We have Vijay Pillai to thank for adding colour to Singapore’s culinary landscape. The 35-year-old CEO of Caerus Holding is the man who brought in unique F&B brands like globally renowned New York confectioner Lady M; reinventors of the classic Danish cookie, Leckerbaer; cult favourite San Francisco bakery Mr Holmes Bakehouse and American seafood shack Luke’s Lobster. In a span of less than a decade, Pillai has grown his business to encompass a network of 11 dining establishments. His latest, which opened at the height of the pandemic last year, is Lady M Champagne Bar at Ion Orchard, where ladies can refuel on bubbly and mille crepe in between shopping.
Three words you would use to describe yourself as a businessman.
Bold, non-conforming and fun. In business, I believe in taking calculated risks. When Caerus Holding brought in Lady M, it was a relatively unknown brand, and many thought it was crazy to sell cakes by the slice. However, I saw this as a challenge and took this opportunity to bring a new experience to the local market.
What drives you?
I’m motivated by challenges and the fear of failure. Creative ideas and working with like-minded people invigorate me. Such opportunities ignite a desire in me to do more.
Describe your boldest business move.
Dabbling in F&B with zero culinary experience. It started as an experimental venture that turned out to be one of the best business decisions I have made — being able to do what I love daily.
The most important takeaway in my career is the importance of building strong relationships with partners, and not to trust too easily. One of my first few business ventures was to bring in an international brand from Japan to Singapore. When we brought the brand in, we were under the impression that we would be able to manufacture the products locally to manage costing; it did not pan out that way and that led to us incurring substantial losses.
Since then, I’ve learnt to place great importance on building good relationships with my overseas counterparts. We work closely and transparently with them to ensure that we present the brand as authentically as possible, as well as maintain a strong and long-term relationship.
What’s lacking in Singapore’s F&B scene?
I think Singapore’s F&B scene stifles creativity due to high barriers to entry. This means that there are a lot of talented individuals who do not get the opportunity to enter the industry.
As an entrepreneur and consumer, I am always looking for new experiences, which is what the brands under Caerus offer. Whether it’s introducing Danish confectionaries like Leckerbaer to the local market, bringing in a wild and unapologetic brand like Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, embodying a specific lifestyle like Lady M or introducing Luke’s Lobster’s razor focus on a core product and passion for sustainability — each brand comes with a unique selling point that sets them apart and adds vibrancy to Singapore’s local dining scene.
It is an ongoing process. I think there’s no straight answer to success. In business, you should never be contented and I continually challenge myself and my team. I do not consider myself successful yet, and feel that Caerus Holding has a long way ahead as a business and we are still working on making it a successful lifestyle company.
What advice would you give budding entrepreneurs?
Never be contented. Be bold; never shy away from a challenge and most importantly, have fun.
Tell us about your goals for your company.
My short-term goals are to take the brands from Singapore and replicate them in different markets regionally. We are also excited to be introducing our first ever homegrown lifestyle brand in 2022.
As for my long-term goals, I would like to see Caerus Holding grow and continue to build lifestyle brands that offer new experiences to different consumers in different settings.