The husband-and-wife team at Beancurd City have a great recipe for success.
Contributed By Delvina Su
From its humble beginnings as a pushcart business at Waterloo Street half a century ago, this beancurd business has come a long way.
The beancurd baton has been passed down three generations—from grandfather to father and right now, into the hands of son, David Koh, 43. The original trade, run by Koh’s grandfather, was a tofu business in Swatow, China, in the 1920s. Koh’s father brought that skill with him to Singapore, and started a pushcart tow huay (silken beancurd) business in the 1940s, located along Waterloo Street.
Much has changed since the original pushcart days: “In my father’s time one bowl of tow huay sold for 30 or 40 cents. Now we sell one bowl for 80 cents to S$1.20 if you take away.” But one thing remains the same: Beancurd City’s signature sweet, smooth and silky beancurd.
Koh’s initial plan for his career was to venture out into the corporate world as an accountant. But he found that working for someone else did not pay much, and felt that he should do something with the skills that his father had imparted to him since he was 12.
Koh talked it over with his wife, Marianne Tan, who was also in accounting, and the duo decided to become business partners, turning Koh’s well-mastered beancurd-making skills into a business. In 2002, the couple began operations at a shophouse along Jalan Besar. Their hours were long: they began work early in the morning and ended late into the night. Koh focused on producing beancurd, soya milk and doughsticks, while Tan, now 44, manned the front counter and was responsible for building strong relationships with the shop’s patrons.
But all was not a bed of roses and running a business was definitely not easy, as the couple discovered. “For the first two years, it was really a struggle. The business was not making any money. We had no helpers, it was just my wife and I,” recalled Koh.
“It was a total nightmare! We lived in worry every day,” Tan interjected.
Despite 14 hours of hard work daily, seven days a week, the business was not breaking even. But gradually, with their mantle to produce fresh beancurd of good quality, the stomachs of many customers were won over—Beancurd City even found fans among natives of Arab countries and Spain. Relying solely on word of mouth, on top of much hard work and sacrifice, the business eventually started to profit in 2005. Within the next year, business had grown so much that Beancurd City opened their second outlet along Sembawang Road.
When it comes to quality, Koh has high standards. Till today, he personally sees to the preparation and production of the beancurd sold. In order to serve his customers with beancurd that has a perfect mix of coagulant and soyabean, Koh manually mixes them daily. Churned out three times a day, Beancurd City’s beancurd is renowned for its freshness and silkiness. The beancurd glides down one’s throat, often leaving customers craving for more.
A good bowl of beancurd is flavored with sugar syrup—and the quality of the syrup makes or breaks the taste. At Beancurd City, the sugar syrup is a secret recipe, specially prepared by Koh. Little wonder that the Kohs sell over 400 bowls of beancurd per day, and retain regular customers, some of whom have been faithfully patronizing their shop for nearly 10 years.
“We believe in word-of-mouth advertising,” explained Tan. “In Singapore, customers will definitely spread the word if they have tasted something good.”
Koh and Tan, who have been married for 22 years, are a rare example of a couple that can work together as well as they live. “We do not take arguments to heart or bring business disputes back home, if not there will be no end [to disagreements]. Usually we would just calm down and after awhile, it will be alright. This also trains our patience. We just have to learn to give and take,” says Tan. The Kohs place utmost importance on discussion and communication as partners—in life and in business.
The Kohs became Christians a year ago during Easter, and say their new faith has taught them a lot about love and patience. The warmth and concern they experience in church are what they bring with them into their business. Koh shared how he used to have anger management problems, especially when dealing with his staff.
“They used to make me so angry that my blood pressure was on the high side. After attending church, it has made a lot of difference. I have learned to handle my employees with love and care. Now, I do not scold them, and I try to be more patient towards them. I have been transformed,” he declared.
For the Kohs, the key to their success lies beyond their secret beancurd recipe—their true secrets to success are hard work, perseverance and an excellent spirit.
• 133 Jalan Besar Singapore 208851
Opening hours: Daily, 10:30 a.m. to midnight
• Blk 435 Sembawang Road, #01-449
Opening hours: Daily, 3 p.m. to 3 a.m.
5 Tips For Tow Huay Lovers
1. When kept in the fridge, a bowl of beancurd can last up to five days. At room temperature, a bowl of beancurd will turn sour within six hours.
2. The best way to enjoy beancurd and soya milk is to have them with doughstick and Portuguese egg tarts.
3. Cold beancurd makes a perfect dessert, while hot beancurd can be a replacement for lunch.
4. A good bowl of beancurd must be silky and smooth. Soyabean milk that is not filtered properly may cause itchiness in the throat.
5. Beancurd that’s not perfectly mixed in its preparation stage will turn out with many holes.