Names & Nationalities: Sharon Lee (Singaporean) and Javier Perez (Puerto Rican)
Campus: Les Roches Bluche, Postgraduate Diploma in Hospitality Management, 2005
Current Job: Founders of Series of Intentions
#FeedingPeopleRight is a motto at Grain Traders, one of three restaurant concepts within Singapore-based group Series of Intentions (SOI). It’s an apt motto for this fast-casual outlet, which combines speed with the healthy ingredients and preparation techniques more typical of slow-food establishments. But the slogan’s spirit refers to more than just food. “It’s about treating people right,” SOI founder Javier says. “And that starts internally — with treating our employees right and instilling service values. How do you exceed people’s expectations?” [quote]A service instructor at Les Roches once advised Javier to “be the guest’s shadow,” and that sense of intuition and thinking ahead continues to guide him. [/quote]“You need to anticipate and understand your customer. You see that his hair is wet, that he’s carrying a sports bag, so you say, ‘Hey, how was the gym?’ It’s about recognition — something that all humans want.”
An Appetite for Entrepreneurship
SOI was founded in 2011 when married couple and Les Roches alumni Sharon and Javier opened Kilo, their first restaurant of the group. “Kilo began with an idea to offer ‘refined comfort food,’” explains Javier. “We wanted to organize pig roasts, art parties — anything that involves the community.” Six years later, that idea has evolved into several Kilo restaurants in Singapore and Bali, and spin-off concepts Camp Kilo and Grain Traders.
The seeds for starting a business were planted when Javier and Sharon were still students at Les Roches. Both came to the Swiss school in 2004 to study the Postgraduate Diploma in Hospitality. Javier was fueled by a passion for F&B, and Sharon by the desire to escape from her desk job: “My first degree was in accounting, and I really wanted to get into an industry where I could interact more with people. I’ve always been interested in tourism and traveling; Les Roches gave me the chance to try something different.” Les Roches was where the pair met — and where they ended up working together on a business project for their finance class.
[quote]I always tell people that Switzerland changed my life. It exposed me to so much in such a short amount of time,[/quote] Javier says. One of his strongest memories from Les Roches is working on that business project, which involved creating a plan to purchase, run and market a hotel. “Our finance teacher came up to us afterwards and said that it was one of the best projects he’d seen — that if we one day we decided to launch our own business, it could really work.”
Finding the Right Recipe
After graduating, though, Sharon and Javier parted ways to do management training: she went to The Peninsula Manila and he went to Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok. But in Thailand, Javier kept toying with the idea of starting his own business; he even came up with the name “SOI” based on similar-sounding words in Thai meaning “beautiful” or “pathway.” A year later, in 2006, Sharon and Javier moved to Singapore to start their entrepreneurial adventure.
“We started by running this small Vietnamese café, Banh Mi, in the Central Business District for about a year and a half,” Sharon recalls. “Opening a small restaurant had always been our dream, so after taking some time off, we opened Raw Kitchen Bar on Bukit Timah Road. That became the basis for Kilo.”
Javier and Sharon ran Raw Kitchen Bar for around two years, frequently hosting events and building up a loyal following. Eventually, they moved to a new location, rebranding the restaurant as Kilo. Serving an innovative menu of East-meets-West in a setting that is both edgy and inviting, they soon expanded the original Kilo Kallang to several more locations in Singapore and Bali.
Hungry for New Challenges
Today, the SOI group encompasses intimate Kilo restaurants, a Kilo lounge/nightclub and Camp Kilo Charcoal Club — a unique, family-friendly setting where guests can enjoy spit-roasted meat outdoors. Grain Traders, with two locations and counting, is the latest addition to the group. Although they span different styles, all the SOI outlets are built on a passion for bringing people together for memorable experiences.
From the outside, it looks like SOI is growing fast, but as Javier says, “I feel like we’re just getting started.” When a friend, opening a restaurant for the first time, asked Javier what the hardest moment had been, Javier says, “He was talking to me as if I had already finished this journey, while I feel like the hardest moment is right now. On top of service and operations, we have to think about so many other layers.” But if there is one thing Javier has learned about being an entrepreneur, it’s the importance of pacing. [quote]Starting your own business takes time, and every stage requires something different. You have to know yourself, and know your own pace.[/quote]
Those are all challenges that this husband-and-wife team look forward to tackling. With her strong finance skills, Sharon is the “back-of-house whiz” who keeps the company running while Javier pushes for growth in new directions. “I never looked at SOI as being just F&B — I’m working on a hotel now, and I’d like us to go into greater depths of hospitality. Concert halls, initiatives, campaigns for cities… It’s about having an impact on the place where you live.”