Jobs 101: Ice-cream parlour owner

We talked to an ice-cream parlour owner to have an insight on his icy cool career.

Loh Wei Yang Ian

Published: 27 May 2015, 2:44 PM

In our scorched city-state, the perpetual yearning for icy cool remedies has seen multiple start-ups expanding the definition of “ice-cream”. We caught up with Tham Ying Wai, who established Merely Ice Cream in 2012, to find out more about his career as an ice-cream parlour owner.

Who: Tham Ying Wai, 33

Occupation: Ice-cream parlour owner

Studied: Bachelor of Business from Nanyang Technological University (NTU)

Since 2012, Ying Wai and his partners have been experimenting with new ice-cream flavours.

Tell us more about yourself.

I studied business in NTU from 2003 to 2006, specialising in banking and finance. Back then, the banking industry was booming and it was probably the safest subject choice. After graduating, I joined a European bank and worked in the finance department for five years.

How and why did you become an ice cream parlour owner?

Although the pay at the bank was not bad, towards my fourth and fifth year in the job, I started to think if that was something I would do in the long-run. I didn’t feel a sense of achievement and accomplishment − it was routine firefighting of problems that emerged.

I started the ice cream parlour with two other friends whom I have known since 13 − they were my secondary school classmates. Instead of being employees, we had thoughts of venturing out by ourselves. After throwing many ideas out, we bought an ice-cream maker and started experimenting. Every weekend, we met up to discuss, do research and make ice-cream.

Describe a typical day at work.

I wake up around 8am, be in the shop by around 10am and start preparation (e.g. cones and waffles) before the shop opens at 12pm. In the afternoon, I make the ice cream. I leave around 11.30pm on most days. When the business first started, I was in the shop for 14 hours every day. Nowadays, with more staff and higher efficiency, I can leave earlier on some days.

Freshly made: Ying Wai comes in early to prepare the cones and waffles.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A simple scoop of ice-cream can cheer people up. When I was working in the bank, I didn’t see the end product; there was no tangible outcome. Now, it is very rewarding when customers tell me that the ice-cream is good, or when the ice-cream cheers them up.

What is your job’s biggest challenge?

The cost of operation is the biggest challenge. Rental is a killer − after our first lease ended, there was a 25 per cent increment in rent. Labour is another challenge − most of our service crew are students who can only work during their term breaks.

Cost of operation and manpower shortage were the main challenges to Ying Wai.


How long have you been in the business and how have you seen the industry change?

More than three years. There are more competitors in the same field now, many serving soft-serve ice-cream and frozen yoghurt. The barrier to enter the market field is not high as there are companies out there who term themselves as “specialists or consultants”, providing training, equipment and ingredients to starters.

What advice do you have for youths who are interested in entrepreneurship?

They should start young because they will have more responsibilities when they grow older. Back then, I told myself that if I did not start, I would not have the guts to do this when I’m older with more commitments.

Also, when accustomed to a certain kind of lifestyle, you may feel that there is just too much to let go. Doing something that you like is very important as it gives you the motivation, and not just waiting for the monthly pay-cheque.

Educational requirements: None. But whatever you learn in school can come in useful.

Qualities required: Patience, good communication skills, hardworking.

Starting pay: About $1,800 – $2,000 (when business first started).

Working hours: 14-15 hours a day at the beginning. 10-12 hours a day now.


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