Features 4 minutes 28 March 2024

Behind-the-Bib: Selamat Datang Warong Pak Sapari's Secrets to Success

Former engineer turned third-generation hawker and entrepreneur, Sumadi Sapari, tells us about keeping tradition alive through food, as well as business acumens that have turned Selamat Datang Warong Pak Sapari into a success beyond Adam Road Food Centre.

When it comes to food, the words “family”, “heritage”, and “legacy” are often used to describe one’s raison d'être. Recipes passed down from generations are kept like precious love letters and are only made accessible to the public upon tasting the finished dish — experiencing the all-around sensation of aroma, flavour, and texture.

Legendary filmmaker and artist, Akira Kurosawa, said in his autobiography that “creation is memory”, and this is, without a doubt, evident in the cooking process, especially when nostalgia is a key ingredient. Perhaps, the memories brought about by taste are the most crucial components in creating a dish and keeping it relevant in the modern day.

Selamat Datang Warong Pak Sapari is located at #01-09 Adam Road Food Centre
Selamat Datang Warong Pak Sapari is located at #01-09 Adam Road Food Centre

Newly recognized with a Bib Gourmand, Selamat Datang Warong Pak Sapari, located at Adam Food Centre, is an institution with a loyal following of regulars eager to tuck into either one (or both) of its two specialties: Mee Rebus and Mee Soto.

Mee Rebus is a delectable combination of egg noodles in savoury gravy, adorned with classic toppings like eggs, tofu, chilli, and lime. On the other hand, Mee Soto is a fiery noodle soup, bursting with flavours of Indonesian soto ayam (chicken soup) with hearty yellow Hokkien noodles. At its core lies a rich broth crafted from chicken simmered with a fragrant rempah (spice paste).

Mee Rebus (Photo: Selamat Datang Warong Pak Sapari)
Mee Rebus (Photo: Selamat Datang Warong Pak Sapari)

Behind Selamat Datang Warong Pak Sapari is former engineer Sumadi Sapari, the third-generation owner of the shop, a rarity nowadays in Singapore’s hawker culture. He sits down with us for a chat about the shop’s history, how he runs the business, and why family has been the crux of his success.

Mee Soto (Photo: Selamat Datang Warong Pak Sapari)
Mee Soto (Photo: Selamat Datang Warong Pak Sapari)

As a third-generation owner, what do you think is the most important business acumen that you apply to your shop today?

My father always emphasised this philosophy: don’t think of the money. You must think of the business first, and then, the money will follow.

If you always prioritise money, you eventually compromise the quality of your product, especially with inflation and increased ingredient prices. Don’t get me wrong — it’s practical to find alternatives, but I have always been told to keep to the same recipe and ingredient portions, even when the cost of goods go up. This has proved to be a successful business practice for us because our food is still able to satisfy our regulars all these years, to the point that even customers who have moved overseas and come back to visit will tell me that our Mee Rebus and Mee Soto still taste the same as when my father ran the shop.

Has it always been the same recipe since your grandfather started the business?

My father was the one who improved the recipe to suit the palate of Singaporeans better. Different parts of Indonesia have different versions of Mee Soto and Mee Rebus, and my father advised me to never to cut down on the ingredients and the spice. He transformed my grandfather’s recipe to one that's still traditional yet appeals to the Singaporean palate.

Selamat Datang Warong Pak Sapari Bib Gourmand.jpeg

How has the business changed since the MICHELIN Bib Gourmand recognition?

It's quite funny because I didn’t know we got it until one of our regulars shared the news!

Of course, I was very happy about it, and more people — especially tourists — have been curious to try our offerings. I also get a lot of invitations to expand and to franchise, so there’s a lot going on — and a lot to think about — at the moment.

What is your personal mission for Selamat Datang Warong Pak Sapari?

Honestly, my goal in life is to put Mee Soto and Mee Rebus in the global culinary spotlight. Every year, Selamat Datang Warong Pak Sapari is lucky to be selected as one of the food stalls representing Singapore in a global trade show. We go to different countries like London, The U.S., and China.

This is where I get to meet some of my father’s old customers — they drop by the booth, enjoy our offerings, and they always say, ‘Ah, this is just how I remember it when your father was still here.’ These little moments validate my determination of keeping to my father’s recipe and sticking to our business acumen.

What does a regular day for you look like?

I wake up every day at 4:00 a.m. and head here to Adam Road Food Centre to taste the soups and make tweaks to get to the flavour of my father’s recipe right. Apart from this flagship store, we also have branches in the Central Business District, and we’ve also started selling the rempah (spice mix) in pouches (exclusively sold here at Selamat Datang Warong Pak Sapari Adam Road Food Centre) for home cooks, or for locals to buy and share with friends overseas. After making the rounds and meeting up with business partners, I call it a day and go home to enjoy a home-cooked meal by my wife. Family time is very important for us.

Sauce Packets Selamat Datang Warong Pak Sapari.jpeg

What is the secret to Selamat Datang Warong Pak Sapari’s Mee Soto and Mee Rebus?

For the Mee Rebus, we use soybeans instead of peanuts. A lot of people have nut allergies, so soybeans are a bit friendlier. Also, the prawns. A kilogram of prawns now, depending on the quality, ranges from SG$5 to SG$12. We will always get the SG$12 prawns that are white in colour because they are meaty and retain their bouncy texture.

For the Mee Soto, it is crucial to have fresh ingredients; the spice mix is also very important. Up to this date, we get our spices from the same supplier that my father used to buy from. We also use chicken thighs when we make the broth as they impart the most flavour, in my opinion.

A funny fact is that my father was actually allergic to chicken, so he would make the broth first, and then add the chicken later. That’s how we do it to this day.

As an engineer, did you ever see yourself taking over your father’s business?

To be honest, I didn’t. My father was very meticulous to the point that he would taste the broth every 30 minutes when he was still alive and running the shop. However, he fell sick, and this was when he asked me to take over.

I contemplated it deeply because I was already a seasoned engineer for two decades — the shift in career was daunting. It weighed on me whether to prioritise my personal career path, one that I had worked and studied so hard for, but when I thought about it, my family is my priority, and if I am able to continue the legacy passed down by my grandfather and my father to me, I will do it.

Sumadi Sapari MICHELIN Guide.jpeg

As a father, do you foresee any of your children taking over the business?

For now, I am not making any far-fetched plans. I feel that my goal as a father is to put things into place and get the gears rolling on their own so that I can take care of my family, and they will always be supported. Each of my children has a different dream — one of my sons is actually studying to be an engineer, too.

What’s the most important lessons you’ve learned when it comes to running your business so far

It is very important to exercise three qualities: consistency, confidence, and passion.

Consistency is so important because it’s so tempting to tweak recipes in favour of economics. I never compromised my family’s recipe — there have been challenges, but I’ve learned that staying true has its rewards.

You also have to be confident with your product. Coming from an engineering background, I had to learn the ropes of being an entrepreneur and understand the components of the products we were selling. Lastly, passion. It’s important to love what you do, and when times get tough, remember the reason you chose to do it.


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