Interview with Singapore’s multi-generational Cho Kee family of Cho Kee Noodle

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{Exclusive Interview with Singapore’s multi-generational Cho Kee family of Cho Kee Noodle 曹记} 

Singapore’s Cho Kee family was at the recently held Families for Life Celebrations 2016 at Empress Lawn. Our Parenting World (OPW) Team is very honoured to interview Cho Ai Min of Cho Kee Noodle 曹记. 

Cho Kee Noodle 曹记, a multi-generational family spent family time together while running a food stall (Cho Kee Wantan Mee) at the recent Families for Life Celebrations at Empress Lawn. The annual Families for Life Celebrations returned in 29 May 2016 with a wide array of activities lined up throughout the day to cater to all types of families. The Celebrations, which was held in conjunction with Car-Free Sunday SG, was a platform for families and extended families to spend quality time together and strengthen family bonds.

Cho Kee Noodle 曹记, has been selling Wantan Mee since 1965, is now being run by the third generation of the Cho Kee Family. OPW had the opportunity to interview the family to find out more on how they stay united and maintained strong bonding amongst the family. Just from their response, we can learn from them and adopt some of their simple yet strong approaches to maintain a strong and healthy family relationship.
1. Can you share with us, how big is your family?

We are a family of 5. There are my parents, who are the 2nd generation owners of Cho Kee Noodle. I have 2 siblings, an elder sister who is one year older and a 2 years younger brother who is in Cho Kee business together with me. My older sister has a young son of 2 years old. My brother and I have just gotten married, so no children … YET!

2. How does your family manage to maintain bonding/closeness?

My parents have been hawkers all their life. Since we were young we barely saw them at home as their working hours are very long. However, because of the nature of the business, they are always in need of an extra helping hand. During our school holidays, we always took turns to work at the stall at Old Airport Road. It was this time spent together as a family selling wanton noodles that created a special bond among us, giving us a unique sense of togetherness.

Also when we were younger, my parents made an extra effort to take us for a vacation during year-end school holidays. So we made yearly road trips to Malaysia or Thailand to visit relatives (budget!). The many hours spent in the car during the drive up provided a good chance for us to enjoy quality conversations with each other – which we may not have the opportunity to have if it were a normal working day.

Now we are all married and moved out, but we make sure to allocate every Saturday as our official family day. It’s a time for all of us to gather at home and catch up over a home cooked dinner. This day takes priority, so each of us makes an effort to keep Saturday evenings free.

Working together also helps, and we are also happy to participate in events like the recent Families for Life Celebrations, that give us the opportunity to help other families bond through eating together.

3. What is your advice for families who are unable to spend much time with their families/closed ones?

Make the effort to always keep in touch, whether it is with texts or phone calls. Send over an interesting photo over WhatsApp or share something about your day. If you happen to be in the vicinity of your family member’s home, just drop by and say hi – it makes a difference regardless of how long you stay. These small but significant gestures serve to remind each other that no matter how busy you get, family is still the most important.

4. Bonding requires time and effort over the years. Many families are unable to keep up the closeness, especially with extended families where competition and comparing could play a larger role. What is your advice to improve and foster closer family bonding? 

When everybody is busy with work and their own families, it’s hard to find a good time for everybody to meet and catch up. This is especially so for us as we work in the F&B industry which has long and irregular hours. However we still make time to attend gatherings with our extended family once in a while. It is definitely possible to work something out when you keep your extended families informed of your working hours and also off days.

5. Your famous wanton noodles has been savoured by our Prime Minster Lee, how has it helped to create a bond within your family?

My family speaks of that day fondly every now and then. Being part of the Clean & Green campaign last year was a memorable milestone for Cho family. Other than the fact that it was the first time Cho Kee Noodle had an outdoor pop-up store, it was also an honour to have PM Lee drop by our booth to taste our noodles. We also had the chance to exchange a few words with him which was an unforgettable experience.

10 - Family at SHF 2016

6. What are some of the sacrifices made by any one of your family members to bring Cho Kee Noodle, to what it is today as a very successful business?

I guess every single member of the Cho Family has at some point made sacrifices for the business. Upon graduation from SMU, my brother made the decision to join the family business straightaway, abandoning the career opportunities that his marketing degree could offer.

As for myself, after working in the banking industry for 3 years after graduation, I decided to leave the industry to join my parents after I started to realise that my parents are ageing and could definitely use an extra pair of hands. My older sister, although holding a full time accounting job outside the family business, sacrifices much of her private time to help out with the family business accounts.

However, all these sacrifices cannot be compared to those that my parents have made. The success we have today is only possible with their sheer commitment and passion for the family business.

My personal role model is my mother. For the past 3 decades, she has faithfully followed my father, assisting him in everything required for running the business – from manual chores to administrative tasks. Above all that, she was also a nurturing and loving mother, rushing home from the stall to make dinner for us when we were young, despite her busy and long hours. The meals were nothing elaborate, but were filled with her love for us. She also made sure to kiss us goodnight when she returned from work at night, even if we were asleep.

I greatly admire my mother’s dedication not only to the business and family, but to the community as she, commits a day every week to do voluntary work at Chung Hwa Free Clinic (Toa Payoh).

7. What is your advice to families finding yours, as a role model to emulate and have business ideas. How would you encourage them to start off a family business and what are some of the advantages and challenges, based on your experience?

To run a family business amicably, good communication is key. For me, having my parents as bosses definitely has its challenges. Honestly, I think my parents have higher expectations of my brother and me than a normal boss would have. As children and also “subordinates”, we have to learn to manage their expectations well. Also, to have a sibling as your colleague is tricky. A sibling is someone you grew up with, someone whom you know so well inside out.

It’s easy to pass a quick unfair judgement of him at times – thinking you know where he is coming from before he could finish with his words. However, over time, we’ve learnt to be patient and to give each other their chance to share their business ideas and respect everyone’s opinion.

There will be differences, but we try to make sure we openly discuss our views, usually over a meal with the whole family. The greatest advantage of a running a family business is knowing that at the end of the day, everyone is just trying to do their best for the family. 

Thank you to Ms Cho Ai Min of Cho Kee Noodle 曹记 for taking our interview!

To find out more about Cho Kee Noodle 曹记 and where to eat it’s delicious noodles, please click HERE.

* Article brought to you by Shobana N, Senior Writer and Our Parenting World (OPW) Team.


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