Over simmering kopi (coffee) and freshly grilled kaya (local coconut jam) toast, Seah Kay Siong shares that he used to clock countless hours at Changi Airport, hanging out with friends before bidding teary farewells as they leave for studies abroad, or welcoming those who’ve returned home.
Such memories resonate with many Singaporeans, whose favourite past time is etched around eating and drinking with family and friends. All the more so for Kay Siong, who is a self-professed foodie, and had an interest to work in the food and beverage (F&B) industry since his days in school.
This passion for food panned out through several stints in the F&B industry, including one that saw him spend time in the financial hub of Shanghai working with an F&B start-up. So, it was fortuitous that Kay Siong found himself working as a F&B curator at Changi – marrying his interests in food and travel!
Shadowing Kay Siong for the day: Curating F&B for a living
As a Manager in Changi Airport Group’s Landside Concessions team, Kay Siong takes charge of the leasing and operations of F&B outlets in Terminal 3 – essentially, he is the ‘go-to’ person for F&B operators within Terminal 3’s public area. For more on what goes on in a typical day in Kay Siong’s job, watch this video!
A Day In The Life Of: An F&B Curator
As Kay Siong proudly rattles off his favourites and top F&B recommendations within Changi, it is evident that the selection available for tourists and locals alike is incredibly extensive. There are more than 70 international and local restaurants and F&B outlets across the four Changi terminals, of which almost half are in Terminal 3.
The smorgasbord of restaurants at Changi is definitely not here by chance, and a main part of Kay Siong’s job includes planning for and curating new additions or refreshing the mix of outlets at Terminal 3 throughout the year.
Throughout the selection and curation process, many factors are considered.
Considering the customer demographics of each terminal, down to specific areas and levels
One main consideration is catering to the tastes of different groups of visitors to Changi. First, Kay Siong and his team collect customer behaviour insights and demographics to know who are the people visiting Changi.
One insight that the team uncovered was that, unlike other airports in the world, locals make up a significant proportion of visitors at Changi’s public areas – who come to eat or shop, and not necessarily to travel. They could also be there to meet or send off friends and family who are travelling in and out of Changi, just as Kay Siong did during his younger days!
Locals or tourists tend to visit different areas of the airport. For example, more than half of the visitors at Terminal 3 Basement 2 are locals who are at Changi to shop and dine. Hence, local favourites such as Yakun and Mr Teh Tarik Express, in addition to the large Kopitiam (colloquial slang for coffeehouse) can be found there.
On the other hand, the Departure and Arrival levels see more visitors who are departing or arriving at Changi. Hence, more international cafes and fast-food brands are located there to appeal to the travellers.
Moving upstairs, the Departure Mezzanine on Levels 3 and 4 offer a good mix of full-service restaurants for travellers and the meeters-and-greeters to have a more exclusive experience with a sit-down meal.
Given that tastes could change pretty quickly, Kay Siong also has his ears to the ground so he is aware of the latest culinary trends. It means that his team can consider bringing in popular food that appeal to the wider visitor base. Thorough industry research (lucky for Kay Siong, regular food tastings and restaurant visits are part of this research!) is also carried out to help the team determine if new trends in the market are really trends, or simply a fad.
Jet-setting local F&B brands to an international audience
At the same time, to showcase Singapore’s thriving culinary heritage and its “food paradise” status, Kay Siong and his team also ensure a good representation of local flavours for Changi’s visitors – tourists or stopover passengers – to get an authentic taste of Singapore without having to venture too far.
“Perhaps, they might be craving for one last local delight before they return back to their home countries, or looking for a local souvenir to take home to their friends and family – we want them to be able satisfy that craving or need right here at Changi.”
In doing so, a myriad of homegrown F&B brands make up the tenant lists in the various terminals. Excitedly citing Terminal 3’s Colonial Club as his go-to choice to take friends to for a meal, especially those who are visiting from abroad – Kay Siong shared that the restaurant is a local concept created by the PappaMia Group that puts a colonial British spin on local cuisine.
A launchpad to international success from humble roots
Colonial Club is part of several recent additions to the Level 3 range of restaurants, where Collin’s, So Pho and A-One Signature are also home-grown F&B brands. Kay Siong divulged proudly that a common theme among these three restaurants is that they started out as hawker concepts, and have since grown to be thriving chain restaurants. Now, their presence at Changi will also elevate the brand to a more international audience, coming a long way from their humble roots.
Not to be just enjoyed physically at Changi, local F&B brands have also found a niche in developing unique souvenirs visitors can bring home. For instance, Durian Empire has vacuum-sealed packs of durians for customers to carry around easily without its signature pungent smell. For the less adventurous, jars of creamy kaya <<link to upcoming kaya piece>> from Ya Kun or Golden Duck salted egg fish skin crisps remain firm favourites as well!
Apart from showcasing these local brands to tourists who visit Singapore, Kay Siong recognises that his role has the potential to propel local brands to an international stage through Changi as a launchpad.
For him, a unique sense of job satisfaction is derived through the success of his tenants. Ya Kun Kaya Toast, Bengawan Solo and even shoe and bag retailer, Charles and Keith, come to mind – all of which have stores at Changi, and have also found immense success in overseas markets in recent years.
It’s not a stretch to say that food is the soul of Singapore. By curating the best F&B options for Changi for people from all cultures and walks of life to enjoy – that’s what makes Kay Siong’s job truly rewarding for him. So the next time you tuck into your bowl of local laksa (spicy coconut-based noodle soup served with seafood) or Vietnamese pho (soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs, and meat) at Changi, don’t forget to take some photos and tag #changiyummy on Instagram, so Kay Siong and his colleagues know what you think about the latest offerings and continue to bring you more delectable dining options!
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