Friday, November 15, 2013

The Straits Times : Newfound hip factor comes at a price

The Straits Times
By Melody Zaccheus
15th November 2013

Yong Siak St's rent rise ousts old businesses as chic ones move in

The owner of Books Actually, one of the newer establishments in Yong Siak Street, may move his shop as the rent is becoming too high. -- ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

THE last few veteran shopkeepers in Yong Siak Street, including noodle and beverage suppliers, a coffee shop, and a blinds and curtains manufacturer, find themselves out of place at Tiong Bahru's hippest stretch.

Over the past three years, the narrow street has shed its laidback past and transformed itself into a hipster hot spot, as chic joints such as cafe 40 Hands and independent bookstore Books Actually set up shop.

Their entry in 2010 and 2011 hastened the street's gentrification - several creative agencies, a boutique and restaurant-bars such as SocialHaus and Ikyu have since joined the influx. About 15 of the 25 or so shop spaces there belong to these businesses today.

"It used to be a quiet place and rental was reasonable, but it (the rent) has since quadrupled to $8,000 as compared to six years ago," said Mr O.H. Lee, 45, co-owner of a family-run beverage supplier, who is considering moving out.

At general supplies store Hock Leong Hin Teck Kee, Mr Lee Hon Fay (left), 75, and store owner Lee Sui Tiong, 65, load supplies for a client. -- ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Xing Zhi Language Centre owner Tan Mei Huan, 50, cited rising rents as the main reason for the upcoming move of her Chinese tuition centre to Jalan Bukit Merah.

Said Mr Tony Neo, 40, the second-generation owner of Sin Yick Seng Bamboo Chick Centre, a blinds and curtains maker, who has fond memories growing up there: "While the (newer) shops have brought life to the neighbourhood, their clientele does not match ours and we don't get much benefit from their presence."

He plans to move and rent out the 1,500 sq ft shop that his father handed down to him.

Seamstress Lu Mei Cui, 37, working on a set of curtains at her boss' shop, Sin Yick Seng Bamboo Chick Centre, a blinds and curtains maker.

Rental rates per month in Yong Siak Street have more than doubled from $2.70 per sq ft (psf) in mid-2011 to $6.20 psf in the same period this year, said Mr Nicholas Mak, SLP International's head of research and consultancy.

"With new condominiums springing up in the vicinity and nearby estates such as Redhill, rents are soaring and landlords will try to take advantage of the growing interest in Tiong Bahru," he said.

The rising rates might ironically drive out some of the first wave of newer establishments such as Books Actually. Its co-owner Kenny Leck, 35, said the store, which pays $8,000 in rent, will not stay if the landlord goes ahead with his plan to jack it up by another $6,000 or so once the rental contract is up in early 2015.

"It will be hard to sustain a bookshop at that new rental. It will be a pity because we have become friends with many of the residents here," he said.

On the part of the authorities, there is an urgency to better manage the mix of businesses in the 77-year-old conservation estate which attracts Singaporeans and expatriates from all corners of the island, as well as tourists.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority, which manages the private shophouses in Yong Siak Street and other nearby areas, and the HDB, which takes care of 64 commercial properties in the area, are keeping a tighter lid on eateries hoping to set up shop there because of concerns raised by residents.

This year alone, four applications to turn shop premises into eateries were rejected.

This comes after residents complained about loud music from some of the establishments and the rowdy - and often drunk - patrons who would spill over to other streets and leave a messy trail of cigarettes and alcohol bottles on weekends.

The situation has improved somewhat after some Yong Siak Street residents banded together to give feedback to the authorities.

Still, residents have different opinions about the recent transformation of the street from its sleepy past.

Housewife G. Devaki, 47, said she misses the old Yong Siak Street, where it used to be "very conducive for children to study and was just a regular residential neighbourhood".

But retired hairstylist Annie Cho, 65, who lives at Block 78, said that while the occasional rowdy groups are a source of annoyance for the residents, she believes the changes are for the better. "I like how some of the nice book shops and cafes create a pleasant atmosphere in the neighbourhood.

"It's very different from the past when it used to be a very ugly street and nobody wanted to live here - just the elderly," she said in Mandarin, adding that many Yong Siak apartments used to be occupied by bar girls and prostitutes.

