The chef behind the world's cheapest Michelin-star meal is trying to build the next KFC

The business behind the world’s cheapest one-star Michelin meal
The business behind the world’s cheapest one-star Michelin meal
Key Points
  • Chef Chan Hon Meng received one Michelin star last year for his soy sauce chicken, making his stall in Singapore the cheapest restaurant in the Michelin food guide
  • There is huge demand for his $1.50 plate of braised chicken and rice, leading him to set up seven more outlets, including in Thailand and Taiwan
  • Chan says he wants to open outlets in every country in the world, and hopes to be Asia's answer to fast food giant KFC

It began as a humble stall in the heart of Singapore's Chinatown, but Chan Hon Meng's soy sauce chicken business has skyrocketed since he received a coveted Michelin star from the world's most prestigious food guide last year.

Chan had been selling his plate of soy sauce chicken rice for 2 Singapore dollars (about $1.50) for the last eight years, operating from a stall taking up just 54 square feet.

Since gaining a star for that stall, called Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle, Chan's footprint has grown considerably.

Along with a business partner, he has opened seven new outlets, even venturing out of his home market to Thailand and Taiwan. By the end of this year, he will also have a restaurant in Melbourne, Australia.

Chan dreams of becoming Asia's answer to fast food giant KFC, he said.

"I would like to open a restaurant in every country to let everyone taste my soy sauce chicken," he told CNBC during an interview conducted in Mandarin, adding that he wants people to be able to try authentic Asian Michelin-starred food.

Singaporean chef Chan Hon Meng prepares meals for customers at his Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle stall in Singapore on July 22, 2016.
ROSLAN RAHMAN | AFP | Getty Images

Chan has accomplished the rapid expansion with the help of Hersing Culinary, a Singapore-based company that also owns the rights to Hong Kong's Michelin-starred dimsum eatery, Tim Ho Wan.

The Hong Kong eatery's expansion demonstrates the marketing power of the Michelin rating. It has been enormously successful, expanding to more than 40 stores worldwide. It opened its first outlet in North America to snaking queues in New York City last December.

Chan will be looking to emulate that, and he recounted that several companies had come calling when he received the Michelin star in July last year.

He said he could have asked for several million dollars for his recipe — several Singapore-based eateries have sold their recipes or businesses for millions after achieving some measure of popularity.

He decided, however, to work with Hersing because he wanted a business partner which would keep prices low, and expand his business internationally.

Chan, 52, decided that he had to expand his business after he was awarded the Michelin star, as "the crowds were too large."

"I had to change my business model and operation style so that my customers don't have to wait several hours just to have food," he said, adding that at the peak of its popularity, the original outlet saw customers queueing for between four and five hours.

Chan said Hersing invested S$1 million ($700,000) for the first air-conditioned Chinatown outlet, which is just a stone's throw away from his original stall. Prices in the new restaurant are slightly higher than at the original outlet, with the famous soy sauce chicken rice costing S$3.80 ($2.80).

He told CNBC that he has a 50 percent stake in the first Chinatown outlet, and a 10 percent stake in each subsequent new outlet.

Chan said he was enjoying picking up new business skills, as he now has to manage workers and teach staff the roasting and braising techniques.

While he said he feels "some pressure" in managing the expansion of the business, he also has to worry about ensuring that the standard of the food remains of Michelin standard. He managed to successfully defend the Michelin star for a second time this year.

"I don't dare to say that I will get the Michelin star every year," he said, but added that in the food business, "it is most important that we give ourselves peace of mind, and give our customers satisfaction."