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Toast Box: from Singapore to Manila

Can toast bread and coffee be really that different?
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Toast Box started as a food-stall unit of Singapore’s Food Republic Wisma Atria. It was Katherine Quek, wife of BreadTalk founder Dr. George Quek, who came up with the concept in response to the toast and coffee market in Singapore. It is, says Emelene Chu, managing director of Toast Box in the Philippines, “the innovative representation of many local coffee shops already existing in Singapore.”

Toast Box grew steadily in Singapore to achieve cult status among fans for its coffee and toast concept. Within three years of its establishment, Toast Box fast expanded with more than 20 outlets in Singapore. It has also expanded overseas to Malaysia, China, Thailand, Hong Kong and more recently, in the Philippines.

“We were already in partnership with BreadTalk Singapore for quite a few years now and they introduced the Toast Box concept to us in 2006 when the brand was still growing in Singapore,” Chu relates. “They encouraged us to bring in Toast Box as a complement to BreadTalk because in Singapore, many Toast Box stores are opened adjacent to BreadTalk.”

Since there were no similar concepts yet in the Philippine market, it was not difficult to bring in the franchise, says Chu. It also helped that they had a very good working relationship with the Singaporean principals. The first Toast Box branch was opened in TriNoma in September 2007.

After two years of operating, Chu noticed that their customers were looking for more commonly known Singaporean dishes apart from just toast and coffee. She added that many of their customers were “simply not satisfied with a meal of toast, soft-boiled eggs and coffee or tea.”

“When we first opened, many also did not appreciate the cultural aspect of this kind of food and so we eventually developed and launched Hainanese chicken rice, nasi lemak and nasi goring in addition to laksa,” she says. “Filipinos are still significantly rice consumers and these dishes perfectly match local needs while still protecting the cultural identity of Toast Box.”

While the dishes were not difficult to prepare, Chu had to make sure that they were able to source the right ingredients and they “had to be strategic in preparing the dishes in a café set-up with a small, limited kitchen environment and present the dishes as comfort food.”

“What was most appealing about Toast Box was the culture and history behind the brand,” Chu explains. “Toast Box strives to preserve the simplicity and authenticity of the traditional kopitiam (breakfast and coff ee shop) lifestyle but at the same time uplifting the experience of appreciating Singapore through creativity like its menu mix, promotional collaterals and interiors.”

The company recently opened a second Toast Box outlet at Greenbelt, Makati City. A third outlet is also in the offing and they hope to open in Bonifacio Global City mid-year of 2011.

This article was originally published in the April 2011 issue of Entrepreneur Philippines.

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