Some of the shops there are also aware of their responsibility to residents. "We remind all our customers that they are dining in a residential area whenever we sit them outside the cafe. We also close shop at 10pm instead of midnight as our licence permits," said Ms Michelle Lingo, 27, supervisor of PoTeaTo.

Mrs Vanessa Kenchington, 29, the chef-owner of Plain Vanilla Bakery, said businesses have the responsibility to bond with their community, not "merely take advantage of the area's hip and cool quality".

"We are here to grow with the neighbourhood and build relationships. As business owners, we have to be aware of the environment around us - we are the guests and we don't want to be a nuisance," she said.

Designer Ella Zheng, 27, who works in the area, believes this balance of needs between the two groups can be achieved. She said some shop owners carefully curate their space to cater to the growing number of Singaporeans interested in "style, design and culture".

Cultural geographer Lily Kong from the National University of Singapore said some of the new tenants appreciate the historical and economic value of the vicinity.

Although the commercialisation of Yong Siak Street may be viewed by some as "adulterating the authentic", Professor Kong said these new establishments help keep the memories of its past alive, as elderly residents pass on and older businesses pull down their shutters.

"Some of the new tenants along Yong Siak Street are actually very interested in history and heritage, both as a source of identity and distinctiveness, and as a commercial opportunity."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Straits Times : Govt keeps lid on eateries in Tiong Bahru

The Straits Times
By Melody Zaccheus
12th November 2013

4 applications to turn shop area to eateries rejected in 2013

A TIGHT lid is being kept on eateries hoping to set up shop at the 77-year-old Tiong Bahru conservation estate, after residents complained about noise, traffic and fewer shopping options.

The Housing Board (HDB) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) told The Straits Times that this year alone they have rejected four applications to turn shop premises there into eateries.

The Dough and Grains bakery, which set up a tapas bar and restaurant at the back of the shop in July after getting a snack bar licence from the National Environment Agency, was one of those whose requests to change the use of their premises was rejected.

The owners have been given a grace period to change HDB's mind.

Mr Khoo Chee Wee (above), 40, a co-owner of Dough and Grains, which is among those whose requests to turn their shop premises into eateries were rejected. -- ST PHOTOS: LIM SIN THAI, KUA CHEE SIONG

An e-mail from the HDB in May explaining its decision said residents had given feedback on the "noise, smell, nuisance and traffic congestion" already caused by existing eateries, and that there was "no shortage of eating establishments in the vicinity".

The HDB told The Straits Times that it takes into account residents' feedback and needs when evaluating whether to grant such change-of-use requests.

This will help ensure a better mix of shops and services for residents of the pre-war estate, with mom-and-pop businesses such as hair salons, textile shops, coffee shops and medical halls having made way for 13 new cafes, bakeries and eateries in the past three years.

The estate is now left with a sundry store, two convenience stores, a tailor, two hardware shops, a Chinese medical shop, two clinics, an optical shop and 10 coffee shops.

Residents said that the changes have come too fast, leaving them with fewer amenities within walking distance.

Retiree Alex Lee, who has lived in the estate since the 1950s, said it is unfortunate that just one provision shop - as opposed to the 10 that used to line the estate in the 1960s - is left.

"As we age, it is harder to venture farther out and take a bus to get the provisions we need," said the 72-year-old.

Bounded by Seng Poh Road, Outram Road and Tiong Poh Road, the estate has 64 HDB commercial properties, out of which 48 have been sold and the rest rented out.

The URA oversees the private shophouses located along Yong Siak Street, the southern part of Eng Hoon Street and Tiong Bahru Road.

A seven-member residential task force, set up by MP Indranee Rajah in February to address problems such as illegal parking and noise pollution, told The Straits Times that it has also received some complaints of bar patrons smoking and laughing loudly along Yong Siak Street.
Residents said changes in Tiong Bahru estate (above) have come too fast, leaving them with fewer amenities within walking distance. -- ST PHOTOS: LIM SIN THAI, KUA CHEE SIONG

The task force is therefore working to encourage businesses to be more "community-minded to create a cohesive environment in the estate", said its chairman Chris Hooi. It helps too that the authorities have been very strict about giving out licences, he added.

Ms Indranee said the other objective is to help the estate retain its charm.

"We allow establishments to come in if they provide something unique to the neighbourhood but there's no one-size-fits-all solution."

