Do you like your job? Or wonder what it would be like if you’d gone against your parents’ advice and pursued your dream career? Her World’s Career Confessions column spotlights the professional journeys of its subjects and reveals how each individual’s career path and the choices they have made can have an impact on their personal finances, psychological health, and interpersonal relationships.
Faye Sai wakes up at 5am every day. By 6.30am, she’d be at the popular Amoy Street Food Centre. There, she runs one of the four outlets of Coffee Break, a coffee shop that serves up aromatic kopi (coffee) brews. After preparing the ingredients and getting the stall ready for the day, the business is officially open at 7.30am.
“The queue never really stops, and I am constantly making drinks and serving toasts until we close at 2.30pm,” shares Faye. “The cleaning up takes about an hour, and mostly by 3.30pm, I’m at a meeting, an interview, or usually finishing up on administrative work for all four shops we have.”
Besides the Amoy outlet, Coffee Break is also available at Hong Lim Food Centre, Market Street Hawker Centre, and online. While her working hours – and job itself – is unconventional, Faye has “never shied away from the idea of being a hawker”. Unlike other young hawkers in the industry, she did not enter the trade after leaving a previous corporate role.
Coffee Break once belonged to her father, and together with her siblings, Jack and Anna, they took over the reins of the business “around 10 years ago”. The hawker environment has always been familiar, says Faye. “I grew up running around my grandfather’s kopitiam in my childhood, then in the hawker centre in my adolescence. To my friends from school, I was always the kopi girl, and this synonymous identity I share has helped me greatly with the business now.”
I was always the kopi girl, and this synonymous identity I share has helped me greatly with the business now.Faye Sai, Coffee Break
She acknowledges that the hawker trade is not the typical career trajectory of a young female, and while “admittedly it was not a first choice, somewhere along the way the idea of a career as a hawker became more appealing”. “I’m quite glad now that I can call myself a pioneer ‘hawkerpreneur’ (young Singaporeans who have embarked on their journeys as hawker-entrepreneurs),” she says.
As the second-generation owner of Coffee Break, Faye ensures that she carries on the craft of the traditional Nanyang brew by serving up traditional kopi (coffee) made from dark robusta beans. But she’s also innovating new takes on the business in order to fuse both modern and traditional aspects. This includes offering flavoured lattes such as caramel rum, pistachio and black sesame in order to cater to a younger and more adventurous audience. The coffee powders are also available as instant mixes, with oat and soy milk alternatives, and packed in modern boldly-coloured packaging.
“Running the family business means that while I observe our traditions, I’m also in charge of ensuring that the business innovates and stays relevant,” says Faye.
Here, the ambitious entrepreneur shares more about the ins and outs of her career choice, including the societal pressures she has faced as well as how her career has impacted her relationships with others.
Name: Faye Sai
Highest Education: Bachelors in Business Management
Job Title & Industry: Business Development Manager in the hawker industry
Years of Work Experience: 15
Salary: $4,000 to $6,000
How would you describe your career? Would you describe it as a job, a career, or a calling that you’re extremely passionate about?
Most times it’s just a job: I make kopi and sell it to make a living, paying my bills. A lot of times it’s a career because coffee and customer service are things that I’ve been passionate about ever since I got involved with them. Increasingly, it’s definitely become a calling because I’m able to bridge that gap between the hawker trade and its continuity simply by loving what I do, which is serving the community and in turn contributing to the ecosystem that will ensure its longevity.
Do you feel pressure to have a successful career, or to earn more money? If you do, is it mainly internal or external pressure?
At every stage of my adulthood, there was always internal and external pressures. But life is really what you make of it, and personally I think I am both successful and making good money to get by, and still be able to enjoy life to the fullest.
Has your career impacted your relationships with other people?
In the beginning when the hawker trade wasn’t as fashionable, new found friends could never quite work out what I did for a living when I mentioned “hawker”, so it was quite difficult to keep friends, especially in the early stages of my adulthood. Dating was also a challenge because truth be told, no one really wanted to date someone who “worked in a hawker centre”, simply because it was never highly regarded.
What are some societal pressures and stigma that have rose from your unconventional career choice?
The preconceived notions that hawkers are older and generally lowly-educated and will not have career development should be thrown out the window. I started at the stall, serving kopis and toast, and 8 years later we have three stalls, a growing online business with a growing staff, all who are eager to learn the trade and grow the business, handling all aspects of running a business. The hawker trade is not a sunset industry, quite the contrary – it is a springboard for many aspiring food businesses.
The hawker trade is not a sunset industry, quite the contrary – it is a springboard for many aspiring food businesses.Faye Sai
For IWD last month, you joined Love, Bonito in their campaign. What does celebrating the power of femininity mean to you?
Love, Bonito’s recent IWD campaign themed around “Femininity is Power” struck me because it reminded me of how lucky I am to be a woman, and that I can simply use my feminine traits and qualities to empower others in my own way. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, it’s always the little things that let us know we are supporting one another.
I’m glad that Love, Bonito takes a strong stand on embracing femininity on an individual’s terms, defining success not based on societal expectations, but personal happiness and passion. More than just an IWD campaign, “Femininity is Power” is a strong message that should be made known to everyone, and applicable in our daily lives.
If you could tell your younger or future self something, what would you say?
I would say: it’s ok to fail, as long as you learn from it and try again, and be more thick-skinned to get what you want!
Anything else you would like us to know?
Wearing good shoes really helps to prolong our hawker career because it helps to protect our feet and cushion them at the same time. Slippers are dangerous in a small stall!