It is 12pm at Yun Nans‘ Westgate outlet, and the 87-seater restaurant is fast filling up with hungry patrons.
From behind the counter comes Reuben Chua, Chief Operating Officer at Yun Nans. Seeing the fast-growing queue forming at the door, he attends to his guests swiftly, clearing tables and ushering them to their seats. Never mind that he’s the boss.
Flashback to 10 years ago, Reuben was steadily progressing in his investment banking career. So, how did he end up as Chief Operating Officer at Yun Nans?
Revisiting A Childhood Dream
In 2015, Reuben moved to Shanghai to pursue a new work opportunity, and the F&B landscape in China truly marvelled him. “When you step into a mall, the choices are boundless, and there’s tonnes of diversity in the types of cuisine offered,” shares Reuben.
During his time in Shanghai, he often entertained clients and his Singaporean friends by hosting them at his favourite restaurants. One of these restaurants was Yun Hai Yao, the biggest casual Yunnan restaurant chain in China. “I fell in love with Yunnan cuisine, because it’s delicious yet super nutritious”, comments Reuben. In fact, he frequented the restaurant so much that he eventually became friends with one of the founders.
“It has always been a childhood dream of mine to start my own restaurant, and at that point in my life, I thought – why not?”
Reuben Chua, COO at Yunnans
And that’s where it all began: With a mission to popularise Yunnan cuisine in Singapore, Reuben began talks with the founders to bring the franchise to our shores. In April 2019, this dream came into fruition with the opening of Yunnans’ flagship store in Jewel Changi Airport.
Introducing Yunnan Cuisine To Singapore’s F&B Space
While many Singaporeans are familiar with Sichuan and Shanghai cuisine, Yunnan cuisine is a less mainstream choice. Lighter on the palate than Sichuan cuisine, Yunnan cuisine is influenced by the countries that surround its borders, such as Guizhou, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar. “As the food has strong Southeast Asian influences, it will definitely suit the local palate here in Singapore,” shares Reuben.
In his mission to bring authentic Yunnan cuisine to the local community, Reuben makes it a point to procure most of his ingredients directly from the highlands of the Yunnan Province. His Head Chef is also one of the top chefs with years of experience helming the kitchen at Yun Hai Yao in China.
From Investment Banker to Restaurateur
In just 1.5 years, Yunnans now has 3 outlets in Singapore, and this journey has been a rewarding one for Reuben. In his transition from investment banker to F&B owner, Reuben shares that the hours are definitely longer, the work is more tiring, but nothing matches the sense of satisfaction he gets from working with and bonding with his staff.
“My team comes from all walks of life, and it really is a rewarding experience when I see them bond and work together,” Reuben continues, “with the sudden announcement of border restriction to Malaysia during the Circuit Breaker period, I was so touched to see my Singaporean staff offering up their homes to their Malaysian colleagues. It’s really a culture of care at Yun Nans, and I’m so proud of the team culture we’ve forged.”