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Sunday Times : Rats alive

The Sunday Times
By Cheryl Faith Wee
4th August 2013

Pest control people are combing Tiong Bahru to get rid of the rats that have infested the estate

An exterminator checks drains (above) and burrows in Tiong Bahru where the rodents (below) were spotted. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Tiong Bahru estate is well known for its hip eateries and shops. It is now also home to a growing rat population.

The Straits Times reported last Monday that more rodents have been spotted there in the last six months. So SundayLife! accompanied a team of four exterminators from The Pestman on their rounds there last Thursday.

The pest management company is hired by Tanjong Pagar Town Council to do pest control in Tiong Bahru.

The exterminators pointed out eight burrows with rats living in them: three in Eng Hoon Street, near a coffee shop; two burrows in Moh Guan Terrace, near a cafe; and one burrow each near ground-floor apartments in Chay Yang Street and Kim Pong Road.

Mr Nur Muhammad, 31, The Pestman's project manager for pest control in Tiong Bahru, said these burrows are mostly located in grass turfs near drains.

The entrances are small holes that lead to up to 6m-long tunnels about 1m below ground level. Each burrow normally has two entrances and houses six to eight rats. If not dealt with, a litter of six rats can multiply to more than 1,200 rats in one year, he said.

The National Environment Agency found 26 rat burrows in Tiong Bahru last month, up from 16 the previous month. Of these, The Pestman said only eight burrows have rodents living in them.

According to the Singapore Pest Management Association, areas near eateries, wet markets and sundry shops are susceptible to rodent infestation. So the increase in the number of rats in Tiong Bahru could be due to the growing number of F&B outlets there. There are now about 30 eateries in the area, up from about 20 five years ago.

Rodents can contaminate foodstuff and damage things such as doors and electrical wires, which can result in short circuits and fires. They can spread diseases too.

Once every two weeks, a four-man team from The Pestman will trawl the 57 pre- and post-war HDB blocks in the estate that are managed by the Tanjong Pagar Town Council.

They rely on sight to locate the rat burrows, so the inspections are carried out in the day. The men look out for traces of the rodents such as gnaw marks, footprints, droppings and urine.

If they cannot locate the burrows in the day, they make another trip at night, when the nocturnal animals are most active. Armed with flashlights, they examine drains and dark corners where rats lurk in the hope that they can track down their dwelling places.

On average, the exterminators find five to six active burrows in the estate during their routine checks every month.

Two methods are used to treat and seal the burrows. First, solid Roban rat poison is placed in the opening of the burrows. This causes internal bleeding in rats and kills them within one to two days.

Rodent tracking powder is sometimes used instead of the solid poison. This sticks to the rats' fur and is ingested when they groom themselves.

The exterminators return to put more poison two to three times every two to three days. Then, the opening of the burrow is plugged with wads of newspaper. About three days later, the exterminators check for activity. If the holes are found to be unplugged, it means the burrow is still active and the procedure is repeated.

When the newspaper is no longer dislodged from the hole, it means the burrow is inactive.

Flies hovering near the burrow holes are a sign that the critters inside are dead. Rodents that manage to make their way out of the burrows die near their homes. During SundayLife!'s visit, there were no dead rats to be seen. The holes also remained plugged with newspaper.

Still, residents say they have noticed more rats in their estate in the past two years or so.

Rodent sightings are a daily occurrence for Madam Khoo Oi Neo, 76, a housewife who has lived in a ground-floor apartment in Eng Hoon Street for close to 60 years.

She said: "There are so many that when they scurry around in the grass patches in front of my house, they look like they are queuing up."

SundayLife! did not see any rats during our visit during the day, but we spotted three rats in Tiong Bahru Market after 10pm.

Some new eatery owners have taken measures to keep their establishments pest-free.

Ms Debra Chan, 33, who owns PoTeaTo cafe in Yong Siak Street, hires a pest control company to carry out monthly checks at her eatery. She also makes sure her staff secure bags of refuse tightly and keep bins closed.

Mr Khoo Chee Wee, 40, co-founder of bakery Dough & Grains in Seng Poh Road, also ensures his staff dispose of garbarge properly. They walk several streets to the refuse centre near the end of Tiong Poh Road if the bins nearer to the shop are full.

