Darren’s passion for food led him to leave his radio job to focus on putting smiles on customers’ faces. Here is the story of Hungry Nerds.
When Darren Wee started his job as a radio DJ at Power 98, he didn’t expect his career choice to send him on an F&B trajectory. But it did. Darren took the plunge in 2012 with his first foray into F&B with Astronauts Group.
“One could say I was inclined to go into F&B because of my immense love of food – as in I really eat a lot,” he jokes.
“Radio will always be my first love, but in 2012/13, it was the rise of the café boom in Singapore. I remembered thinking that it would be nice to have something of my own. Having hosted a food-oriented show on Power 98 as a radio DJ for two-and-a-half years, I had many opportunities to speak with multiple chefs and discuss cooking methods and techniques. Armed with this knowledge, I bravely trudged into the world of F&B entrepreneurship as a greenhorn and slowly scaled the steep learning curve.”
Of course, Darren had “grandiose notions” that his café would always be well-patronised and his media connections would help him get a level of awareness like no other. With that mindset, he dove into the business convinced that as long as he hired ‘good staff’, success would be as easy as pie. But boy, was he wrong.
He recounts the unforeseen issues running an F&B group: “As an F&B boss, it is imperative to be hands-on, quick-to-innovate, hardy, resourceful and versatile in the things you do beyond just having a good team. You also need to be flexible with work arrangements with your staff, be creative with your concepts and ideas, etc. There is a lot more to it logistically such as the front and back of house. Most importantly, you need to be smart enough to make the correct decisions and humble enough to admit making the wrong ones. It’s all a learning experience.”
Darren’s plan for success
Darren’s ultimate goal is to create a lasting impact on the F&B industry and does not want to be one of those who “throw in the towel” after a couple of years. With that in mind, he created trendy concepts with beautiful aesthetics made for photography with the Astronauts Group. The company achieved success quickly with its restaurants such as Chillax, Ninja Bowl, Ninja Cut and Babette.
Fast-forward eight years later, the changing economic conditions in 2020 propelled him to review his business strategy. The café scene was getting oversaturated and he was facing manpower restrictions due to the clampdown on work visas in Singapore. He knew it was time to change things up and was in the midst of planning to do so, but then the pandemic struck. So, never-say-die Darren decided to close his existing concepts and pivot his strategy towards a catering and ready-to-eat meal delivery business instead. Et voila! Hungry Nerds was born.
“Hungry Nerds has allowed me to focus on what I love the most. Food. We have managed to save a bit of cost as a central kitchen is more about functionality than aesthetics. Rostering staff has also become slightly easier as events and orders are arranged beforehand. More importantly, I am not restricted by the concept and I can experiment with all kinds of cuisines,” says Darren.
While his previous concepts such as Ninja Bowl and Ninja Cut have a decidedly Japanese-Western inspiration to them, Hungry Nerds has taken a no-holds-barred interpretation of Singaporean food with a fusion twist. Aside from bespoke catering, Hungry Nerds also offers ready-to-eat meals for delivery such as braised beef cheek rice, seafood laksa pasta and truffle beef horfun at affordable prices. Being in a multi-ethnicity country like Singapore, Darren wanted to ensure that good food reaches everyone and obtained halal-certification for Hungry Nerds.
As Darren has a punny sense of humour and he tries to inject this as much as he can in his concepts, Hungry Nerds’ motto is “Your guest is as good as mine”. And he means it. Team Hungry Nerds puts in all the hard work and long hours to make sure that they bring a smile to the faces of every single client.
He adds: “I love making people happy with the food we produce, be it in a café or a catering setting – it makes me feel that it is all worth it. It’s not always about the money!” For the upcoming festive season, the Hungry Nerds team will be creating an array of cheese, seafood, brunch and dessert platters and they are looking forward to exciting customers with their Insta-worthy presentations.
As consumers still love posting #foodie images on social media, Darren has taken the extra step to ensure that with these grazing platters are pleasing on the eyes and as they are on the palate, applying what he’s learnt about food photography from his previous café ventures and reimagining them for his catering endeavours.
Astronauts Group: reborn?
Eight years into the business with many more years ahead of him, Darren feels fulfilled with Hungry Nerds and it reminds him why he got into F&B, to begin with. He aims to make a true impact on the F&B scene in Singapore and wants to prove that he is resilient enough to stay in this ever-changing and competitive industry for at least a decade or more.
However, not a day goes by that he does not reminisce about his first day in 2012 when he started his first concept, Chillax in Serangoon Gardens. The first of many concepts in the Astronauts Group.
“Astronauts Group will always be my baby and although I am focusing on Hungry Nerds right now, I am always on the lookout for the right opportunities to add more concepts in the future. I always finish what I start and mark my words when I say that my concepts will be… out of this world,” he says with a grin as he alludes to Astronauts Group’s equally punny motto.