I’m not sure about you, but whenever I travel, I’ll start missing Singaporean dishes few days into my holiday! Among others, chicken rice is one of the dishes I’d start to crave. Afterall, it is one of Singapore’s most well-loved national dishes. If you’re a chicken rice fan like me, Boon Tong Kee would surely be familiar to you!
Boon Tong Kee – Humble beginnings
Boon Tong Kee’s founder, Mr Thian Boon Hua, dropped out of school at age 13 in the 1960s and could only find a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant kitchen. His hard work paid off when his master taught him to cook a few dishes. But the environment was harsh, and his master was strict, to say the least. He persevered and in 1979, he started a humble roadside stall in Chinatown serving Cantonese chicken rice. Then, they only sold about 6 chickens a day. Building upon the popularity of his chicken rice and dedication to quality food and service, the family established Boon Tong Kee’s first restaurant at Balestier Road in 1983.
Before long, the restaurant started to garner strong reviews for its food and expanded to many more outlets islandwide. In 1999, the company started to include “Zi Char” dishes to their menu. Despite their expansion, the chicken rice and many of the items at Boon Tong Kee are still prepared according to traditional methods. Such is the founder’s dedication to his craft.
When we met Mr Jason Thian, Director at Boon Tong Kee, you can see this man’s pride when it comes to the business. Despite the challenges in the past 2 years where they had to keep up with manpower issues, and the everchanging Safe Management Measures, they continued to press on with innovation when it comes to their dishes, workflow management and operations. “How do we stay relevant? How can we upskill our staff members? How do we smoothen the work processes to lessen our workers’ load?” These were the questions that kept the team at Boon Tong Kee up at night.
His dedication to the business is unquestionable – not unlike his dad, founder Mr Thian Boon Hua. As he pointed to the menu, he shared how the meat and seafood are prepared painstakingly manually – as opposed to using the machine. Of course, technology helps, “but some things are just different when done by hand.” Their traditional blend of chicken stock lightly enhances the natural fragrance of the unique blend of lemongrass, garlic, ginger, and pandan.
You can see the pride Mr Thian takes in Boon Tong Kee’s food. It’s no wonder they have become a household name and their eateries have evolved to be a popular place for families to gather over the decades! Food aside, the team at Boon Tong Kee believes in adding value – to their customers, and workers alike.
Fun fact: Boon Tong Kee’s chicken rice is made with Alchemy Fibre, making it healthier! Alchemy Fibre is a low GI, high fibre and prebiotics plant-based fibre blend that provides at least 10x more fibre than usual white rice and slows down glucose release. As shared by Jason, the addition of Alchemy Fibre meant a good five-figure increment in their food costs monthly, but it’s worth it!
Workers’ welfare at Boon Tong Kee
If you’ve heard of the Progressive Wage Model, it will be extended to the food services sector come March 2023. But over at Boon Tong Kee, this process has been ongoing over the years. “I believe in upgrading my workers’ skills. I’ve had servers whom I’ve encouraged to take on new skills during their time with us e.g. picking up skills from the chef over the years. With their new skills, of course, we’ve also looked into their salary packages and welfare. Some have gone on to start their own business,” Jason shares with pride. Indeed, at the end of the day, it’s a win-win for both employers and employees. And that is the essence of the Progressive Wage Model first mooted by NTUC in 2012 – helping to increase wages of workers through upgrading skills and improving productivity!
Dedication to the business
Did you know? Last year, amidst the pandemic, Boon Tong Kee, together with Springleaf Prata Place and Geylang Claypot Rice teamed up with the Zouk Group and debut in Vegas at Famous Foods Street Eats – a hawker-inspired food market at Resorts World Las Vegas. They sold over 4,500 Plates of chicken rice In Las Vegas in its opening week! If you haven’t already dined at Boon Tong Kee, give them a try? A good variety of zi char dishes, and healthier chicken rice – you won’t regret it.