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His ups and downs in F&B industry

NEW VENTURE: Mr Bernie Utchenik runs Big Bern’s American Grill at a foodcourt in Toa Payoh North. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FAUDZIAH MOHD ALI

Detroit-born Bernie Utchenik, who owns Big Bern's American Grill, is no stranger to the food and beverage (F&B) industry.

In 1996, the 62-year-old settled down in Singapore and, with some friends, set up pub restaurant Bernie's in Changi under the firm Four Amigos.

He left three years later after some disagreement with his partners.

Mr Utchenik then set up Bernie Goes To Town at Boat Quay with friends. That folded due to his "mismanagement".

For a while, he worked at the kitchen at Handle Bar before venturing into another business: Botak Jones.

The first outlet opened in Tuas in 2003, with Mr Utchenik becoming the major shareholder.

Thirteen outlets later, the F&B veteran opted out of the partnership. He declined to elaborate on the reasons, but cited "internal management issues".

Buying over the Balestier Road Botak Jones stall, Mr Utchenik set up BJ's American Diner and Grill - later renamed Big Bern's - in 2011 with his wife Faudziah Mohd Ali.

Unable to get the business running at a profitable level, they closed their stall in June.

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Big Bern's burnt a hole in their pockets, leaving them in a "bad financial situation", but they plodded on.

Two months ago, the Utcheniks made a comeback with a spanking new Big Bern's outlet at the Mapletree Industrial Estate foodcourt at Toa Payoh North.

And it seems business is picking up.

"In October, we had a small loss. I haven't looked at the books yet but it looks like we broke even in November," he said.