Peter Hu’s protein bar business is a departure from the multitude of fruit juice bars in Singapore.
| PHOTO COURTESY OF PETER HU
Former banker Peter Hu, 34, was standing in front of a protein shake bar in Vancouver, Canada, observing the snaking queue of people waiting in line to buy their protein shakes at CAD$6 per cup. He had just completed his studies at the School of Theology, and was on vacation when the idea struck him to set up a similar business back in Singapore.
During the fallout of the global financial crisis, Hu had earlier made a decision to leave the banking industry, feeling disillusioned with what he could offer to his clients. With that, he opened The Amino Bar at 313 Somerset in December 2009. At first glance, it looks like a juice bar, but in actual fact, it is in the business of selling protein drinks that have the option of adding fruit.
Explaining the concept behind the business, Hu says, “When you do strenuous exercises, it breaks down the muscles in your body. You need to take protein to replenish the muscle you have lost, and to build healthy lean mass.”
The bar uses the protein brand Dymatize as it tastes better, which consists of whey protein. The benefits of whey protein, as listed on its website, are plentiful. As it is a naturally complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids required in one’s daily diet, it can be used in weight management programs—as a meal replacement (for those who want to lose weight) or a meal add-on (for those who want to increase body mass).
Concoctions range from the lush-sounding Matcha Green Milk, made of soy milk (for the lactose-intolerant), green tea, honey and vanilla protein to the tongue-in-cheek Berry Manilow, a high-antioxidant mix of mixed berries juice, apple and berry protein. The Banana Rama is a smooth, fragrant blend of soy milk, bananas, honey and vanilla protein, perfect as a meal on-the-go. Soymilk is used so that customers who are lactose-intolerant will have options too.
What are the considerations when making a good shake? Among others, “It has got to have a good, thick consistency, which is affected by the kind of powder you use in the mixture. It should also have one dominant taste,” says Hu. After experimenting with various flavors and poring over countless recipe books, they came up with a shortlist of flavors.
Despite having broken even in six months since it opened last December, Hu is not resting on his laurels. He hopes to expand the business into a second outlet, but is well aware of the challenges that come with it. “It will take a longer time and much more effort to make it a really scalable business. For example, even when we manage to find the perfect location to open up a second outlet, we will not be able to replicate the business as there will still be differentiating factors to account for,” he says.
“The mall wanted every retailer to TOP (‘Temporary Occupation Permit’, which allows the legal use of a building pending final clearance) on the same day, but obviously we needed to hire and train workers before we open. However, we couldn’t apply for the foreign worker license without the TOP certificate.” There wasn’t much they could do except to pray, and eventually, they were able to open shop without any serious setbacks. “Whenever we were discouraged, God kept showing us the numbers ‘313’ and ‘131’, which means perfection and completeness in the Bible.”
In the first few months, the shop did not get much traffic, but the novelty of what it was offering soon caught on. “We have repeat customers who tell us that they’re so glad we’ve set up the shop as they had been looking for something like this for a long time.” With its strategic location in the vicinity of two established gyms, the business was able to capitalize on the right kind of market.
According to Hu, one of the most difficult aspects of running the business was finding the right staff, and he is thankful for his current team of 10, whom he considers family. “The good thing about having worked under unpleasant bosses was that when I became a boss myself, I knew what not to do to my own staff.”
The Amino Bar is located at 313@Somerset #01-31, 313 Orchard Road, Singapore 238895. Tel: +65 6884 9161.