Of cars and bread

Asanoya's signature Karuizawa blueberry and tea bread.
(From left_Naomichi Kobayashi, Asano Maki and Glen Tan
Glen Tan, Tan Chong International
Tan Chong International’s Glenn Tan and Asanoya’s Asano Maki.
The 1.3kg Karuizawa Blueberry is also sold by weight.
What does car dealership Tan Chong International know about the F&B business? Quite a lot, it seems
Published: 4:04 AM, November 13, 2014
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SINGAPORE — That popular Japanese bakery Asanoya is opening its first outpost outside Japan only after 81 years is an interesting proposition. However, what’s more interesting is its choice for a business partner: Tan Chong International.

The latter company that has built a reputation primarily in the motoring industry with brands such as Subaru and Nissan and this is its virgin venture into the food and beverage business. But while it is apparent just how popular Japanese artisan goods have grown across the globe, Tan Chong International’s executive director Glenn Tan preferred to celebrate the brand’s heritage.

“In Japan, where much attention is placed on ensuring food is of the highest quality, you have to be doing something right to enjoy the success that Asanoya has had for more than 80 years. It is the first outlet for the brand outside of Japan, as we see a growing trend for Japanese F&B (brands and concepts) here in Singapore,” he said.

Asanoya will officially open on Nov 15 at Wilby Central, occupying a space that was originally a car showroom.

But while most will see the two brands as odd bedfellows, Tan affirmed that it was a natural choice, given his company’s established relationship with many Japanese brands. He also professed a love for quality breads.

“My sister and I frequent Tokyo and this is one of her favourite bread shops,” Tan added.

But ties between the two companies run further back. “Coincidentally, one of the founder’s sons didn’t work at Asanoya, but was president of Nissan-Diesel, which we used to handle,” he explained. “My father has known Mr Asano for a long time, but his brother was the one who ran the bread business and now his niece Asano Maki is the company’s CEO. So we’ve sort of had this connection already ... It is also a brand that we like so it worked out nicely.”

That said, this seemingly serendipitous union was an equally timely one. There was a need, Tan shared, to fill the space on the ground floor of the building on Queen Street that also housed service apartments.

“I had converted the 5,000 sq ft space into a restaurant space more than 10 years ago. I thought our service apartments needed to have some kind of F&B — and once you’ve turned it into a restaurant space there is no going back to a car showroom,” he said.

Tan and his team began exploring their options last year and when the previous tenant’s lease ended in March, renovations began. Tan played to the neighbourhood’s unique appeal, highlighting the government’s plans to develop the area as an arts precinct.

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