The Moneymaker: John Molina, local rock singer-turned-bar owner

Rock singer and bar owner JOHN MOLINA is honest about his counting chops (or lack thereof), but he reckons it is financial savvy that counts in F&B.


The Moneymaker:

John Molina, 45. The singer has been a mainstay on the local live music scene for over two decades with his band Krueger. He recently invested “a six-figure sum” to set up Berlin, his new bar at Chjimes which opened this February. “It’s natural progression lah,” says John, “I’ve performed in bars for almost my entire life, so it’s time to have something I can call my own!”

HIS HOME IS: A rented four-room HDB flat in Pasir Ris where he lives alone. “My mum shuttles between my sister’s house and my place,” says John. “I’ve thought of buying my own house, but I work such long hours [at Berlin] that I’d only go home to shower!” (Guffaws)

HIS RIDE IS: A Volkswagon Jetta. “I like driving Continental cars, and this is an entry-level one, which is not too expensive or loud. I bought it second-hand two years ago for about $80,000.”

WHAT’S IN HIS WALLET: “I have $100 in cash at all times, just in case I need to buy groceries. [The 24-hour] NTUC FairPrice has that one hour from 3.30am to 4.30am where they don’t do credit card transactions, and that’s usually when I do my grocery shopping after work (laughs). I have three credit cards, two for personal use and one for the company. Although I drive, I also keep an EZ-Link card just in case [my car breaks down].”

HIS MONEY MANTRA IS... “I’m a very frugal person lah. Every cent counts! I think being frugal is important when you run a business. If I want to buy something, I’d always do a price comparison first. I had a working-class upbringing, so I don’t see the need to splurge unnecessarily. My late father was a jack of all trades, but he was mainly an operations manager. I’ve seen him and my mum hop from job to job. My mum was a chambermaid who worked in hotels and country clubs. There was always food on the table, but there were hard times as well. Now, my mum is retired and plays mahjong most of the time (laughs).”

THE BIGGEST FINANCIAL RISK HE’S TAKEN IS... “Setting up my bar. There’s no sure-win thing, so I would say this is a calculated risk. I did extensive homework in conceptualising a business plan ’cos I can’t just open a bar and hope for the best. The nightlife industry is very competitive and I’m not a reckless risk taker. I’m careful even about the nitty-gritty details of my business, like getting the right sound system and musical instruments. If something goes wrong technically, I could end up paying [for my mistake]! I don’t even buy 4D ‘cos I think [lottery sellers] are selling a very cheap dream. For just $5 or $10, you’re given the hope of winning a million bucks. It’s too good to be true.”

HIS MOST EXPENSIVE MISTAKE WAS... “Not picking the right business partners. I once opened a restaurant in Bali with a few partners. Being friends, we got into business without defining our roles properly. I was a silent partner. Not being able to make crucial business decisions was hard, which made me realise that running an F&B business required me to be very hands-on. I can’t just stand behind a cash register. A guy who came in to interview for a job at [my bar] Berlin asked me if I expected him to simply serve the customers or stay and talk to them. I told him he should be himself and mingle with the customers — but only when the bar’s not too busy!”

HOW GOOD ARE HIS MATH SKILLS? “My math skills suck (laughs)! I didn’t do very well in math back in school. Running a business made me more financially savvy. I need to juggle the budget for things like rent, staff uniforms and even operating hours ’cos that affects my air-con bill. But I’m very good at sniffing out a good deal.”

HIS BEST DEAL EVER WAS... “My Red Wings shoes, which I bought over 20 years ago for $170. They’d cost over $400 in stores now. I saved up like hell for six months for them (laughs). For most of my younger years I worked as a part-time banquet waiter making $4 an hour and moonlighted as a singer in pubs over the weekends. That paid only about $5 an hour. It was a good time for me to learn [how to run a bar] ‘cos I was observing things like how the bar owners manage people and how bands set up and rehearse.”

HOW HIS INCOME AS AN F&B BOSS COMPARES TO WHAT HE MAKES PERFORMING ON THE LIVE MUSIC CIRCUIT... “As an F&B owner, my income comes from dividends. What I make now is a far cry from what I [used to make as a full-time singer]. As a singer, I sometimes have dry months, but the money’s okay when I put everything together. I could get by with two or three gigs a month. But I wouldn’t dream of making enough to retire. No amount is ever enough lah. My focus is only on making my business sustainable. Once a working man, always a working man!”

THE LOWEST AMOUNT HE’S HAD IN HIS BANK ACCOUNT... “$5. That was when I was in National Service earning $90 a month. Since the SAF didn’t allow me to work part-time, I had to live on that sum! Can you imagine?! I relied on doing well for my IPPT every month to get an extra $100 (laughs). It was common back then for my friends and I to laugh about who had the least amount in the bank!”

HOW HE PREFERS TO SPLIT THE BILL IN A GROUP... “It’s uncool to say things like, ‘Hey, you owe me $20.25 man.’ My friends and I just take turns footing the bill.”

HOW MUCH THE BACHELOR WOULD SPEND TO WOO A GIRL... “I wouldn’t splurge. Splurging leads to a false sense of security for the girl. Women should be wary of men who buy them expensive gifts (laughs). I’d just buy what she needs or likes. I’m very pragmatic that way lah.”

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