Interview: From Hawker to 18 Astons Restaurants

By HungryGoWhere July 11, 2021
Interview: From Hawker to 18 Astons Restaurants
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It all started as a humble Western food stall off Upper East Coast Road in 2005. But just five years into the business, Astons transformed into a restaurant business and  expanded into a chain of 18 outlets, attracting long queues at most of its branches. We speak to owner Aston Soon, whose food chain is famous for offering quality Western food at affordable prices, to find out how he keeps costs down.


When you first started out as a hawker, did you imagine that you would be so successful?
It has never crossed my mind. My main aim then was just to earn a stable income, support my family and for customers to enjoy the steaks I prepare. It was that simple.


What do you think is the secret to your success?
I have no secrets. And I do not believe in keeping trade secrets from my loyal staff. I teach all I know about cooking to my kitchen heads so they can keep up with the same consistent standard.


Speaking about your steaks, they are very popular among your customers. Where did you learn your craft?
I was a manager with Ponderosa, which used to be famous for its super salad bar. It gave me the opportunity to learn everything from scratch and to experiment with various western cuisines including steak of course.


I just had the chicken chop at $6.90 nett, which included two side dishes. The prices of your meals are affordable, and you do not even include a service charge. How do you keep your prices low?
Our business model works when there is a large customer volume. We are able to keep prices low because we order food in bulk and enjoy economies of scale. Also, our profit margin is not very high.


One of your signature dishes is the ieat Super Burger. How did you come up with this interesting name?
This was a very challenging creation which has came a long way. We had a customer who was extremely critical of our Beefy Jack Burger. He gave lots of feedback on how the burger can be improved. We incorporated some of his ideas into the burger recipe, which today became known as the ‘ieat Super Burger’.

Looks like you really valued this customer’s feedback?
I could see the sincerity in the customer and I feel some kind of affinity towards him. It took us a long time for the burger to get to where it is today, especially the burger patty; We had to chop up the sirloin steak to get the texture we wanted.  Initially, I had no idea who that customer was. It was only after one or two months later when I realised he was the famous food blogger Dr Leslie Tay. He meant business, and even created a poster for this burger! 

Although you are a restaurant owner of a Western food chain, I know you are very much a hawker at heart and who loves Asian food. Share with us your favourite hawker food.
It has to be the Ang Moh Wanton Mee at Tembeling Road. The wantons are fresh, large and tasty, and the noodles do not have a ‘ghee’ (alkaline) taste. I can be very dedicated when I find a favourite food haunt and will not get bored with it easily.  On average, I dine at this stall about 10 to 20 times a month. Go try it out!



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