A mother’s love knows no bounds and these three young mums are the epitome of this. Joining the recent influx of lok lok stalls in Singapore is Jiak Song Song Loklok & Congee, started by Wee En En, 30, Voxy Kwek, 32 and Joanna Ng, 29. But this isn’t just another new F&B venture.
To rake in some extra income for their children’s futures, these three mums took a leap of faith and set up the business despite already having full-time jobs.
When we meet them at their stall in Upper Cross Street on a Tuesday evening, the mums are dressed in adorable matching black Palm Angels shirts, a uniform of sorts.
While they are bubbly and chatty, we can’t help noticing the slight weariness — understandable since they had just rushed over to meet us after grinding away at their day jobs.
Voxy and En En had already been friends for around a decade before En En introduced Joanna to her two years ago. As their friendship blossomed, they realised that they all had one common goal in mind — providing the best life possible for their children.
Joanna has a two-year-old daughter, while En En’s daughter is just seven months old.
And even though Voxy’s 15-year-old son is all grown up and already helping his mum with the day-to-day house chores, she too fears that she has limited resources to help him through the next phases of his life.
Additionally, as Voxy and Joanna are both single mums, the entire burden of raising a child is on their shoulders.
“The three of us just want to provide for our family and give them a better future,” En En tells us resolutely.
En En and Voxy are both in the finance industry while Joanna is in accounting. But the income they draw every month just isn’t enough, they tell us in a mix of Mandarin and English.
In the case of En En, after she pays for her helper and all her bills, there “isn’t much money left”, she laments.
And so the trio decided to band together to start a side hustle.
Initially, they had wanted to start an online business, but neither of them were familiar with the industry.
Fortunately, Joanna’s family has “some background in the F&B scene” and Voxy used to help out at her grandmother’s noodle stall, so the trio decided to use this to their benefit and open a lok lok stall.
However, things were far from smooth sailing from the get-go. Just days after they were celebrating the opening of their stall on May 12, Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) struck.
When asked about their initial feelings towards the dine-in restrictions, all three women simultaneously chimed in and responded with one word: “Worried.”
“We just started and we definitely knew we would be losing money,” adds Voxy.
Apart from fretting over that, they also had to worry about the welfare of their three staff — two full-timers and one part-timer — who tend to the stall while they are at their day jobs.
“We cannot let our workers not have a job so we just had to struggle and go through it,” Voxy shares.
There are also times where all six of them were too busy to work and were left with no choice but to shutter the shop for the day.
Additionally, the mums had to deal with delivery-related matters, which was a whole other issue on its own.
When Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) was announced, they had yet to set up their delivery platforms and it was a mad scramble to do so.
And even when that was up and running, they had to worry about finding riders and drivers.
“If raining, die. Sometimes no driver,” En En tells us with frustration in her voice.
The delivery fees are also a killer factor and can be “over 20 dollars”. For instance, more urgent orders would require express delivery services to ensure that the food does not turn cold prior to its arrival, they say.
On top of that, they decided to bear the additional costs for customers who are located further away from the stall.
“We don’t want people to make an order and end up not getting their food,” explains Voxy.
When all else fails, Joanna, who the women dub as their “hero”, sacrifices her precious time to personally make these deliveries herself in her car.
However, despite the odds not being in their favour, the three women continue to persevere.
“Because of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), we didn’t have the morale. But we still cheered each other up and tried to be positive,” Voxy tells us determinedly.
Apart from starting the business for their kids, the three tenacious women are also doing it for themselves.
“We don’t have an education or a certificate, so we want to achieve something for ourselves,” shares Joanna.
This is despite disapproval from most of their family members who feel like the girls are wasting their time and resources.
“My family says that I already have a day job and wonder why I need to give myself additional work and find another job,” Voxy tells us.
The clash of the stall’s opening and Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) didn’t help with matters either and the girls are struggling to keep afloat during these tough times.
“I cried every night because I wanted to prove to our families that we could make it,” Voxy adds with a sad laugh.
What’s more, they’ve also had to sacrifice precious quality time with their kids.
“With our own families, we need to juggle every little thing and I have to ‘split my body’ and run here, run there,” Voxy tells us.
“Sometimes, I only see my daughter once a week,” En En also laments as she explains how her daughter is usually asleep by the time she gets home.
“But it’s all for her. It’s all for her,” she emphasises earnestly.
As of now, it’s still too early to tell if the women will manage to achieve all the goals that they’ve set out for themselves as the pandemic has left a gaping hole in their wallets.
However, they did promise each other that once their stall starts making more money, they will put the funds towards opening another stall before reaping the profits.
With over 30 to 35 variations of lok lok, such as mantou (Chinese buns), cheese balls and prawn tempura, diners will definitely be left spoilt for choice.
I especially enjoyed the cheese balls which exploded in my mouth upon first bite, releasing the oozy cheese encased within.
There are premium items such as foie gras and mentaiko (pollock roe) scallop too.
The trio say their motive behind this is to make luxury food affordable for everyone.
“You don’t have to go to a fine dining restaurant and get foie gras, you can just buy red wine, sit in my coffee shop and eat my foie gras,” Voxy says as the girls break out in laughter.
They sell soothing bowls of congee too, courtesy of En En’s mother, who wanted to help her daughter out as much as possible.
You can get it topped with century egg and lean meat, pork, shredded chicken, sliced fish, or cuttlefish.
In fact, the congee has helped the mums cover some of their losses and provided another option for people who do not enjoy eating lok lok.
I tried the mixed pork congee and I have to say I’m a fan of the smooth, creamy congee which was chock full of meat. It also, like the women hoped, adds variety to the menu and is good option to consider if you’re not in the mood for some deep-fried lok lok.
Blk 34 Upp Cross Street #01-170, Singapore 050034. Opening hours: Daily, 10am to 10pm
Text by: Melissa Teo/AsiaOne