Starting from a small food stall in a kopitiam located in Serangoon Gardens 4 years ago, Wicked Garlic has quietly grown to 3 branches without much hype or fanfare.
In an industry where restaurants outcompete each other through beautiful plating, glamorous food photos and sponsored blog posts, Wicked Garlic (at time of writing) had only 16 posts on their Instagram. In 4 years!
The biggest expense Wicked Garlic had ever spent on marketing was $600 on flyers. Stanley, the owner, had opened their new branch at Clifford Centre and thought he might need some flyers to lure people into his restaurant.
Even his accountant was in disbelief. “Are you sure this number is right?” he asked Stanley.
Stanley laughed. His “marketing experiment”, he told me, was a big failure. Not only was there no change in the number of customers coming to Wicked Garlic, he had actually sacrificed restaurant efficiency due to staff having to distribute flyers instead of serving customers.
Yet, in spite of this “lack of marketing” (a huge transgression in the online world by the way), Wicked Garlic has thrived.
I reached out to Stanley to find out.
I took a long, hard look at the prawn aglio right in front of me
5 huge King Prawns stared back at me. I had to gulp down my saliva.
I was sitting with Stanley at the Clifford Centre branch to have our interview.
Stanley isn’t your usual restaurant owner mold. It was obvious that he hit the gym quite a bit. “I gym to eat,” he joked. He was also easy-going and friendly, yet he possessed a level of fiery passion when it came to food.
“Go on, have a slurp of the noodles and try the king prawns,” Stanley encouraged.
I picked up the fork, twirled the pasta inexpertly and stuffed it inside my mouth. It was wondrous. I almost teared. Good, affordable pasta is difficult to find. But in front of me was one of the best pastas I’ve ever had.
The “how” had become apparent.
When the food is good, people rave. When the food is consistently good, customers stay. And tell all their friends.
And that IS Wicked Garlic’s secret ingredient.
Not social media. Not a wide network of influencers. Not the latest trend.
Slurp down some seafood parchment pasta for a worthy cause? Yes please! The good people at Wicked Garlic are running a donation drive for Make A Wish Singapore from 18-19 nov 😄⭐️ . ALL proceeds from their sales at Orchard Cineleisure outlet will be donated to Make A Wish Singapore. You can do your part to make a child's wish come true! Come down and dine at their outlet – details as follows: Date: 18 & 19 November 2017 Time: 12 – 10pm Location: Orchard Cineleisure Level 5 (next to the lift) . #makeawish #makeawishfoundation #pasta #italian #charity #charityevent #igsg #sgfood #igfood #goodcause #seafood #foodstagram #foodie #foodiegram #eat #eats #foodinsing #sgfoodtrend #food #delicious #prawn #spaghetti #nom #noms #yummy
It was just that – consistent good food every single day.
And that in itself is a huge struggle. “Cooking delicious food for 3 – 4 people is easy. Cooking delicious food for 300 people every single day, and ensuring that it is the exact same every day, every month, every year… Now that is challenging. Every single day, we fight the battle of making sure the food that comes out is consistently good. The food you eat today will be the same you eat 3 months later. That’s what we’re fighting. That’s what we’re optimizing for.”
“And that is all I focus on. You only have 24 hours a day. You have to choose what to work on. So I chose to focus on the cooking process.”
How Siemens Helped “Cook” Wicked Garlic’s Pasta
In 2010, Dave Brailsford was appointed the new General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky (Great Britain’s professional cycling team) with one job – win the Tour de France.
There was only one problem: no British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France.
Dave solved the problem using his “aggregation of marginal gains” methodology. He believed that if he could make Team Sky improve every area related to cycling by 1 percent, these “mini gains” would eventually turn into something huge.
He began by optimizing the riders’ nutrition, training and ergonomics of bike seats. Then, he even went on to optimize “unrelated areas” like making sure the pillows they used were the best, how to wash their hands to prevent infection, etc.
Extreme? Perhaps. Effective? Yes.
But, okay, why are you telling me this story? And what has the British cycling team have to do with Wicked Garlic?
Because Stanley IS the Singaporean “Dave Brailsford.”
When Stanley said he focuses on optimizing the “kitchen process”, it wasn’t him blowing hot air. It wasn’t a “nice-to-have” while the kitchen ran amok during peak hours.
It was an obsession.
Coming from 7 years of work experience at Siemens (and 15 years total in telecomms), Stanley understood systematic improvement. He knew how to think in processes, and how to optimize them.
So, he applied all of it to Wicked Garlic.
He first optimized everything his chefs used. He tested different kinds of cooking pans to see which one cooked better and faster. He even tested the most optimal thickness required for the pans to be the best.
After that, he optimized the rest of the kitchen. He looked at how the chefs could move without obstructing each other. He made sure the aircon vents weren’t directly pointing at the chefs, because the vents could cause a dip in pasta temperature, and cause the food to be done slower.
There was one time his supplier tried to cheat him by providing standardized pans instead of the carefully-measured thickness Stanley required. Stanley fired him.
Stanley also insists all his staff carry pens with them so they never have to scramble to write or check off stuff in their order chits. He even bought 100+ pens to place in the kitchen so no one could have the excuse of not having a pen.
So, if you’re wondering how Wicked Garlic consistently churns out good, affordable pasta every single day, and how they could grow rapidly without any marketing…
There is your answer.
What’s the end goal for Wicked Garlic?
Stanley doesn’t like the limelight. When I first started the interview with him, he told me his rules: no photography, no audio recording, no video recording.
Stanley doesn’t want to be recognized.
So, when I pressed him about Wicked Garlic’s future plans, he is coy. He doesn’t want to reveal them. Shortly after, he relents and gives me a hint of what is about to go on. “We are going to open a new branch soon,” he says.
But why does he do all of this?
Is it growth that excites him? Is he trying to be rich? Does he maybe have some form of OCD?
Why is he so obsessive?
I found out.
S is a 13-year old girl who loves playing masak-masak and dreams of becoming an Italian chef making pasta, pizza and cakes.
She also has a terminal diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
“Her story struck a chord with me,” Stanley revealed. He did a weekend charity drive for the Make-a-Wish foundation, and donated all the proceeds to them.
On the 6th of November, Stanley – the secretive, analytical, process-optimizing boss – shut down his restaurant for a day and helped a little girl who’s ill fulfil her dream at Wicked Garlic.