Hi folks! We wrap up our Let’s TOC women’s series with Jasmine Cheah from Gastrogig.
First thing, we couldn’t be more grateful to Jasmine for offering her house for the interview. A conversation with one of the most dynamic women TOC has known in a charming colonial-style black and white walk-up apartment nestled in the calm, lush greenery? That sounds just about right on a Friday.
When we arrived at the doorstep, Jasmine was hanging her laundry. Great. That gave us time to just look around. You know, check out her furniture, the books she’s into, stuff on her kitchen shelves, toiletries. Sorry, you don’t do that? Well, liar.
So anyhoo, Jasmine finally appeared, looking great in white and denim. A few sips of water later, and we were ready to roll.
We love what Gastrogig is doing. Could you tell us, why Gastrogig?
One of the reasons why I started this business was because I come from a creative discipline, architecture, and starting this business was a way to bring back that creative element into my work which was missing for many years.
The idea I had for Gastrogig was to hold pop-up events at different locations for people in the same industry to collaborate. We were one of the few businesses in Singapore to have a pop-up restaurant concept — each time at a different place and with different people. We wanted to create an entirely new dining experience that one could not get at a typical restaurant.
Eventually, we found our footing in corporate events, which made sense as my background has always been in B2B sales. With these events, there’s a lot of adrenaline rush, from organising to making sure that everything is going according to plan. And because of that, I realised I’ve become less patient over the years.
Why do you say that?
During an event, it’s like you’re in a [touch football] game. You are either in an attack mode which is executing the event plan, or you’re preventing someone from scoring a touchdown, that is, most times, going into overdrive to avert damage of any sorts. (It would be timely to add that Jasmine is a seasoned touch football player.) With experience, I was able to spot more blind spots and potential loopholes which made me set higher standards and expectations for myself.
Building a business from scratch is no easy feat especially in the highly competitive events and hospitality industry. How did you feel when you first started out?
There were a lot of times I wanted to give up. When the first few projects didn’t reap the rewards of what I was hoping for, self-doubt crept in. And being in Singapore, we don’t have the luxury of not earning a cent. Running the business was burning a big hole in my pocket. It was a depressing period, both financially and mentally.
On the other hand, I didn’t want to work for other people other than myself. If I had met someone whom I really respected a lot, then maybe yes. But until then, I wanted to work on something that I could truly call my own.
How have the challenges evolved over the years?
When we first started out, we dived in head first. It took us some time to navigate through the B2C space by doing some public events before figuring out our place in a B2B sphere.
As most of our clients are returning clients, we have to think about how to continually engage them by coming up with innovative offerings and maintaining the standard of service. At the same time, we are also strategising on ways to grow our client base so that the business doesn’t become stagnant.
One of the key challenges is how to develop and grow Gastrogig into a more stable business. It’s like growing a tree – how do you nurture and cultivate it to be a full-grown tree as opposed to it being just a seedling? And when it gets its first shade, how does it grow a bigger shade and cover more ground?
What do you like most about your work?
It used to be personal gratification on achieving what I had set my mind to do. What keeps me going now is being challenged in ways that I’ve not been challenged before. The creative freedom my job affords motivates me to keep exploring, innovating and experimenting new ideas and concepts.
A couple of days back, you mentioned that you are currently working on an edible garden. Tell us more about it.
Our office is at Seletar Aerospace, and we have a very forward thinking landlord who runs a bespoke tooling company for aerospace manufacturers. With a vision to provide good meals for her staff in a sustainable way, she wanted to cultivate her own herbs and vegetables in her four-storey production space, which was how the edible garden came about.
We got involved as they needed someone to guide the farmers on what to plant and how to actively cultivate the space to plant suitable greens. While helping them to prepare daily lunch for their workers, we’re experimenting with growing herbs that can be used for our events as well.
Where do you see Gastrogig in five years?
I hope to reinterpret how we can perceive food through the mediums that we are currently using, and to be as smart a company as we can in terms of processes and employee training.
Ultimately, the dream is to create the most innovative and engaging food presentations and concepts no one has ever thought of. Also, I’d like to continue empowering our team to share a common vision of innovation in hospitality.
Last question – what would you say to other women who want to start their own business?
I think it is very important to have someone to support you throughout the journey. One who can understand your erratic working hours and empathise with you when you’re stressed out. Instead of opposing your line of work, understanding and appreciating it will make a hell lot of difference. With a healthy support system, I believe it will boost your confidence and give you the strength to keep going.
And with those wise words, we ended our Let’s TOC women’s series. Hopefully, these brave females have inspired you in one way or another to step out of your comfort zones and chase what you truly desire! Head over to Gastrogig to browse their services. TOC