Enoch Teo
F&B Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurs rarely have it easy, but for Garçons founder Enoch Teo, getting to the point of getting started was already an uphill road.
Nonetheless, the resilient rebel-turned-restaurateur persevered and found his place in the world of F&B entrepreneurship and social enterprises.
Welcome to Enoch’s table.

What was it like for you growing up in school?

“When I was 10, I was diagnosed with ADHD. I had to be given extra time during exams because I couldn’t complete them. I got teased and labelled by my fellow schoolmates and sometimes even teachers, so I started feeling different, like I wasn’t able to fit in. Because of that, I developed a lot of anger and a rebellious spirit, and started looking for acceptance from people whom I thought were like me.

Very soon, I realised that I had totally lost interest in school – I started skipping classes and spent time in basketball courts, shopping malls and gaming arcades. It was then that I was introduced to a street gang whose members were mostly also school dropouts, just older than me. I guess I kind of looked up to them because I wanted to be like them. I soon started committing petty crimes like theft, smoking and getting into fights, which eventually got me expelled.”

What was your first encounter with drugs like?

“I was 14 and one of my friends gave me a bottle of cough syrup. One of the older gang members whom I hung out with was peddling it so it was conveniently available to me. The first time I took it, I felt numb and light. I also felt at that time that getting high together with my friends made me closer to them, like it’d help me to fit in.”

Did your family do anything when they found out?

“They immediately intervened. My mum once found a few cartons of contraband cigarettes and about 30 ecstasy pills which I was supposed to peddle. She threw them away and I got so furious, I decided to run away from home.”

How long were you taking drugs for?

“I was regularly taking drugs such as anti-depressants, and occasionally party drugs for about seven to eight years, even after I had started my cooking career. I had tried quitting after getting arrested at the age of 17. However, because I was still hanging out with my old friends, I found it very difficult to quit. The need to quit only started to sink in when I started my business, when I became responsible for my partners and staff.

There was one night when I went partying with some of my old gang friends, the night before the grand opening of my new stall. My friends got into a fight, and even though I wasn’t involved, the police also arrested and detained me for 24 hours. During that time, the police took our urine samples and two of my friends tested positive.

Fortunately, I didn’t. I remember after being released, I immediately rushed to my new stall and realised that two of my staff, together with my mum, had gone on to open the stall despite my not being present. They were struggling to cope with the crowd, and I felt that I had really let down not only my own business, but the people involved in it as well. I decided from that point that I had to turn my life around.”

“I tried quitting after getting arrested. However, because I was still hanging out with my old friends, I found it very difficult.”

So how did you begin turning your life around?

“Starting my career early as a cook planted an interest in me that slowly developed into a passion and an ambition. Also, when I started working full-time, I had very little time to spend with my gang friends who took drugs. A lot of friends who didn’t have a proper job turned to vices and illegal activities such as dealing drugs. I believe that without my full-time job as a cook then, I would have landed myself into much deeper trouble with the law or possibly a hardcore drug addiction.”

How did you come to realise that running your own business was something you had to do?

“After national service, I was introduced to a French restaurant by my one of my campmates. I started working there part-time, and the chef and owner of the restaurant asked me to come on full-time and even gave me a recommendation to culinary school, which I had been rejected from twice when applying on my own. With this, I felt that there were people who recognised me for my talent, and started working much harder and taking my career more seriously. Later, after getting an insurance payout from an accident, I decided to try my hand at owning and running my own business.”

As an F&B entrepreneur, you face a lot of pressure. How do you handle it?

“Running my own business has taught me not to run away from problems when under pressure. In the past, drugs were a form of temporary solution, but after the high, my problem still existed. So I learnt to face each problem and solve it accordingly. My six years of experience in business have helped me grow into a more mature and rational person in handling difficulties.”

How do you handle the temptation in the present?

“It doesn’t exist for me today as long as I don’t put myself in a situation that will tempt me. It’s just like going to a night spot where everyone’s consuming alcohol but you’re not. If I surround myself with more positive people who don’t take drugs, it decreases the temptation. However, if I put myself frequently in situations where I’m with drug users, the chances of me being tempted will increase.”

“Starting my career early planted an interest in me that slowly developed into a passion and an ambition.”

So how do you feed your ambition as an F&B entrepreneur?

“First of all, I make sure that I’m always surrounding myself with positive people, most of them fellow entrepreneurs. By doing that, the topics are usually centred around business and entrepreneurship. Sharing ideas and insights is how I keep myself up-to-date with the markets and emerging trends. I also make sure I surround myself with people who are successful and whom I can pace myself with. I think reading biographies of revolutionary people such as Lee Ka Shing, Richard Branson and Jack Ma inspires me to go up against the odds and challenge myself.”

What else helps you stay focused?

“My family is a key factor. I owe who I am today to them, because of their constant support in spite of how much I’ve hurt them. Every time I struggle, I think of my family, whom I cannot let down. They’ve never given up on me, so how can I give up on myself? That keeps me going.”

Why’s it worth keeping the fight going for you?

“Looking at my life now compared to those days with drugs, I’m much happier and more fulfilled. I treasure this and I want to continue to live like this till the end. I won’t be productive if I’m taking drugs, I won’t have respect from the people who work with me. And I also don’t want to disappoint the people around me, such as my family and close friends, after coming so far.”

What advice would you give anyone who’s pursuing their ambition?

“Find your strengths, practise until you’re really good at it, stay focused, and set realistic goals both for the short term and long term. Don’t be afraid of failing as failure always gives us valuable lessons. Constantly grow and learn new things as complacency is what causes people to fail regardless of how experienced and talented they are.”

“Looking at my life now, I’m much happier. I treasure this and I want to continue to live like this till the end.”

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