The iCHEF Story
You might know iCHEF as an iPad POS provider, but when we started out, this wasn't part of the plan. It began like this:
A department store named UNI Plaza (owned by the Uni-President Group and Japan's Tokyo Hands Inc.) went through a massive, high-profile failure in 2009. Sean Hsu had been its strategy director. After this defeat and much soul-searching, he decided that it was time for something new – so he started a restaurant in central Taipei selling Taiwanese favourites: spicy beef noodles, dumplings and fried rice. It was called Mazendo, and the year was 2010.
He envisioned the restaurant as the "Starbucks of beef noodles", classy with a relaxed atmosphere. The concept worked, but he was faced with another set of problems. Mazendo had a long waiting line and impatient customers. Orders taken on paper were not communicated well and as a result customers were served the wrong dishes. Billing took ages and many customers got frustrated. No matter what Sean tried, the situation didn’t improve. He was stuck with a restaurant with good food but lousy service.
Then he finally figured it out. All the problems resulted from orders and bills being processed too slowly.
Mazendo’s POS machine caused a bottleneck, because everybody had to do everything on the POS machine – from keying in orders to billing.
And it could only do one thing at a time.
So Sean searched for a better solution on the market, but there wasn't any available. None of the American Cloud-based POS systems suited the fast pace and variables of Taiwanese casual dining. And so he said, "Screw it, let's make our own".
His brainchild, an iPad-based POS app, could manage a waiting line, pre-order before seating, manage tables and orders by dragging and dropping, and allow any staff in the restaurant to check the table situation at a glance – and above all it allowed Mazendo to run smoothly.
So smoothly, in fact, that it needed 20% less staff and increased efficiency by 30%. It functioned as the operating system of the restaurant and Mazendo grew, opening more outlets. Friends in the F&B business started asking Sean what POS system he used and as word spread, the serial entrepreneur knew it was time to turn it into a company.
He roped in his high school buddies, Ken, Ben and Spencer to build the company iCHEF. Ken was an ex-strategy director at McDonald's China, and brand consultant at Ogilvy for Google and Alibaba. He would take charge of the marketing. Ben had run the global distribution channel for the largest art suppliers in the US market and would act as CEO; Spencer used to work in UCLA developing a synchronisation system for the US Army – he would direct the technology.
Fast track to 2015, iCHEF won the international RedDot Design Award 2015 for Communication Design – one of the most sought-after distinctions for design. We went on to win the GOOD DESIGN Award 2015, the only design evaluation and commendation system in Japan.
In 2016, the iCHEF team grew to about 50 people strong and joined the ranks of Apple, Dyson and Mercedes-Benz. We won the iF DESIGN GOLD AWARD, also known as the “Design Oscar”, for the Communication discipline.
In March of 2016, iCHEF set up its office in Singapore with a team of four.
In June 2016, we expanded to HongKong and debuted in Malaysia in October, partnering with the largest food truck alliance in Southeast Asia, MSA (Mobile Food Trucks and Street Food Association). Along the way we’ve also held countless workshops and meetups for F&B entrepreneurs, published Diner News in Taipei and email newsletters in Singapore and HongKong, and built friendships with people in the F&B industry.
Today, we serve over 5000 F&B outlets across Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia. We count kiosks, hawker stalls, cafes, food trucks, bistros and even Michelin-starred restaurants among our valued clients. We’ve come a long way from a humble beef noodle restaurant and are honoured to serve independent small restaurants like our own Mazendo.
Cheryl Tay is the editor and marketer at iCHEF Singapore. She also manages iCHEF Club, a growing community of F&B owners in Singapore – organising events, an online newsletter and the F&B Entrepreneur Bootcamp, the only regular workshop on opening a new restaurant in the country. In her spare time, she attempts to read every book that’s ever won a literary prize and watches cat videos. Like any proper Singaporean, her love for food runs deep – especially spicy food. Chili is life.