23-year-old Derek Ong couples a knack for business with a taste for the unusual in his start-up.
Contributed By Theodora Oh
Situated in a quaint, inconspicuous corner of Mohammed Sultan Road, Pizza Memoirs is setting the foodie grapevine abuzz with its unconventionally flavored pizzas. With an alfresco dining concept and regular, boisterous crowds (especially on nights where there are live soccer telecasts), it looks like Pizza Memoirs has been around for quite a while.
What sets Pizza Memoirs apart from other pizza parlors, however, is the unique blend of ingredients that one cannot easily find elsewhere. One of these is the bestselling Prosciutto Di Parma, which is highly popular among the expatriate crowd who patronize the restaurant regularly. Another is the charmingly-named Sweet Dreams pizza, an innovative miso-mayo based creation with fish bak kwa—yes you read right.
Being the core product of Ong’s other business venture, O Savory, the idea for fish bak kwa was birthed by Ong’s father back in 1990. While not a big fan of bak kwa as he has always felt that the meat was both tough and unhealthy, the 23-year-old Ong, who studied biotechnology at Republic Polytechnic, decided to revisit the idea by using different types of fish such as marlin, swordfish, tuna and salmon as the jerky. He reveals, “O Savory’s fish bak kwa are made from 100 percent fish. We do not mix it with other stuff thus it is healthier. We also have our own special marinade that gives our bak kwa a unique taste and flavor.”
Attributing his entrepreneurial streak to his family background, Ong shared about the live turtle trading company his father used to run in the 1980s. During those years, they were considered to be a monopoly. He reminisces, “I always see my dad running around minding the business and I always found it a joy to learn whatever he was doing. He would always tell me stories about what happened in the business.” Be it the exposure to his father’s business that rubbed off him or his innate inclinations, it seems like Ong is following in his father’s footsteps. That’s not to say it’s been a bed of roses for him.
Being wet behind the ears, Ong found it an uphill struggle during the initial stages of setting up O Savory. “There were times that it got so demoralizing I would go back into my room at night and question myself about what I was doing,” he recalls. As with most entrepreneurs, the biggest obstacles presented themselves in the form of funding, manpower and products. Taking a step of faith in himself and his product, he sought out RP’s entrepreneurship mentoring center with his business proposal.
After a few months of grueling hard work that included multiple business interviews and presentations, Spring Singapore’s Young Entrepreneurs Scheme For Start-ups (YES! Start-ups) gave the nod of approval to his proposal with a S$50,000 funding—a first in RP’s history. Taking the first letter of his family name and the taste he wanted to achieve, O Savory was set up.
Ong credits his former cell group leader at City Harvest Church, Nick Chor, for having instilled in him a teachable spirit. “I learned that I should never be too proud to learn, and be open to criticism for the purpose of edification. I still hold fast to it every single day.” His friends at church also provided him with much moral support whenever he felt discouraged or lost. Additionally, some of them pitched in with their own business experiences, for instance, helping him craft his business plan. One of them is his current business partner, Josiah Jeremy.
Asked about the people who inspire him most, Ong names Kong Hee, the senior pastor of CHC, as the man he most wants to emulate. He admires his leadership quality, an attribute he wants to apply in every aspect of his life and not solely in his business. “I want to run a good race; no matter how hard it may be, always keeping in mind the light of eternity. The strength of my youth is my glory; I want to use it rightly.” Ong envisions an international market for O Savory in five years. “I believe it will become big enough to provide funding for a team of missionaries to carry out God’s work. I hope to be a source of finance for missions, with myself fully involved.”
He adds, “Church has transformed my life. It equipped me with the right values, mindset, attitude and faith to be who I am and to start this business. I know that whatever God opens, no one can shut and whatever He shuts, no one can open. With this in mind, I have full faith that be it success or failure, God is behind the wheels.”
18 Mohammed Sultan Road
+65 6733 3102