Growing a business entails sacrifices, believes Edward Chia, the founder of Korean food eatery Dosirak. He first learnt this at age 20, when he was forced by his parents to work at their family-owned restaurant, Your Woul, on his then girlfriend’s birthday.
“I had planned a party for her and so it was awkward for me to explain to her and all the guests that the party had to carry on without me,” recalls the Singaporean of mixed Korean and Chinese parentage. “It was then I realised that making sacrifices while building a business is necessary.”
That early lesson in entrepreneurship would go on to serve him well when he co-founded Third & Sixth, a bar and grill on Seah Street five years later. After selling his shares in that first business, he and his younger brother opened Dosirak, a takeaway establishment that offers a modern take on the traditional Korean bibimbap (mixed rice) in October 2014.
“Having always been helping out at our parents’ restaurant, my brother Eugene and I were looking for ways to start our own business that is somewhat related. Dosirak was our answer,” says Chia, 28, who together with his brother also took over management of their parents’ restaurant last year.
“One day, we were eating at a sandwich place where you can design your own sandwich and we thought: ‘Hey, we can have something similar built around the concept of healthy Korean rice bowls!” he recalls.
Following through with the idea, the brothers developed a range of food boxes and attempted to set up shop at a suburban mall in western Singapore, but were turned away. Instead of giving up, they channelled even more time to improving their concept.
One of the first few things they did was to turn to the Korean recipes that had been passed down through their mother’s family. But rather than simply reproducing them, they decided to offer healthier options that do not compromise on taste.
Working with a certified food nutritionist, the brothers began replacing ingredients with healthier substitutes. For example, instead of white sugar, the recipes now use unrefined brown sugar; and instead of corn syrup, dishes are sweetened with Asian pear food extract. Meats are cooked sous vide to retain more nutrients and all recipes exclude the use of monosodium glutamate (MSG) as a flavour enhancer.
One unique selling point is that the customer is able to customise their meal completely — from choosing a base of either brown rice, cauliflower rice, noodles or tofu, to the type of vegetables and protein they want. Served in a small tub, the dish is then topped with a special red sauce. All the diner needs to do is give the tub a good shake before tucking in.
Such a hit was the concept that Dosirak was invited by the Health Promotion Board to become a member of its Healthier Dining Partner programme before their first outlet — at China Square — even opened. With the encouraging response and a steadily growing customer base, the brothers opened a second outlet at UE BizHub East in November last year.
But the work is far from done, with Chia still focused on boosting the appeal of Dosirak. “In terms of our menu, we are looking to introduce even more vegetable options for them to have in their boxes, as well as soups. Dosirak is also currently developing products, such as sauces that people can bring home and use in their cooking.”
In the midst of a regional expansion, Dosirak will also open shop in Jakarta this April and in Kuala Lumpur later in the year.
My toughest critique is…my mum Seol Mee Shuk. She migrated here from Korea with nothing and built her business from scratch. Being a firm Asian mum, she is very honest and when she doesn’t agree with me on certain things, she will say it as it is. It can be tough but to me, it is how I learn to improve myself.
I give back…via Food Bank Singapore, an organisation that collects and distributes unused or unwanted food to the needy. In a developed country such as ours, we forget there are people who actually experience food insecurity. They don’t have enough to eat. We’ve pledged $1 for every box of Dosirak sold.
The one thing I would not eat is…salads. They often exclude carbs and I need that in my diet.
I cook…pretty regularly and always Mexican because I love the robust flavours the cuisine offers.
Success is…a funny thing. Some people think it’s measured by the amount of things they own or the figures in their bank account. For me, it is when I find myself happy because I’ve achieved my goal, be it in business or my personal life.