By Vibrant Dot Staff
Where can you find authentic yet affordable fish head curry in Singapore? Velu’s Curry is the answer.
Also known as The Singapore Curry @ Velu’s, this Halal-certified Indian restaurant is located in Eunos Community Centre. It is reputed for its whole fish head curry, and its North and South Indian cuisines. For the past two years, the fish head curry has been sold at the promotional price of S$14.88. In the near future, this promotion will only be available on weekdays from 10am to 5pm.
Mr Ravi Velu is the second-generation owner of Velu’s Curry, which has been in business since 1990. “We fine-tuned our own family recipe to suit local tastes – from original South Indian-style to Singapore-style. Despite this change in the methods of food preparation, we have still managed to retain the essence, flavour & originality. This is so that people from all races can enjoy our food, as there isn’t too much spice in it,” he explains.
Learning From the School of Hard Knocks
An A-level graduate, Mr Ravi qualified for entry to the National University of Singapore (NUS). However, he found his calling elsewhere after venturing into his father’s family restaurant business.
Mr Ravi says he took over this business from his father without having much knowledge in the food and beverage (F&B) industry, and had to develop the business by learning from difficult life lessons along the way.
However, he gleaned whatever he could from observations of how other restaurants operated. He was also helped by his significant experience in customer service and ordering, acquired from a three-year stint as a waiter. He believes it is never too late to learn from his peers and older staff, particularly with respect to ergonomics and industry evolution.
“I took pointers and picked up on what was good for our type of operation. I made a lot of friends in this line. We get together at times and share information. We built up our individual restaurants, each having its own identity,” he says.
Challenges in the Business
As Mr Ravi can attest to, running a business is no easy task, and one of the biggest problems F&B business owners face is rising business costs.
“Production costs have gone up – raw materials, labour costs, transportation costs, gas prices and so on. But we are still charging the same price. Currently, we are selling our fish head curry at a promotional price of S$14.88, but the cost of the fish head alone is S$12 and more,” says Mr Ravi.
Despite that, Mr Ravi still maintains cheap selling prices. “Sometimes, I think our food is undervalued,” he quips.
For example, the masala thosai at Velu’s Curry costs only S$3.00, when the usual price at other similarly styled restaurants is S$5.00 or more.
Mr Ravi explains, “If I charge S$5, I might lose the customer base here. We are located in a housing estate and within a community club.” Also, he feels maintaining affordable prices works in tandem with the People’s Association’s policies, as it attracts Singaporeans from all walks of life to patronise the community club.
Scarce labour is another major challenge in the F&B industry, especially in the food preparation sector. The nature of the business necessitates long working hours and working on weekends – an unattractive option for most local workers.
Moreover, there is a dearth of qualified or experienced chefs, which is exacerbated by a lack of educational programmes in local cuisine. Even with the incorporation of such programmes in the years to come, this could produce a homogenous pool of talent to be shared among existing restaurants.
Mr Ravi worries this may cause the restaurants to lose their individual identities, as they would all have chefs trained in the same school of thought.
“This is bothering this profession, but hopefully something will come by. The industry is finding ways to rectify this – several funding and informative programmes are being proposed and implemented by the relevant departments,” says Mr Ravi.
Human Touch, Cleanliness and Customer Service
Amongst the various key elements to a successful F&B business, Mr Ravi feels the “human touch” is most essential.
Due to difficulties in hiring locals in the F&B industry, some restaurants have considered automating their services with robotics. Mr Ravi had been exploring the idea by liaising with a robotics company. However, he eventually realised that robots cannot replace the personal touch.
Small details like making sure the South Indian cuisine is served on the traditional banana leaf, and enquiring about the customers’ well-being, are difficult to automate.
“In any organisation, you can have problems, but can they [robots] replace a smile? It is written everywhere, ‘service with a smile’,” says Mr Ravi, who loves meeting people and socialising.
“You can have a robot, but you need that personal touch. Customers like it when you ask them, ‘Are you okay?’”
His father, the first-generation owner, still likes to spend several hours a day in the restaurant socialising with customers.
“My father is a much better PR man than me. His command of English is five out of 10, but his facial expressions speak volumes,” says Mr Ravi.
However, Mr Ravi feels that Singapore’s service standards still require much room for improvement.
The fundamentals of a good upbringing play an essential role, he emphasises. “It’s more of a maid culture nowadays, where today’s younger generation lack the self-discipline to handle their own chores – from making their own beds to clearing and cleaning their dinner table.”
Mr Ravi cites his customer service experiences in the United States, one of which occurred at a restaurant. The waitress, an African-American lady, was genuinely concerned about his comfort as he was not sufficiently dressed to counter the cold weather. Her spontaneous concern left him genuinely touched.
Mr Ravi also recalls another incident at a different restaurant in the US. The waitress, who heard his name only once, remembered his face and name three months later when he came back to visit. She said, “Mr Ravi, I thought you were back in Singapore.” This act of hospitality and service left an indelible mark on him.
To top it off, such high standards of service comes with no service charge being levied on customers. Based on the quality of service, customers are allowed to tip the service staff as they deem fit, which Mr Ravi feels is a very good approach.
“[It was] good service. The way they served customers was genuine and warm. You could feel it,” he says.
Besides giving his customers personalised service, Mr Ravi places a strong emphasis on cleanliness and customers’ opinions. “Velu’s Curry could qualify amongst the top three cleanest Indian restaurants in Singapore,” he says. “I am very particular about customers’ feelings. I will work on the smallest criticism. I like honest criticism and opinions.”
“It is about how we interact with customers. We build up our customer base through service, quality of food, environment, and hospitality. When you smile and talk to your customers, they will feel wonderful.”
Singapore Curry Pte Ltd by Velu’s (since 1990)
Eunos Community Club – 180 Bedok Reservoir Road
(opp Blk 615)
Opening Hours: 8am to 10pm daily
Tel: 6221 1115