Burning a trail to Burning Oaks

For Jeremy Han, starting his own hawker stall was no easy feat.

Camillia Dass

Published: 27 July 2016, 11:51 AM

It all started with a simple obsession.

When he was 4, Jeremy Han often stood by his mother attentively as she cooked in the kitchen. He also observed the ingredients she used as she cooked braised pork, sambal prawn, and chicken curry.

At 14, Jeremy was introduced to home economics in school. He enjoyed the classes and he felt it was something he was good at. Shortly after, he decided that he wanted to cook for a living.

“I just found it so fulfilling. I liked that I was able to be in control, and that I was able to produce something tangible that people could enjoy,” said the energetic hawker passionately.

Jeremy shared proudly that some of his customers have approached and thanked him for what he does.

Spurred by his plans to cook for a living, Jeremy enrolled himself into Temasek Polytechnic, where he pursued and graduated with a diploma in culinary and catering management.

Upon graduation, Jeremy was faced with a difficult decision. He was torn between furthering his studies at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (where he had already been accepted), and starting his own business.

Jeremy, now 23, decided to go with the latter.

“I had a friend who wanted to start a bistro with me. It was very exciting, and we talked to loads of relevant people about the idea and things were in process.

“However, when we came down to it, my friend backed out because he said the risk was too much for him,” said Jeremy, whose favourite dish on the Burning Oaks menu is a simple chicken skewer.

Unwilling to give up on his dream, Jeremy decided not to let whatever skills he had gained in the kitchen and in school go to waste. In 2015, he started Burning Oaks, a little hawker stall in Bedok Market.

This was how burning oaks looked like before renovations. Photo credit: Jeremy Han

“It took a year to convince my parents to let me set up a hawker stall, and then even longer to convince them to let me make the renovations I needed. When it was finally up and running, they were very supportive and happy with it,” said Jeremy, with a laugh.

Running Burning Oaks was not easy for the fearless entrepreneur. Since day one, he did not have the means to employ external help, and often had to manage the stall’s operations independently. He had to cook, serve, man the cashier, and keep the stall clean on his own.

“I honestly have no idea how I managed in the beginning. I went many nights without sleep and I actually lost seven kilograms during that period. It was really hard. If it wasn’t for my parents, I would not have made it,” said the cheerful cook, with a sigh.

The humble hawker also felt reluctant about having his parents, who both held full-time jobs, to help him at the stall.

He said: “My parents have day jobs. They usually come after work to man the cashier despite [being told] repeatedly to go home and rest.”

Jeremy (right) credits his family for helping him to start Burning Oaks. Photo credit: Jeremy Han

Thankfully, all of Jeremy’s hard work over the last year has paid off. Today, Jeremy and his team of six workers receive an average of 450 customers a week. His stall, which offers seven Japanese dishes on its menu, was also featured on famous local sites, such as Toggle and TheSmartLocal.

In fact, Jeremy shared that a second Burning Oaks stall is currently in the works. “I’m very excited for this expansion and I intend to maintain my vision for the stall, which is to provide quality food to my customers,” said Jeremy, with a smile.

So, what is Jeremy’s recipe behind opening a hawker stall from scratch?

The plucky hawker said: “People like to plan for things. My advice is to just do it. Once you start doing it, everything else will fall into place and you will automatically be able to do your best.”

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