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From Banker to Baker: How Ben Lee Made the Leap into Running his Own Business ‘Sarnies’

Posted 4 years ago in Small business by
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In 2011, Ben Lee was an aspiring small business owner trapped in the life of a banker. He had worked in both Sydney and London for large global financial services firms. However it was when he moved to Singapore that he finally decided to take the plunge.

Originally, Sarnies launched in 2011 as a sandwich shop. It has since has grown into a popular breakfast, lunch and dinner spot, nestled away in Singapore’s trendy Telok Ayer Street in the heart of the City’s Central Business District.

Sarnies – Not just a sandwich shop

Six years ago this street was lined with rundown KTV clubs (local karaoke bars). However, when their music and late-night liquor licenses were not renewed, small boutiques, local ‘kopitams’ (Singapore coffee shops) and trendy eateries began to set up.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” says Ben. “I’d always wanted to open my own sandwich restaurant, and when I walked past the store for rent at such a good rate I jumped in head first.”

Ben describes Sarnies as the kind of place you can go every day. He has designed a menu of healthy hearty comfort food — with a few treats thrown in. “Approachability is key,” he says.


And it’s more than approachable — our Xero office is based just around the corner, and we’re definitely committed regulars. With gentle Indie pop playing in the background and quirky chalk drawings on the walls, Sarnies strikes the perfect balance of hipster and homely — and it doesn’t hurt that they serve some of the best coffee in town.

“We started just selling sandwiches,” says Ben, “but a few months in we were struggling to serve consistently good coffee, so I decided to get our own coffee roaster and do it all from scratch in-house.”

Sarnies now not only serves some of the best coffee in town, but has organically grown a distribution business selling it’s weekly roasted beans from Central and South America and Africa to coffee houses all over the city.

Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

But success didn’t happen overnight. “I didn’t have a business plan,” admits Ben. “There were many things I didn’t prepare for like training, staff turnover and day-to-day management. Xero has been fantastic. It’s easy to use, doesn’t make mistakes and best of all it’s excellent value.”

Ben started using Xero when Sarnies was two years old. At the time he was still working as a banker. Consequently he was managing the stress of running his own business on top of holding down a full time job.

“I was doing the books on clunky spreadsheets, which was tiring and using up time I didn’t have,” recalls Ben. “I started working with Wolfe Strategies, an accountant who suggested getting onto Xero. It’s freed up so much resource for me to actually look at my numbers and make the right decisions for the business.”

Making these strategic business decisions is key for Ben. This is because he has already opened a salad shop in Singapore and a restaurant in Bangkok.  He is also looking to open another branch of Sarnies in the Thai capital city too.

Looking back, Ben says starting his own business has been the hardest thing he’s ever done. “It’s pushed me in ways I never would have been pushed otherwise, but the things I’ve learned and the skills I’ve developed? No amount of school can give you these.”

His advice to startups? “Only invest what you can afford to lose — and get the right tools to manage your finances!”

Sarnies Group is a client of Wolfe Strategies, a Xero Silver partner. Wolfe Strategies specialises in Food & Beverage (F&B) operations in Singapore and has been a solutions provider to Sarnies for the past 3 years, advising on operations efficiency, accounting and finance related matters?

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