Singapore’s Cult Foods

Meet the man behind Singapore’s most ‘Insta-Worthy’ food trends. Vijay K Pillai is CEO of Caerus Holding, the company that’s brought photogenic swirls of charcoal soft serve, New York lobster rolls and delicate mille crêpes to Singapore’s shores. He shares how he taps into the foodie psyche and spots the latest culinary trend.

Vijay Pillai

Vijay Pillai found his way into the food industry after realising he wasn’t cut out for the finance game. “I started off in the finance industry after graduation, worked for about 1-2 years, before I realised I wasn’t meant for it,” he says. In 2013, Vijay went from dollars and cents to flour and sugar, introducing Singapore to New York pastry store, Lady M, and its world famous paper-thin crepe stacks. His company, Caerus Holding, which began as a wine distribution company, gambled on diversifying their portfolio and hit on a winner. “Today we have five Lady M cake boutiques located at Orchard Central, South Beach Avenue, Scotts Square, Westgate and Jewel Changi Airport,” says Vijay.
The company didn’t stop there – bringing more buzzed about foods to the island – including LA soft serve specialist Little Damage and more recently Leckerbaer, a specialty pastry brand from Copenhagen and Luke’s Lobster, famed for their Maine-style slightly chilled lobster rolls from New York. “I don’t really see ourselves as specialising in cult food brands,” says Vijay. “We are a lifestyle company that brings unique experiences and brands from around the world to the local market.”

Leckerbaer, a specialty pastry brand from Copenhagen

Trend spotting
Based in Singapore, Vijay says his eye for unique food experiences stems from a love of eating and travelling. “As a frequent traveller, I’m quite particular about where I eat and sleep,” he admits. “I’ll usually do research prior to departing and make restaurant reservations – including back-up ones. This quirk has allowed me to tap into the foodie psyche of the locals and from there, I get a sense of the brands that could potentially excite Singaporeans’ palates.”
So, what makes one soft serve or speciality treat stand out from the rest? “Uniqueness and quality aside, the brand needs to be relevant to local tastes,” says Vijay. “There has to be potential for expansion, both locally and regionally, before we take the plunge.” And then there’s the ‘Insta-Factor’ – how good a food looks on camera. “It’s extremely important,” says Vijay. “Humans are very much visual creatures – we get drawn to beautiful things – including food.”
Vijay is aware that new food recommendations are likely to be delivered via our phones or tablets. “Nowadays, consumers are more likely to learn about a new brand or food through their friend or favourite influencer via social media,” says Vijay. “That first impression makes the brand. The colours, how we plate the product, it all adds up to whether it’s deemed Insta-Worthy enough. The more visually appealing our product is, the more likely our customer is going to snap a picture and post it on the ‘gram, which is more exposure for the brand!”

Dining details
From the fit-out of the restaurant, to the taste of the product – all the small dining details count. “We had to ensure we were able to give our customers the same experience as going to Lady M in New York,” explains Vijay. “Product quality and re-creating the entire experience was of utmost importance.”

Vijay’s latest venture, Leckerbaer, recreates the cosy, warm atmosphere of the original bakery in Copenhagen, where Vijay first tasted the cookies. “Leckerbaer offers Singaporeans a taste of the Nordic experience,” says Vijay. “It also brings about a sense of nostalgia – many of us ate the classic Danish butter cookies with their blue metal tins as kids, but this product is brought up to date with current times and trends. Through Leckerbaer, we want to also convey what we call “Hygge life”, which is the concept of enjoying life’s simple pleasures.”

Luke’s Lobster

Lobster with a difference
Lobster rolls are not a new trend, but Vijay saw something special in Luke’s Lobster, which has perfected its dish of lobster chunks in a toasted buttered bun with mayonnaise, lemon butter, and a secret seasoning blend. “What attracted us to Luke’s Lobster is how they’ve invested fully in their supply chain from start to end,” says Vijay. “Which meant that we’d be getting a constant supply of quality products, giving us confidence to invest in the brand.”
Luke’s Lobster was built on core values of traceable, sustainable seafood, and working directly with fishermen. It’s a concept that resonates with today’s more mindful customer. “Today’s diners want to know where the food they eat comes from, and how it is treated,” says Vijay. “All that paired with the popularity of the brand in New York and Japan – foodie capitals of the world – makes us confident that Luke’s Lobster will be a welcome addition to our city’s foodscape.”
Like many in the F&B industry, 2020 has presented challenges for Vijay and his team, but it’s pushed them to be more creative. “Recent times have indeed proven to be challenging for the business, but it has also made us more nimble. We had to quickly adapt to remain relevant and accessible to our customers.”

Luke’s Lobster, #01-K4, Isetan Shaw House, 350 Orchard Rd
Leckerbaer, #01-K2 & #01-K3, Isetan Shaw House, 350 Orchard Rd
leckerbaer.sg
Lady M, Orchard Central, South Beach Avenue, Scotts Square, Westgate and Jewel Changi Airport
ladym.com.sg

Vijay’s Faves
Food that reminds you of home? Nasi Lemak
Favourite Bar? Manhattan Bar
Favourite Singapore restaurant? It really depends on my mood, but I frequent Cut, Jade Palace, Aoki, Shabu Gen and lately, it’s been Thevar.
Favourite hawker dish? Prawn Mee