiring than it was challenging, recalls Mr Kok, 45.

"I could afford only two workers, so I had to do everything myself. Every day, I had to go on my own to pick up ingredients."

In an industry where most new businesses have brief lifespans, the Chang Cheng Group has expanded into 230 outlets islandwide and will open its first stalls in Malaysia next year.

Mr Kok believes "hard work, sincerity and dedication to his team" brought him to this point - and helped him clinch the top honour at the Entrepreneur of the Year awards ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore last night.

The awards are organised by the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises and the Rotary Club of Singapore.

"I am grateful to our numerous customers for their unwavering support," said Mr Kok of his win in the Established Entrepreneur category.

The New Entrepreneur award, for new firms that have been running for more than two years, went to Mr Parthiban Murugaiyan, managing director of Luvenus Jewellery.

He also bagged the business strategy award for growing Luvenus from a single store in Changi Airport into a market leader in gold jewellery.

Mr Sim Eng Tong of waste treatment company Biomax Technologies and Dr Ye Ning of cashless car parking systems provider Sun Singapore Systems were the joint winners of the innovation and technology award.

Mr Nicholas Goh of communications consultancy Verztec Consulting received the social contribution award.

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin told the 600 or so guests: "Entrepreneurs do the things they love most, the things they believe in.

"And that spurs them to think out of the box, resulting in some of the more common products taking on a very striking approach."