The man behind the eponymous Astons chain

Aston Soon is the man behind the eponymous Astons chain of restaurants. It was his dream to bring quality western cuisine to the east. Astons is a popular brand that has its origins from Singapore. The story began in 2005 from a small coffee shop along East Coast Road. Their passion to serve quality food at a reasonable price helped them win the hearts of the local instantly. In this interview, Aston Soon shares his incredible journey from working as a chef and then quitting his job to start his own restaurant Astons Specialities.

1. How did you enter in the franchise business?

It started when we had regular visitors to Singapore who noticed the popularity of our Astons Specialities restaurants in the malls and who became our regular customers. They approached us regarding franchising Astons Specialities in their home countries and that’s how we started in Myanmar, Malaysia and the Philippines.

2. Where and how did the idea of your concept come from?

I’ve had a lot of interest for cooking western dishes from a young age; a love that has stayed with me till today. I started work at an American franchise restaurant in my teens in order to immerse myself in and learn the trade. After working for 15 years as an employee and rising up the ranks to managing several outlets, I decided to become my own boss.

The idea of Astons Specialities restaurants is to bring high quality food to the masses at value for money prices so that everyone can afford to enjoy great steaks and other succulent western cuisine.

3. What inspired the brand name?

Astons Specialities is named after myself, and the idea of me bringing my food specialities to my guests. Even now, I still feel personally responsible for the quality of food and service in all my Astons Group restaurants.

4. What is the story behind the brand’s logo?

The Astons Specialities logo, with a grill flame at the bottom, represents our speciality in chargrilled steak and other meats. And also our passion in serving great food to our guests. It also stands for a strong statement that our charbroiling is done professionally in the most authentic way.

5. What makes your brand different from your competitors?

We make great tasting food with high quality ingredients while keeping prices very affordable.

Over the years, we have established very strong systems and procedures and well-documented and administered staff training. Therefore, we do not depend on chefs or highly-qualified specialists so as to have the ability to create growth within the company while keeping labour costs manageable.

6. What are the essential qualities that you look for in a franchisee?

1. People who believe in our brand
2. People who are confident that the brand has potential in their country
3. People who display entrepreneurial grit to get through the initial stages of launching the business while applying the system rigorously. This is the base for growth and expansion.

7. How long does it take, on average, for your franchisee to realize their investment?

Depending on country and location of the restaurant, it ranges from 6 months to 3 years.

8. What was the major challenge you faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?

I would say during the initial part when I was running the business alone. It was physically draining and I had no time for any other things. But I guess my passion and determination to succeed made me press on and I eventually had the capability to expand in a much-shorter-than-expected time.

Other challenges that we have faced are global pandemics like H1N1 and the recent Covid-19. We are fortunate to be able to overcome it by having a strong foundation, established business systems and supportive and committed staff.

8.1. What is your best achievement?

I would say my best achievement is bringing my own locally-built brand, Astons Specialities, from one stall into a growing global brand.

9. How does your business day start?

In the F&B business, everyday will be different! I can be starting the day with experimenting with new menu item, meeting with landlords for potential new locations, or even solving operations issues or customer’s complaints. This is what makes our industry so dynamic and interesting.

10. What was your best moment throughout your franchise career?

I would say it is when the Astons Specialities brand entered a less-saturated market like Myanmar. It is heartening be able to bring a foreign brand selling foreign food to the people of Myanmar so that they have another choice of western cuisine to experience in their home country.

11. Where do you see your brand in the next 5 years?

We would like to see Astons Specialities landing in as many parts of the world as possible including UAE and the other GCC countries.

12. Any tip for the reader who wants to be in franchisee business?

1. Have a strong and clear concept, system and operations procedures. This is important so that expectations and actions are aligned for both the franchisor and franchisee.

2. Pick franchisees carefully as it is going to be a long term relationship. They will be the ones managing your brand image overseas, hence it’s important that they project a positive image.

3. Keep control so that all franchisees follow the same system and operations and marketing will be consistent. This will not only build stronger branding, but also increases the likelihood of success for your franchisees when they operate using the tested and proven system.

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