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SME Diaries: Our restaurant opened in the midst of Covid-19 and we made the most of it

In this instalment of SME Diaries, Mr Richard Chan and Mr John Nalpon of the Dopo Teatro restaurant at the Esplanade recount how dine-in restrictions to combat Covid-19 brought fulfilling learning opportunities for the team.

SME Diaries: Our restaurant opened in the midst of Covid-19 and we made the most of it

Dopo Teatro's assistant restaurant manager John Nalpon (left) and chef de cuisine Richard Chan.

Richard Chan and John Nalpon

Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which form 99 per cent of businesses in Singapore, have felt the impact of Covid-19 keenly. TODAY’s Voices section is publishing first-hand accounts from SME owners and managers on the highs and lows of running a business in the pandemic.

In this instalment, Mr Richard Chan and Mr John Nalpon of the Dopo Teatro restaurant at the Esplanade recount how dine-in restrictions to combat Covid-19 brought fulfilling learning opportunities for the team. 

Between the two of us, we have more than 50 years of experience in the food-and-beverage sector. 

Yet never in our lives have we experienced anything like the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Faced with a circuit breaker partial lockdown in 2020 and several dine-in suspensions thereafter, we — like most food-and-beverage businesses — have been hit by the pandemic. 

For us on the service front lines, the experience has been an emotional roller-coaster. 

It was disheartening to see a decline in the number of restaurant diners when the cap of two customers a table was imposed last year.

Yet, despite the challenges, our team at Creative Eateries — which operates various western, Thai and Japanese restaurants — has been brought closer through these obstacles.

Our recipe for coping with the constant challenges was to go back to the basics. 

With the blessings of our management, Dopo Teatro (“after the theatre” in Italian) was launched at the Esplanade during the pandemic in June 2020. We serve up Italian cuisine combined with Japanese ingredients.

Our kitchen has a pizza furnace that allows us to explore artisanal basics to create hand-stretched Neapolitan-style pizzas. 

Dopo Teatro was created to host pre-show and post-show events at the Esplanade. 

But, for several months last year, the theatre hardly saw any performances and we have had to adapt to survive. 

In the face of dine-in restrictions, we turned to creating new recipes for takeaway customers to keep the business going. 

Creating successful takeaway offerings, such as savoury canape boxes, was a positive distraction — one that brought fulfilling learning and training opportunities. These included hand-making pastas and breads from scratch, and even undergoing mixology training to be more innovative in our drink offerings.

Indeed, we literally cooked up new survival plans to drive takeaways, so that they make up a larger part of our business. 

Now that dine-in rules allow five customers a table, we are hopeful for the months ahead.

We subscribe to the philosophy that everyone makes a difference to the team. 

Junior employees are coached to understand not just their own but other departments’ processes. For example, service teams are educated on food preparation methods to better present the menu to our guests. 

Beyond this, we also believe in constant learning. 

Reskilling is often encouraged in the company to open more pathways in our food-and-beverage careers. 

Under government agency Workforce Singapore’s career conversion programme, employees are also given greater opportunities for progression and exposure within the company. 

For example, cooks who previously only prepared food now perform digital processes, such as receiving goods via an electronic procurement system.

The beauty of working here is that everybody helps one another — this is something that we are grateful for as we ride out one of the biggest challenges in history.

ABOUT THE WRITERS:  

Mr Richard Chan, 44, is the chef de cuisine and Mr John Nalpon, 46, is the assistant restaurant manager at Dopo Teatro, which comes under the Creative Eateries group.

If you are an SME owner or manager with an experience to share or know someone who wishes to contribute to this series, write to voices [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and phone number. 

Related topics

SME Diaries SME food restaurant business

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