Singapore's 'Godfather of Hip-Hop' is about to take his halal burgers worldwide
- 28 January 2019
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Sheikh Haikel is a household name among Singapore’s music enthusiasts, and as I sit across from him at a table outside FatPapas’ central kitchen, I get a glimpse of his popularity in the Lion City.
Passserbys pay their respect as they walk past, some smiling at him or raising their hand in greeting, some bowing in reverence and others asking for a quick photograph. Often known as “The Godfather of Hip Hop,” he has been credited with popularising rap music on the island.
Recently, however, Sheikh Haikel has been making waves in a different field as co-owner and founder of halal burger chain FatPapas, one of Singapore’s most popular burger joints.
“When I look back,” he muses, “the dots all line up in retrospect. But 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that my music journey would bring me here.”
How did this music legend wade into the culinary world, I wondered aloud. He explained: “Back in 2010, I received a call from the manager of Hard Rock Café, informing me that my favourite dish on the menu, country-fried steak, would no longer be offered.
He knew how much I loved this dish since my days in the USA. So to make up for it, the manager told me that the only other place I could find it was a tiny restaurant called Fat Boy’s The Burger Bar, run by Bernie Tay. I picked up my entourage and landed at Fat Boy’s, asking Bernie to prepare 30 portions for me and my friends. When I had a taste, I declared Bernie’s country-fried steak a national treasure!”
However, Sheikh Haikel was disappointed that he could not share these amazing flavours with his Muslim friends, so he cajoled Bernie into making a halal version of this dish and the mouthwatering burgers that Fat Boy’s was famous for.
It took seven years of persuasion and of perfecting the recipe with halal ingredients, allowing no compromises on flavor, but in 2017, the first outlet of FatPapas finally opened on Bali Lane as a partnership between Bernie Tay and Sheikh Haikel. “We could probably have opened earlier” he said, “but I got into the science behind the process. The level of sophistication required to achieve the exact same flavor with halal ingredients is what drives me. It is a laborious but gratifying process, one where I refuse to take shortcuts.”
Sheikh Haikel is hardly a stranger to success. At the age of 15, he won the trophy at Asia Bagus, an international music competition, making him an overnight celebrity. Haikel’s career took off instantly, extending across radio, television, the stage and even cinema. When he met his future wife for the first time, then actress and singer Anna Belle Francis, he decided that come what may, she was the one he would marry. He immediately fired his own talent manager and signed on the one who represented her, and as they say, the rest is history. They now have three children and, among many other accomplishments, a successful food venture under their belt.
Certified halal by Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura, FatPapas is a trusted restaurant frequented by Muslim locals and expats alike. The future looks bright for FatPapas as Haikel has plans to grow the burger chain exponentially over the next 3 to 5 years. To this end, he is currently in talks with various parties, both in and outside Singapore, with a vision to spread the chain across Asia and the Middle East via a franchise model.
To wrap up the interview, I ask him who he thinks of as his competition: is it other burger chains or other halal restaurants? He looks at me mischievously and says, “I don’t think of anyone as competition. If I did, I would have to shut them down, wouldn’t I? I’m a rapper, after all, and if you challenge me to the arena, I will make sure you go home and change professions. Oh yes, that I will.” And as always, Sheikh Haikel has the last word.
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