But some long-time residents of Tiong Bahru are unfazed by the recent reports of rats. Madam Alice Wong, 58, who repairs shoes for a living, has lived in Moh Guan Terrace for more than 30 years.

She said: "Decades ago, the carpark behind my block had so many rats that people did not dare to park there. Things are a lot better now."

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Straits Times : Rats! Tiong Bahru faces gnawing problem

The Straits Times
29th July 2013
By Melody Zaccheus

Residents blame lack of covered drains and growing number of eateries

THE increasing sight of rats in the 77-year-old Tiong Bahru estate has become a cause of alarm for residents, who say that the rising number of eateries there is one reason for the problem.

Over the last six months, rodents have been seen scurrying in broad daylight, with some even running into ground floor units of homes and shops.

"There's definitely a growing presence of rats along Tiong Poh Road and Seng Poh Road. I will spot one almost every time I walk there," said teacher Fred Ong, 30, adding that some of these pests were "huge".

"It's never been this bad," said Madam Yee Kwai Wing.

The 76-year-old, who has lived there since 1986, spots two or three rats outside her ground floor flat at 73 Eng Watt Street almost every day.

Unsealed gaps along drains which run along some ground floor units provide perfect hiding and nesting spots.

The lack  of a centralised rubbish chute system and irresponsible disposal of rubbish (above) do not help the situation. -- ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE
"They find their way out from the many gaps in our drains, pipes and holes in the ground, to eat the garbage residents and restaurants throw away," she explained.

Minimart owner Rodney Goh believes the problem is made worse by the lack of a centralised rubbish chute system at the estate.

Instead, rubbish bins line the backs of the old blocks, some of which were built by the Singapore Improvement Trust in the 1930s.

As not all residents dispose of their refuse properly, the waste food only encourages rats to set up home, he added.

"Sometimes when it rains, the drains flood and the rats run in through our shop's front entrance," said the 58-year-old.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) told The Straits Times that it found 26 rat burrows during its latest inspection last Wednesday.

This was after the agency found 16 burrows, which were subsequently treated and sealed by the Tanjong Pagar Town Council's (TPTC) pest control team, in common areas of the estate during a routine check on June 27.

The lack (above) of a centralised rubbish chute system and irresponsible disposal of rubbish do not help the situation. -- ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE
NEA said that the town council has been advised to "intensify surveillance and treatment to reduce the rat population".

Last week, it was reported that more than 10 rodent nests were found in the nearby Bukit Merah estate, which also comes under the TPTC.

Rodents typically nest and burrow in the ground, under buildings, and in rubbish and other types of litter. In 2010, the NEA found 1,687 areas with rats, three times more than the 443 the year before. The Norway rat species makes up 90 per cent of the rodents in Singapore.

"The number of rats per burrow really depends on the time they are left alone to breed. Over time, they can form an underground network," said technical specialist Hadi Hanafi, 31, from Maximum Pest Management.

Tanjong Pagar MP Indranee Rajah has asked the town council and grassroots to address the growing rat problem.

"They will be checking on the eateries and adopting measures to control the problem. When dealing with rats we need to find out where the burrows and food sources are."

She added that rubbish should be secured tightly in bins as plastic bags alone do not suffice.

While the NEA said it has taken action against a food operator in Tiong Bahru, other operators in the area were found to be clean, with proper refuse management and food storage.

But it also reminded them to continue making sure that waste food is properly disposed of.

The Orange Thimble cafe in Tiong Bahru hires its own pest control company to ensure that it stays rodent free.

Said its manager Dewihajar Ali, 34: "Our pest control guy comes by at least once a month. He places a certain type of chemical in the drain to make sure the rats stay away.

"We need to be responsible over our garbage and make sure the bags are secured tightly. It will be good if every establishment does its part."

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Sunday Times : HDB coffee shops are not District 10 bungalows

The Sunday Times
By Han Fook Kwang, Managing Editor
14th July 2013

They were built by the HDB to serve residents on state land acquired for a public purpose

Here's a $23.8 million question about Singapore's most expensive coffee shop, in Hougang: How come I can still buy a cup of kopi-o there for 90 cents?

The simple answer is that, disregarding the price of the property, what goes into making that cup of coffee didn't cost much - especially not the wages of coffee shop assistants.

