From roadside stall to thriving chain: The story of Haig Road Putu Piring
In the third episode of CNA Luxury’s podcast series Next Gen, we hear from Haig Road Putu Piring’s fifth-generation owner Nooraisha Hashim, who tells us how she gave up her dream of becoming a pastry chef in the US to help steer the family business in Singapore.
As she hovers over her putu piring stall in Geylang Road, casting an eagle eye on the production process and the comings and goings of customers, suppliers and delivery riders, Nooraisha Hashim, 38, looks every bit the savvy businesswoman.
You would not for a moment think that this wasn’t Nooraisha’s life calling. After all, making putu piring has been a family tradition that’s been passed down from mother to daughter for five generations; starting with her great-great-grandmother, who operated a roadside stall in Jalan Besar in the 1930s.
Nooraisha had no intention of taking over the family business, even though she spent her childhood and school years helping her parents at the stall and at home. Her dream was to become a pastry chef in the US. In the early 2000s, she pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Baking & Pastry Arts at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. Upon graduating, she landed a job as a pastry cook in Boston Harbor Hotel, Massachusetts.
She yearned to open her own pastry shop in America. However, barely a year into her role in Boston, she had to put aside those dreams.
“My parents called me up and said that they really, really needed help,” she said. Her parents were running the stall at a coffee shop in Block 12 Haig Road, but the coffee shop was due to close and they had nowhere to go. Facing a manpower shortage, they needed their daughter’s help to find a replacement stall. Prior to her stint in the US, Nooraisha had been helping her parents with human resource and licensing issues.
“So that’s why I came back.” It wasn’t the easiest of decisions. “It took me about a month to think it over, whether to come back or not.” Her experience in the US had been “fun” and “exciting”. “I think whoever goes overseas, once you have a good life there, you don’t feel like coming back,” she said, laughing.
In the end, filial piety and a sense of duty won over. “In my family, we seldom say no to our parents.” So she packed her bags and flew home, only to be thrown back into the thick of things. She initially wanted to find her own job, but she was helping out to the extent that it made more sense to join the family business full-time.
And so she did, in 2007. In 2014, she registered the company as Haig Road Putu Piring and became its managing director, taking over from her parents. Since then, she has expanded the business to five outlets; come up with new flavours like chocolate to attract younger customers; opened a central kitchen in Bedok; and – like so many other F&B businesses during the pandemic – started offering islandwide delivery.
In 2019, business received a boost following an appearance on Netflix’s Street Food Asia. Exposed to a global audience, there was a sudden influx of customers from as near as Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia, to as far afield as Germany, Italy and Russia – all of whom were eager to snap photos for Instagram.
Unfortunately, there was also a bit of backlash from the series, with Singaporeans divided into two camps: One who felt that putu piring was not representative of Singapore; and another who felt that it was nice to have a less common aspect of the country's culinary heritage showcased.
“We had a few comments from Singaporeans, [asking if] it meant that putu piring represents Singapore. Frankly speaking, my family and I had no idea that we were chosen to be one of the main ones… Netflix interviewed 10 business owners in Singapore. I just assumed that we were chosen because we have a unique kind of food. I believe Netflix wanted to know more about our story and the history of putu piring.”
When asked how she feels about running one of the oldest family-run F&B businesses in Singapore, Nooraisha replied: “I feel honoured.” Today, Haig Road Putu Piring sells about 10,000 putu piring daily, across its four outlets (Haig Road Food Centre, Geylang Road, Simpang Bedok and Northpoint City, Yishun; the fifth, in Ang Mo Kio, closed during the pandemic). That number, however, isn’t enough for her.
“One of my goals is to have as many shops as possible. But you know, I’m still building the structure to strengthen the pillars in my company. I still need to have a few more team players before I can really maximise our expansion.” In the future, she plans to franchise the business.
This proposal did not go down well with mum. “She’s against it. Even [in the last few years], when I wanted to open more branches, my mother was against it, because she said it’s not easy to handle. But of course, with the help of my husband and all my staff who are very faithful to us, I made it happen. Therefore I need more team players to be in the company to make the franchising happen.”
Despite their differences, Nooraisha is grateful for the lessons that her mum (and dad) taught her. Top of the list? “Not to be stingy. The more you give, the more you get.” As well, “Always be nice to customers.” Mum and dad also instilled the value of hard work in their children (Nooraisha has an elder sister, who is not involved in the business).
“I did not have the usual childhood where, you know, [you would go home after school], watch TV, spend time with your parents. My childhood was [spent helping my mother]. [Back then] our flour was made from home. So even though I was watching TV, my hands would be moving, helping her mix the flour. If I had homework, I would finish my homework and help my mum do what I could.
“I also didn’t used to get things easily from them. So if I needed something, they would tell me to work for it. I mean, it’s a nice experience because not all kids get to work and have money and then spend it on what they want. So that’s a good lesson that… I’m now adapting to my sons. If they want something, they must help me out in the kitchen!”
Nooraisha has three sons: Fahmi, seven; Farish, five; and Rayyan, four. She hopes that they will one day take over the ropes – “If not all three, then maybe one”. In the meantime, she’s trying to set up a strong framework to make the business run as smoothly as possible in the future.
“The first one loves to go into the kitchen… he loves to eat and will try and taste everything. He’s also the more hands-on one. The second one, from what I can see, is more into paperwork, that kind of thing. He loves to talk. I think he could represent the company.”