The Making of a Singapore Brand: Paradise Group
Compared to 48 years ago, a Singapore brand today is so much more recognised, both on home turf and the global stage. As we salute our nation’s independence this August, Melissa Gail Sing asks the heads of homegrown businesses if the country’s own positive branding has helped to propel their labels onto the international stage.
Twenty or 30 years ago, products with the “made in Singapore” label were not quite welcomed with open arms. People questioned their quality and felt more confident flaunting creations from Italy or Switzerland instead. As the nation progressed, however, along the way building its reputation as a “clean and green city”, “world-class city”, “an economically sound platform” and “a place where East meets West”, things changed. Singapore brands, even the younger ones, are now not only synonymous with superiority but embraced globally.
Local firms have not been the only beneficiaries of Singapore’s positive national brand; foreign ones too have found great incentive in setting up base here. This symbiotic relationship helps the firms grow quickly on a larger scale, while fortifying the Singapore brand.
This week, we speak to Eldwin Chua, Chief Executive Officer of Paradise Group, about how his company has benefitted from this relationship, and how he's not only building his brand, but also strengthening Singapore’s presence on the world map as he steers his company in international waters.
Chief Executive Officer, Paradise Group
From its humble beginnings as a solitary seafood restaurant in the Defu Lane industrial area back in 2002, Paradise Group has since expanded into a 10-brand culinary empire with outlets across Asia. Swanky restaurant and bar concept LÈ is the latest addition to the brand portfolio, which also boasts Taste Paradise, Paradise Pavilion, Seafood Paradise, Canton Paradise, Paradise Dynasty, Paradise Inn, Kungfu Paradise, My Nasi and a catering arm, One Paradise.
Known for its innovative and unique dining concepts, Paradise Group has over 30 restaurants in Singapore. In 2011, it opened its first overseas restaurant in Indonesia, and since then, outlets have sprouted in Malaysia, Thailand and Japan. Unafraid to venture into countries where Chinese food is a staple, the group has also opened eateries in China, and has no qualms about selling 'xiaolongbao' in Shanghai – where this delicacy originated. On the cards for the group are a new restaurant in Melbourne next year and other openings in Hong Kong and the Philippines.
The group's latest dining concept, LÈ Restaurant and Bar
Singapore Tatler: What was the brand vision when the idea for Paradise Group was first conceived?
Eldwin Chua: When we first started, there wasn’t a clear vision to go overseas. We had been growing organically until we established our presence in Singapore. The Paradise brand in Singapore is known for creating different brands, multiple concepts but our forte is still Chinese food, so we offer different kinds of Chinese food under different brands. We are known for being innovative, thinking out of the box and providing novel experiences for different types of customers. We always emphasise a high quality of food and service.
Only once we established ourselves in Singapore did we have the vision of creating a global brand. We hope to have Paradise restaurants in all the world’s major cities. Currently, we are mainly expanding across Asia, but when opportunity arises, we will want to venture expand our footprint in Europe, the States and so on.
Singapore Tatler: How would you describe Paradise Group’s journey outside of Singapore?
Eldwin Chua: Our first overseas venture was in Indonesia in 2011, followed by Malaysia. In Indonesia, we are a popular brand because many Indonesians who frequently travel to Singapore were already familiar with the brand before we launched there. So they were very excited when we opened in Indonesia and we saw the fruits of our hard work in a short span of just 1.5 years. We have about six outlets there now and about four more in the pipeline.
Even in places like Shanghai, which are traditionally known for their excellent Chinese cuisine, we’ve been pretty successful and we see long queues at the restaurant. Our USP is to create a totally new experience for diners.
Singapore Tatler: How has Singapore's own positive nation branding as an economically-sound world-class city, a garden state, and a place where East meets West benefitted Paradise Group?
Eldwin Chua: Singapore is still very small globally, and we have never really been known for our Chinese food. People tend to think more of China or Hong Kong when it comes to Chinese food. But all of these positive associations about Singapore, that we are a reliable and reputable country, helps in a way. As a Singapore brand that ventures overseas, people are curious to see what we can offer.
Today, we have 10 concepts, more than 30 restaurants in Singapore and more than 15 overseas restaurants. We have put in a lot of hard work and effort to build a team that can see through the Group’s expansion, so we are happy and excited as we continue to move forward.
Singapore Tatler: What does this success mean for the company and for Singapore?
Eldwin Chua: Our brand’s success is an achievement. To me, Paradise Group is like a Cinderella story, it has grown from a single stall into one of the biggest Chinese restaurant operators in Singapore. And over the past five years, we have expanded into five other countries, with many more to follow. Paradise is proud to be a 100 per cent Singapore brand, and we hope to fly the country’s flag high.
Singapore Tatler: How will you sustain Paradise Group's success in an increasingly global marketplace where everyone is fighting for a slice of the pie?
Eldwin Chua: Our strategy is to apply the successful formulas we have created in Singapore, which are new-to-market, out-of-the box experiences. So when we go overseas, it’s also something new there. That’s our competitive edge. We also have several other competitive edges. For instance, we created the world’s first xiaolongbao in eight colours. When we take an innovation like this to China, it is also the first of its kind so people take interest. Having said that, localisation is an important aspect of our overseas expansion. For instance, the Shanghainese don’t take very spicy food unlike Singaporeans, so we tone it down for them. In Indonesia, they like their food a little sweeter, and so on. Decor-wise, we try to stick to the Paradise USP, so we have a strong brand identity that is instantly recognizable as a Paradise restaurant.
When we expand overseas, we always look at sustainability. So with our overseas models, we always enter with our mass market dining first, that is our casual dining concept, which is more sustainable. Fortunately for us, Chinese food is a staple in a lot of the countries we venture into, so sustainability for Chinese food is always there. You will always crave for your plate of fried rice or sweet and sour pork. So sustainability in Asian countries is not a big issue for us.
We are ambitious about our growth but we want to grow at a comfortable pace. We are growing the company organically. When the opportunity arises, and we have the right partner, we will assess. We have turned down some offers for ventures in India and Cambodia for instance, because we felt we are not ready or the market is not receptive to our concept yet. What’s confirmed however, are the upcoming openings in Melbourne, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
Photos: Paradise Group