They are likely to belong to the bottom 20 per cent of income earners, whose incomes have stagnated over the years.

Mean-spirited though it might be, it's their meagre earnings you have to thank for your cheap beverage.

If they were paid more, like workers in Japan or Switzerland, for example, you can bet your last teh kosong that you will have to pay a lot more.

That 90-cent coffee represents one part of Singapore, perhaps the part that many of us are fond of even if we would rather not have our livelihood depend on it.

The $23 million Housing Board coffee shop, however, is another story altogether and might as well belong to a different world.

What goes into making up the sky-high price and how did it reach such a level?

When The Straits Times spoke to people in the property business last week, they cited one possible reason: the prospect of capital appreciation of the shop, which means it might sell for an even higher price in future.

If those experts are right, the buyer was prepared to pay the record price not because it made business sense in the running of a coffee shop, but because it was a good property buy which he could hope to profit from at some later date.

Stallholders in the shop were quoted as being understandably concerned that the new owner might raise rents. Patrons were in turn worried about having to pay more for food and drinks.

Alas, the two worlds do collide, and when a $23m deal spills over to a 90 cents cup of coffee, you know what the outcome is likely to be.

But should the price of a cup of coffee be tied to the ups and downs of the property market?

Can't Singaporeans have their kopi without worrying about the next multimillion-dollar deal?

The reality is that in this land- scarce, market-driven country, almost everything is affected by the high price of land and property.

It's a lament I often hear from Singaporean bosses complaining about the cost of doing business here, especially rental cost.

A friend who runs an SME says he regrets selling a building he developed for a tidy profit and renting back some of the floors for his own operation.

His rent has gone up considerably over the years, and the profit he made from the sale has not been enough to cover the rising rent. He did not foresee industrial rentals increasing so much and says he knows others with similar stories.

For residential property, rising prices have led the Government to impose no fewer than eight sets of cooling measures since 2009 with only limited success.

It shows how difficult it is to tackle the problem once a property bubble builds up.

In a normally functioning market, the price of a coffee shop property cannot be so high that it would be impossible for the buyer to recoup his outlay from operating the shop.

If Singaporeans are only willing to pay 90 cents for a cup of coffee, it places a limit on how much that coffee shop itself is worth.

But if the shop is viewed more as a property buy and less as a place to sell food and drinks, its price will have more to do with the state of the property market than the price of a cup of coffee.

Eventually, though, that coffee price will have to go up, as is likely to be the case in that $23 million shop.

This is the same worry many people have over the setting up of real estate investment trusts (Reits) which critics say exert pressure on rentals because of the financial returns these instruments are expected to provide for investors.

They have been blamed for ever rising rentals of retail shops in the malls and industrial property.

Should the Government intervene to stop these price increases?

Or are they the result of market forces and best left unregulated?

The trouble is that, contrary to popular belief, the price of land, and hence property, is not decided solely by free market forces here.

In fact, it is mostly determined by the Government because it is the largest landlord and has control over many policies that affect selling prices: how much land it releases for development, the period of the leases it offers, the zoning parameters it draws up, the actual prices of public flats it builds, the restriction on property loans it can impose and so on.

With so much control at its disposal, the Government has a primary responsibility to ensure that prices and rentals do not get out of hand.

Indeed, it recognises and accepts this, which was why it intervened with all those cooling measures.

But it has to be clearer about what exactly is its overall policy regarding these prices.

It isn't at the moment, and this explains why it dithered in the past and did not act as decisively as it should have when prices moved so precipitously.

It has been only recently that it has taken a clearer position on, for example, public flats.

Earlier this year, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that when pricing new flats, the HDB would set prices on its own instead of pegging them to resale flat prices.

"We should be the price-setter, not be the price-follower... The social objective is to ensure home ownership and affordability," he said.

In practical terms, it meant pricing new flats in non-mature estates at four times the annual median income of applicants, 30 per cent lower than the current 5.5 times.

That's a good start to making it clearer, more transparent and affordable.

What about coffee shops?

For those in housing estates, such as the one in Hougang, there is no reason why they should be bought and sold like bungalows in District 10. They were built by the HDB to serve residents on state land acquired for a public purpose.

If the price of coffee has to go up eventually, Singaporeans would rather the increase went to those shop assistants and stall holders rather than property players out to make a financial killing.

