New Soon Huat serves up delicious bak kut teh and second chances.
Contributed By Cindy Koh
Ah, bak kut teh.
Pork broth simmering in a magic mix of ingredients, giving it that special “oomph.” Flavors that keep the crowds coming, no matter how far or remote the location. That’s the draw of New Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh at Jalan Kayu.
The chef responsible for this distinctive yet crowd-pleasing version of this signature Singaporean dish is Jabez William Tan, 37, who describes himself as “homegrown and proud of it.” Tan differentiates New Soon Huat’s version “from the [more common] Hokkien- or Teochew-style bak kut teh. One has dark-colored soup and the other has a peppery taste.” Tan’s version of the pork broth is clear and “not too peppery, so that that the fragrance and taste of the meat comes through, together with hints of the herbs and spices. There is a gentle but evident presence of ginseng, but not so overwhelming that this becomes a herbal soup.”
Tan’s “secret recipe” includes choice cuts of bone meat and certain innards, stewed with star anise, garlic, dang gui, ginseng, cinnamon sticks, red dates and cloves.
But don’t expect this recipe to remain predictable—Tan is constantly tweaking and improving his star dish based on the feedback and preferences of his patrons, whom he meets and speaks to every day.
A LIFE REBUILT
To watch Tan about his business these days, one cannot imagine that the same man used to live a life of crime. He was involved in drugs and was in and out of prison for more than a decade. But an encounter with God transformed him from inside out, and Tan found himself with new dreams to become a successful businessman. Doors would later open for his natural talent at cooking.
“In prison, I cooked for those who were sentenced to death, putting my very best in all the dishes as they were living the last few days of their lives. I always think of those years in prison as a training ground for the day when I actually run my own business,” Tan recalls.
When Tan was released from prison five years ago, “I admitted myself to the New Charis Mission, in the hope of walking right with God and establishing my relationship with Him.”
The New Charis Mission is a Christian rehabilitation ministry started in 2006 by Don Wong, a pastor, with a mission of “Building the Vision, Rebuilding Lives” for former inmates. The ministry also supports inmates’ spouses and families.
Tan went from being a beneficiary of the ministry to becoming a helper and a staff member. He is today the house master in charge of running the in-house programs. In 2010, he enrolled in and graduated from City Harvest Church’s School Of Theology.
All those years Tan faithfully served at the New Charis Mission, he said he was “waiting for God to make my business dream come true in His time.”
God did better than just give Tan a business: He gave him a wife. The opportunity to open New Soon Huat came early this year, not long after Tan got married. He says, “My heart is full of gratitude because of God’s abundant blessings.”
New Soon Huat Pte Ltd was incorporated on January 10 this year.
PARTNERS IN MISSION
Tan is the main talent at New Soon Huat and his co-founders are Mok Tuck Onn, who works in a multinational corporation and Vanessa Wong, pastor and wife of Don Wong of the New Charis Mission.
The idea to start a bak kut teh eatery came about because the founders are big fans of this dish. Wong, a mother of two who handles administration, accounts and human resource, as well as ministry duties at the New Charis Mission, says, “We love bak kut teh so much, traveling twice a week to Johor Bahru to eat the best is very common for us! Now that we’ve been given an opportunity to start a business, bak kut teh is a natural choice!”
But the menu offers many other delicious options other than bak kut teh. The fact that the store is named New Soon Huat emphasizes its authentic style of preparing traditional Chinese delicacies such as ginger chicken, pig trotters and Teochew steamed fish.
The significance of the shop’s name is in the word “new.” Mok, a father of three and a City Harvest Chinese Church cell group leader explains: “Jabez had gone down a wayward path in his early days, but through Christ, he was saved, and inherited a new sense of purpose and mission in life. The “new” in New Soon Huat signifies a new beginning, a new life, a new day, new breakthrough. We want to bring a message to people—some of whom may have been down the wrong path—that all is not lost. We also offer jobs for ex-inmates and addicts so they can have a second chance, a new start.”
Wong elaborates: “Another reason we have for starting this business is to create jobs for ex-offenders who have the skills but are unable to secure jobs because of their criminal records. Our waiters and workers carry a great attitude in serving and doing their job. As you know, the food and beverage business is a labor-intensive industry with long operating hours, trying to recruit people with a good service attitude can be a challenge but we have gradually been able to source for such people and retain them.”
New Soon Huat started making a profit in its second month of business and today, enjoys many repeat customers—probably because the eatery offers freeflow bak kut teh broth, reasonable prices and no service charge or GST.
Not a company to take its success for granted, New Soon Huat is actively positioning itself to reach out to a younger crowd. The founders intend to achieve this through elements such as a modern logo, its Facebook page and attractive interior furnishing and events. New Soon Huat has a basement level that seats large groups, and a number of City Harvest Church cell groups have taken advantage of this space, thanks to word of mouth recommendation.
The founders of New Soon Huat hope that through their business, they can support the Yellow Ribbon initiative to integrate ex-inmates and ex-addicts back into society by providing job opportunities for them. Tan stands as an example of a former inmate who gained a second chance at life, proving to others like himself that it is possible to break away from an old lifestyle and to shine for God in the marketplace.
New Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh
257 Jalan Kayu, Singapore 799485
+65 6484 3224