During his school holidays, Mr Hu Jin Zhong would tag along with his father to help out in the latter’s catering business.
The teenager helped out with general duties such as clearing the trash, sometimes working for up to 13 hours a day.
His exposure to the food business at a young age had him interested in the food and beverage industry.
After obtaining a diploma in culinary skills from Shatec Institutes, he worked in the hotel industry for five years, working his way up from a kitchen helper to chef de partie to a junior sous chef.
His experience gave him a leg up when he joined his father’s newly set up catering company, Pin Si Kitchen, in 2008.
Today, Mr Hu, 28, is the managing director, overseeing the chefs, company’s workflow and the departmental heads of operations, purchasing, human resources and accounts. It may sound overwhelming, but he relishes the challenge.
He says: “I enjoy my role as it is challenging and involves effective work planning and strong teamwork. These factors combine to elicit compliments from satisfied customers.”
Keeping sales up
Besides meeting regularly with the division heads, Mr Hu also engages in brief meetings with the chairman, who is his father and mentor.
He says: “I enjoy working with my father because there is so much to learn from his over 40 years of experience.”
He is especially proud of the mobile kitchen concept, which was the brainchild of his father.
The concept involves converting trucks to store kitchen equipment, such as a stove or fridge, and bringing these vehicles to the catering venue where each transforms into a fully furnished kitchen.
He adds: “The trucks are equipped with a special container to store waste, which is disposed only when they return to Pin Si’s kitchen. This way, we promote cleanliness and hygiene, and this has become popular among our customers.”
His clients include Singapore Expo, community centres island wide and organisers of festive occasions.
During the Qing Ming Festival and lull period from March to May, business takes a beating. To boost sales, Mr Hu brainstorms with his staff to come up with new ideas and promotions.
Business then starts to pick up during the Hungry Ghost Festival and National Day celebrations.
He says: “During the Hungry Ghost Festival, outdoor catering is massive and lots of stamina is needed. I have had the experience of catering for 7,000 tables in a month!”
In a typical week, he clears his e-mail and paperwork. He also goes to the kitchen to discuss with the executive chef new retail concepts and menus for special occasions, like Mother’s Day. While he is in the kitchen, he casts a watchful eye on cleanliness and work place safety.
Working seven days a week is quite the norm for him as he makes it a point to visit the food outlets and attend most of the functions that Pin Si caters for. If necessary, he rolls up his sleeves to help out in the kitchen.
To keep his business acumen sharp, he does his own research by studying market trends, tuning into food channels and analysing hotel functions and their operations.
“Hotels in Asia typically boast high standards of food and new concepts. These are things I can apply when running Pin Si Kitchen,” he says.
Mr Hu has set his sights on opening more outlets and another kitchen.
He says: “This is a lifetime career for me. I have learnt so much from the job. For example, I have learnt to stay calm during decision-making, maintain constant communication and clear instructions and being adventurous in coming up with creative new concepts.”