One simple way to ensure these shops keep to their original objective is to require that they be sold back only to the HDB.

It would put a lid on spiralling prices.

And keep that cup of kopi-o within everyone's reach.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Straits Times : Pre-war Chinatown coffee shop moving out

The Straits Times
13th July 2013
By Debbie Lee

Iconic building that housed it for 75 years sold to foreign investor

Tong Ah Eating House is moving from its current location to a new address, at 35, Keong Saik Road. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

FOR about 75 years, Tong Ah Eating House has stood out in Keong Saik Road for its distinctive red-and-white facade and shape as it sits on a triangular plot of land.

But from Monday next week, this old-school coffee shop will head out to a new shophouse, even if it is just a few doors down the same road.

The move marks the uprooting of a business the great-grandfather of Mr Tang Chew Fue, 50, started at the spot in 1939, a date embossed on a signage proudly displayed at the top of the three-storey building.

Mr Tang blames the upheaval on the sale of the property to a foreign investor, believed to be a hotelier. It is valued at about $8 million, he said.

The coffee shop's owner is a relative of Mr Tang, who rents the place for $8,000 a month.

He declined to go into the reasons for the sale and neither the relative nor the new owner could be reached for comment.

Nicknamed Ah Wee, Mr Tang took over the coffee shop from his father in 1999.

Little has changed on the menu as the Foochow family stuck to its winning formula of serving kaya toast in the morning and zi char food at night.

He will keep the menu intact in the new place at 35, Keong Saik Road, but he worries about his profit margin as he now pays 50 per cent more in rent.

"I feel squeezed," he said. "Property prices have gone up as many private investors have bought land here."

He also worries that the loss of outdoor seating, for which the coffee shop is known, will hurt his business. "The outdoor seating is important to me. In the new location, the interior is large but my customers will have fewer carpark space," he said.

"I will miss this place," he said. "The atmosphere will not be the same at the new place."

The coffee shop's customers, mainly office workers and residents in the area, were similarly nostalgic.

"Eating on the five-foot walkway is a treat that has been around for a long time. It is a special ambience with an old-world charm," sales executive Lee Siew Song said wistfully.

The 55-year-old works nearby and eats at the coffee shop twice a week.

Tong Ah is the second old-world coffee shop to change hands in just over a month. Last month, 70-year-old Hua Bee coffee shop in Moh Guan Terrace in Tiong Bahru was leased to hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng, 41. As a result, one of its two stallholders, coffee-seller Tony Tiang, 58, has called it a day.

Coffee shop owner Tang Chew Fue, 50, says the atmosphere at the new place will not be the same. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Straits Times : Retro rocks

The Straits Times
12th July 2013
By Lydia Vasko

The Singapore HeritageFest is back with more events than ever

To mark its 10th anniversary, the Singapore HeritageFest will offer a record number of activities when it kicks off next Friday.

Shows and exhibitions will be staged at 10 malls, including an exhibition in City Square Mall on the history of magic here and one on Singapore's spice history in Plaza Singapura. There will also be more than 20 other programmes islandwide.

The 10-day festival, which carries the theme Memories For Tomorrow, runs until July 28.

Its events, which are all free, include a tour of coffee roasters, cafes and other places involved in Singapore's coffee trade, as well as craft workshops and cooking demonstrations.

Nine clan associations, including Kwong Wai Siew Li Si She Shut, founded in 1874, and Poon Yue Association, founded in 1879, will also open their doors to the public - some for the first time.

Tour their headquarters to view antique furniture and historical relics, as well as to learn about their history and the roles that the various clans have played.

Organised by the National Heritage Board, this year's festival aims to emphasise the role individual and community memories play in modern Singapore.

Ms Angelita Teo, festival director and director of the National Museum of Singapore, says: "We wanted to recognise the relevance of heritage in our everyday lives, sharing memories that bring Singaporeans together and connecting people through community platforms.

"It's a festival for the community by the community."

While the National Heritage Board organised some of the activities, most of the exhibitions and programmes were put together by individuals and independent groups such as the Singapore Coffee Association and schools such as CHIJ Katong Convent. A group of Secondary 2 and 3 students from the school did research on how to make traditional nonya kueh and will showcase their findings as part of the official launch of Singapore HeritageFest at the National Museum on July 21.

