Singapore might be a metropolitan city that’s known worldwide for its towering gardens and airport-waterfall, but there’s a surprising dearth of local brands that have made it onto the global stage.
That’s what Manoj Murjani thought when he established Group MMM in 2012. Today, he’s co-created brands like Violet Oon Singapore and Janice Wong Singapore — concepts that are as synonymous with good food as they are with Singapore.
And he knows that creating a distinctly Singaporean brand isn’t just about playing to tropes or staid stereotypes. Violet Oon Singapore, for one, is a lot more than just a kitschy Peranakan joint.
Each of the brand’s 5 concepts present a colonial-era marble-and-ironwork look that incorporates traditional Peranakan tiles and a sense of tasteful opulence, an aesthetic that extends right down to their aesthete-friendly sauce and condiment bottles.
As for the Janice Wong brand — what with their edible art and chocolate crayons — Murjani says that it infuses elements of fun and creativity that plays on Singapore’s increasingly diverse arts and culture scene.
“I felt a strong belief for the need to preserve Singapore’s culinary heritage and traditions,” says the Hong Kong-born businessman turned Singapore citizen. “I was looking to create a brand that could hold the very essence of Singapore culture as a whole, whilst also being able to highlight the various sub-cultures and communities that co-exist within.”
It helps that Murjani is ‘extremely’ hands-on in just about every detail of his brands, which are almost always food and beverage concepts — partly because he just really, really likes Singaporean food.
“Singaporean food resonates with my association of comfort food — that is, food with a soul,” he says. “The diversity brought by generations of residents and travellers, who’ve all shared their cultures and traditions, has shaped the vibrant culinary scene in Singapore today.”
He’d know about vibrant scenes. The father of three has fond memories of chicken rice dates with his then-girlfriend-now-wife at Mandarin Orchard’s Chatterbox, and is especially fond of satay for its shareability and street-food feel.
Born into a family of entrepreneurs (his father Mohan Murjani chairs the Murjani Group, which has developed and launched brands like Gloria Vanderbilt and Tommy Hilfiger), Murjani was no stranger to the world of luxury.
The likes of Andy Warhol, Estee Lauder and Ralph Lauren were frequent guests in the Murjani household, and when he grew up, Murjani himself became a globetrotting businessman — and yet his heart (and stomach) always brought him back to Singapore. It was something about the simplicity of the food, he says. That, combined with the country’s east-meets-West identity.
“My thinking is global, and influenced by the West — yet my heritage, values and traditions are of the East,” he says. “Singapore has similar qualities, so I feel at home here.”
It was these memories and many others that led Murjani to create these culinary concepts in the first place — so he could bring that feeling to people around the world.
“It’s about community,” he says. “Singaporean food is at the heart of Singapore’s community — it brings together friends and family, and this resonates with me.”
“My goal is to give our guests, both residents and visitors, the best of which Singapore has to offer.”