Singaporean copywriter recounts how his Thai durian stall failed in a roller coaster tale of getting ghosted

Aggrieved about the pungent end to their business partnership, a Singaporean copywriter has opened up about the alleged injustice he faced running a semi-famous durian stall here with an Australian entrepreneur.

Yu Lian, a Queen Street durian stall that ceased operations in July last year, was even featured on The Straits Times. The stall specialized in Thai durian, and was notable for its unorthodox owners: A 57-year-old Caucasian man by the name of Phillip George Laskaris, and a 27-year-old Singaporean creative professional by the name of Marc Ashley. The marketing that went into Yu Lian was, as the kids say, on fleek — the branding had modern, hip aesthetics, while the stall itself had an upscale, boutique look.

Several months since Yu Lian closed for good, Ashley went public about what apparently lead to their partnership to its eventual demise. To quickly summarise the story, Ashley claims that Laskaris pushed him out of the company right before scoring a million-dollar distribution deal and that the Australian has yet to pay his former partner and brand designer what they were owed.

Here’s a retelling of Ashley’s story, in case you can’t go through the pages of his Instagram Story screenshots. The account below is from his point of view and remains unverified about its authenticity.

The founding

Ashley, a professional copywriter, knew of Laskaris through his mother, whose longtime friend is the wife of the Australian businessman. Ashley was convinced that Laskaris had a viable plan to sell Thai durians here, which can be bought for cheap as Singaporeans prefer the Malaysian varieties. The young man was also impressed by Laskaris’ grand ambition: To make durian a big enough product that can be traded like stocks on the global market (like gold).

But first, Laskaris needed to set up a durian brand to market via a flagship boutique in Singapore to cater to the huge Chinese tourist market. For this, he needed the help of Ashley, who had experience in the world of advertising. Ashley, in turn, got the help of his designer friend to help come up with the branding. She came up with the branding for Laskaris’ three established durian companies; one in Thailand, one in Malaysia, and one in Singapore. The total cost of her branding services came up to $28,000.

After getting to know each other better, Laskaris offered Ashley a position to chair the Singaporean company. The copywriter agreed.

The fall

Ashley went all in, pushing himself into making sure the business would go well before launching proper. The constant pressure to deliver was apparently bad enough to damage his mental health, but eventually, Yu Lian opened.

With the shop sporting a chic Parisian cafe look, Yu Lian proved to be a success story at first, with Ashley “literally stacking 50s by the bands”. But it all turned sour when orders from Thailand got delayed, and Laskaris mismanaged the deliveries. According to Ashley, the Australian started withdrawing himself from the business.

Eventually, Laskaris called Ashley in for a meeting and telling him to relinquish his shares and role in the company as a director. Laskaris stated that he was losing money, and as a kind gesture, would rather have Ashley turn in all his shares before losing everything. The man even signed an IOU form stating that he owns Ashley S$2,000.

But before the copywriter could agree to anything, Laskaris disappeared, deleting everything, including the company emails.

The return

Months after his disappearance, Laskaris popped up again. Ashley saw a picture of his former business partner in a deal that apparently involved US$1 million, with his Thai company Baan Baison Co. Ltd being an authorized distributor in Thailand for Nano Hair Growth Clinic Pte Ltd.

Ashley was outraged. He had not received any replies from Laskaris about getting his money back, and his designer friend had yet to be paid for her work.

When Ashley demanded that his former business partner pay his debts, Laskaris insisted that he was still suffering “serious financial problems”, and would only be willing to pay $500 out of the promised $2,000. The man even told Ashley to “stop acting the victim” when confronted.

Ashley concludes his account by saying that he’s given up on trying to pursue the case. “I rather keep my fucking dignity than to pick the crumbs of a conniving bastard,” he wrote.

As for Laskaris, his latest enterprise is Project Shangri-La, a Thai-based property consulting agency with a Facebook page that’s been active as of November last year. We’ve contacted him via his Project Shangri-La email address to get his side of the story.

This article, Singaporean copywriter recounts how his Thai durian stall failed in a roller coaster tale of getting ghosted, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!