In some ways, Covid-19 has helped open the layman’s eyes to the various challenges facing restaurateurs on any given day, says Liling Ong, founder of the Cicheti group of Italian restaurants. These include the fixed capital costs to keep a business running month to month, the complicated relationship between landlords and restaurateurs, and the importance of governments in protecting the small businesses that crucially define the colour and character of a city.
Prior to the coronavirus, she says, many people took the F&B business for granted, thinking of it as little more beyond places to get fed. But many of these same people are now rallying behind their favourite establishments by ordering takeaways to help make up for lost revenue, and sending messages of encouragement to their staff.
Ms Ong, 34, became a restaurateur in 2013 after working for some years in law, management consulting and venture capital funding. Her father Ong Yew Huat is the former executive chairman of Ernst & Young Singapore and an investor in Cicheti – though she insists it’s a professional arrangement and “not a handout”. Her late grandfather, Ong Swee Law, founded the Singapore Zoo in 1973.
Lately her teams in the Cicheti group of restaurants – which include Cicheti, Bar Cichetti and Caffe Cicheti – have been figuring out how best to keep their pizzas and pastas tasting fresh and authentic, as if they’d just popped out of the kitchen and onto the plate. And while business is a fraction of what it was pre-circuit breaker, the Cicheti group is still on track to open its fourth and fifth concepts in Singapore this year and the next.