Nature Vegetarian Delights caters to younger customers
With vegetarianism and veganism gaining popularity as lifestyle choices, old-school Chinese vegetarian restaurant Nature Vegetarian Delights has had to keep up with the times.
With an increase in student patronage, it has introduced dishes that appeal to younger customers, including buffet-style mala and house-made prata wraps.
Catering to a new generation - and being partially run by one too - is how this family-operated eatery at Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre hopes to continue its legacy of serving up quality plant-based cuisine.
Established in 2003 by nine siblings, Nature Vegetarian Delights features a menu inspired by what their late mother used to cook, such as Ah Mah's Handmade Mee Hoon Kueh, Honey Glazed Vegetarian Pork Slices and DIY Popiah Party.
Around 80 per cent of the Toh family clan - comprising some 120 members across four generations - are vegetarians.
Ms Sharin Lee, the 36-year-old daughter of co-founder Toh Ah Gek, and her cousin Zhou Ze Hai are from the third generation, and they are working at the restaurant full-time.
Her large extended family has bonded over 17 years of growing up and gathering in the restaurant, which gives them a sense of belonging.
She told The New Paper: "Even our employees of over a decade are treated as family. We cannot be too business-centric when it comes to family. We serve food that is close to our hearts, and our restaurant is an act of love."
She believes that being vegetarian is not only beneficial to the environment but also to one's health.
Ms Lee, who is Nature Vegetarian Delights' finance and marketing executive, said: "I used to eat meat as a child. When I was four years old, I had hereditary asthma. Once my mother converted us to vegetarians because of health reasons, I completely recovered."
She raises her three children aged 10, seven and three on the same vegetarian diet, lifestyle and values.
She said: "I explain to them that I don't eat meat, and nothing needs to die because of my tummy and my mouth.
"They are not treated as outcasts for not eating meat. Kids these days are more open-minded and accepting."
Ms Lee's 42-year-old husband used to be a meat-eater but he converted to vegetarianism a year after they got married.
"You don't have to be brought up in a vegetarian household to recognise the benefits of being vegetarian," she said.
During the circuit breaker, Nature Vegetarian Delights - which derives most of its sales from buffet catering that had to be put on hold indefinitely - had to depend entirely on food delivery platforms such as Oddle.
Business has been picking up, boosted by year-end dining and phase three of Singapore's reopening, and the restaurant has since recovered 80 per cent of its losses.
Ms Lee said: "We hope to fully recover by the end of this year. We are encouraged when we see older folks coming to patronise our restaurant again, that things will go back to normal and we can start to cater for buffets again."