Cover Photo: Yun Nans

Yun Nans is one of Singapore’s favourite Chinese restaurant chains. Here’s how former investment banker Reuben Chua made it the success it is today

How I’m Making It is a weekly series in which Tatler speaks to influential individuals about their unique journeys and what keeps them going.

Just four years ago, Reuben Chua, the chief operating officer of Chinese restaurant chain Yun Nans, was enjoying an illustrious career as an investment banker at some of the world’s biggest banks. When he made the decision to leave that life to pursue his childhood dream of opening a restaurant, no one could predict the way it would take off. 

With four outlets island-wide and an almost cult-like following, Chua opens up about how it all started.

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“Growing up, I had relatives who ran restaurants and so I grew up helping in the kitchen and it was just something that was part of me. So I really was always very interested in food,” Chua explained when asked if food was always his passion.

However, a desire to explore being an entrepreneur led him to decide to pursue a degree in banking and finance at the University of London.

While Chua did want to start a business in the food and beverage industry upon graduation, he decided to first gain exposure and knowledge by pursuing banking, his chosen field at that time. 

He began as a relationship manager in United Overseas Bank Limited (UOB) in 2009 before moving to OCBC Bank. When he made the decision to return to UOB in 2014, it was as assistant vice president.

After spending a year in this position, Chua was given the opportunity to move to Shanghai as the senior manager at JLL, a professional services firm that specializes in real estate and investment management. It was there that Chua started rethinking his career. 

“While I was living in China I would often have to host clients at different restaurants and one of my favourites was Yun Hai Yao, a Yunnan restaurant chain in China,” he explained. “It was then that I started thinking more about my dream to be an entrepreneur. Yunnan cuisine is very unique. It is the marriage of the best of Southeast Asian and Chinese flavours. Basically, it was a combination that I thought would do very well in Singapore.”

With this newfound desire, Chua started talking to the founders of Yun Hai Yao about the possibility of bringing their franchise to Singapore. 

It was a season of a lot of hard work and effort but in April 2019, Chua’s dream finally came true when he opened Yun Nans’ flagship store in Jewel Changi Airport.

“I remember vividly the first day of opening. I was very determined. I told myself that there is no turning back and that I had to keep moving forward so I can only persevere and push forward,” Chua said. 

True enough, since then, Chua has passionately and diligently seen to every single new hire, works alongside his staff doing everything from seating customers to taking orders and has used his skills to expand the business. 

“We always listen to our customers because they are our main priority and they were asking us to open in different parts of Singapore so they don’t have to travel so far,” shared Chua. “So we did.”

Four outlets later, Chua is only continuing to go strong even as Yun Nans incorporates more sustainable and organic produce to their offerings. The restaurant chain aims to continue giving its best to customers while doing right by the environment.

“We are actually looking at opening a new concept using sustainable fishing practices and also introducing a trendier Yunnan street food and noodle bar concept,” revealed Chua proudly. 

Considering how hands-on he is with the business and staff, Tatler spoke to him below to find out just how he’s making it.

What is a typical morning like for you?

Reuben Chua (RC): I usually check my emails and reply to text messages before I get ready to head into the outlets. I like to be involved and be present during the preparation.

How would you describe your working style?

RC: I am very hands-on when it comes to managing the team. I get very involved because I treat my team like family. I work in the kitchen for the day and will have breakfast with the team to strengthen the bond between team members before going through the workflow planning of the day.

What do you usually have for breakfast?

RC: I am a big fan of local hawker fare, especially porridge. I particularly enjoy it when I buy porridge for breakfast for the team.

What does a standard work day look like for you?

RC: I spend most mornings at the outlets. Then I head back to the office to complete some paperwork. At 3 pm, I head to another outlet to have afternoon tea with the team there before joining them in the preparation for the dinner crowd.

Whenever possible, I have meetings with my marketing team, go through social media queries and brainstorm ideas with the head chef on how to better improve the quality and service of our outlets and offerings.

How would you describe your working style?

RC: I am very hands-on when it comes to managing the team. I get very involved because I treat my team like family.

What time do you usually have lunch? What do you usually have for lunch?

RC: I usually have a late lunch at about 1 pm, typically over meeting with suppliers to also build camaraderie with them. On these occasions, Chinese food is my go-to because it’s more communal and makes for great bonding.

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Free time: overrated or underrated? Why?

RC: It is overrated. I work an average of seven days a week and am at my outlets most of the time. It keeps me on my feet and I feel alive. I like the adrenaline of working on my business and making my dreams and goals come true.

How do you achieve a work-life balance? How do you set boundaries?

RC: I try to allocate one day a week to spend time with my family. Although rare, I try to have short holiday trips once a quarter as well to check out new concepts in the market and to be updated on the dining trends on top of spending time with my loved ones.

I also try to leave work at work when I come home so the boundaries between work and personal time are clearly drawn.

How do you chase your dreams?

RC: Perseverance is key.

Risks: should you take them? Why or why not?

RC: Always take risks. Without risk, there is no reward. No one can tell you if something will be successful but if you don’t try, you’re never going to make it.

How do you deal with your shortcomings?

RC: I spend most of the end of my day reflecting on what is lacking. I meditate and go through what went on throughout the day and how I can improve moving forward.

What is the best piece of advice that you have ever gotten?

RC: Always be humble and have an open mind and heart to new ideas, new people and new ways of doing things.

What is an idea/thought that you heard recently, that you thought was interesting?

RC: I recently learned about NFTs and the virtual metaverse. It is a fantastic way to merge the physical and virtual for a more comprehensive restaurant experience.

How do you unplug?

RC: I enjoy listening to soothing music and going for the occasional spa day.

How do you stay grounded?

RC: I like talking to different people from all walks of life. They open up my mind and worldview and I always find I have something to learn.

How do you stay motivated?

RC: I am always hungry to learn, to experience, to share. My goal is to create a better life for those around me.

What would you consider your greatest accomplishment to date?

RC: Building an obscure restaurant from scratch to a popular family chain it is now.

What is the last thing you do before you go to bed?

RC: I check my last messages, make sure the most pressing matters are settled, and then set an alarm to be up bright and early to start another day.


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