Hailed the ‘King of Buffets’, Mr Neo Kah Kiat has a rags-to-riches story that inspires many. After his father’s business failed, his mum juggled two blue-collar jobs to raise her four children in their modest 3-room HDB flat. To ease his family’s financial burden, the top student decided to drop out of secondary school.
His first foray into F&B was at the tender age of 17 when the plucky teen took over an economy rice stall in a factory canteen. In 1992, unimpressed by the caterer at a friend’s party, he vowed to provide tastier, better value food. Borrowing $15,000 from his family and friends, he hired a small crew and started cooking up a storm in a shared kitchen space in Joo Chiat.
Business didn’t pick up immediately, and he would handle everything from taking orders, purchasing of ingredients, cooking and making the buffet deliveries. Although the learning curve was steep, Mr Neo bit the bullet and took on each challenge that came with a positive attitude. Under his astute leadership, the business flourished and the Neo Garden became the popular household brand it is today.
Today, Mr Neo is the Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of listed food catering company Neo Group Limited that generates an annual turnover of more than $100 million. Under the Group, he launched three other catering brands, Deli Hub Catering, Best Catering and Orange Clove Catering, and other complementary businesses in food retail, food manufacturing, and trading and supplies. Yet, he never forgets his humble beginnings and will readily sweat it out in the kitchen alongside his team.
Mr Neo was awarded the Public Service Medal (Pingat Bakti Masyarakat) on 9 August 2014; the EY Entrepreneur of the Year (Food and Beverage) award in 2015, Entrepreneur of The Year Award in both the Top Entrepreneurs and Enterprise categories in 2012; the Successful Entrepreneur Award (Platinum Category) by GRC Press Holdings in 2011; and the Spirit of Enterprise Award in 2010. He is also the Vice-Chairman of the Workforce Advancement Federation, and is the Organising Chairman of Building Fund of Jurong Spring CC where he currently serves as a patron.