More than one million people are expected to attend the festival's events this year, similar to the turnout in previous years.

To register and find out more about the programmes, go to



Singapore Hok San Association Lion Dance Troupe putting on a performance. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Chinese clan associations are an integral part of the Chinese community. They helped ease new immigrants into their new lives in Singapore's early years, organised community activities and set up schools and scholarships.

The public will get to learn about the roles they play and their history as these associations open their doors to the public during the HeritageFest, some for the first time.

Besides tours, they will also organise talks, performances and other activities.

These include a talk on the restoration of the Ee Hoe Hean Building (next Saturday, from 9.30 to 11.30am, 43 Bukit Pasoh Road), which houses the Ee Hoe Hean Club, one of Singapore's oldest millionaires' clubs that was founded in 1895.

There will also be a Nanyin opera and musical performance (July 26, 8 to 10pm, 137 Telok Ayer Street) hosted by the Siong Leng Musical Association. The Hok San Association tour will include a perfomance by the lion dance troupe. Founded in 1939, the association has the oldest lion dance troupe in Singapore.

Info: For full details, go to



Mr David Christie with his 1967 Morris Mini Moke (front) and 1972 Morris Mini 1000. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Ten vintage cars from the 1930s to mid-1970s will be on display for one afternoon. Some of the cars include a 1930s Armstrong Siddeley, the only one of its kind running in the region, and a 1972 Morris Mini.

The event's organisers, the Singapore Art Museum and the Malaysia and Singapore Vintage Car Register, say the show is being held in Jurong in recognition of its motoring history.

The area used to be where various types of vehicles were assembled,such as the Mercedes- Benz and the Morris Mini, before the factories were closed in the late 1970s.

Due to the restrictions on and high costs of car ownership today, vintage pre-war cars and classic cars from the 1950s to 1970s are not easy to find here. Many were sold after they became too expensive to maintain.

Car enthusiast David Christie, 51, assistant honorary secretary of the vintage car register's Singapore chapter, says he hopes the exhibition will remind Singaporeans about what car ownership used to mean. He will be showing one of his classic cars, a 1972 Morris Mini 1000.

"I want people to remember the utility of the vehicle and how it serves one's transportation needs," he says. "Before, a car was part of the family. You bought it with the view of keeping it for as long as possible. As long as it runs, you keep it. Now, a car is a luxury and people are more detached about owning one."

Where: Our Museum @ Taman Jurong, next to Taman Jurong Community Club, 1 Yung Sheng Road

When: July 27, 2 to 7pm


This photo, which documents hawkers and their trade in Singapore, will be shown at the Heritage Hawker Auditory Art Installation & Exhibition at The Arts House. -- PHOTO: JIM ORCA
For 21/2 years, a three-man team went around Singapore interviewing more than 1,000 hawkers in 105 hawker centres.

The trio - Mr Sinma DaShow, 41, and Ms Jernnine Pang, 33, both children of hawkers and founders of local cooking school California Sushi Academy, and photographer Jimmy Yong, 39 - documented the assorted stories, paying special attention to older hawkers who were having trouble finding someone to take over their businesses.

The research has been compiled into a 330-page book, Not For Sale - Singapore Remaining Heritage Street Food Vendors. It will be launched next Thursday at The Arts House (1 Old Parliament Lane, 5pm).

Mr DaShow will be on hand to answer questions and share his experiences.

Then, pop into The Arts House' foyer and film gallery, where you can view the hawkers' portraits and listen to audio recordings of their interviews. Admission to the exhibition, which runs till July 31, is free.

You can also join one of the guided heritage hawker tours to meet some of the hawkers interviewed for the book. The guided tours, which last 30 to 45 minutes each, will take participants to four hawker centres to meet some elderly hawkers and learn about their stories first-hand.

The tours start at 10am on Saturdays from July 20. The locations include Tiong Bahru Food Centre (July 20), East Coast Park Lagoon Food Village (July 27), Toa Payoh West Food Court at Lorong 1 Block 127 (Aug 3), and Circuit Road Food Centre at Block 79 (Aug 10). Registration is not required. Just show up at the hawker centres on the dates specified.

Where: Book launch at Chamber, The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane

When: Thursday, 5pm


A shophouse designed by architect Kwan Yow Luen at the junction of Keong Saik and Teck Lim roads is an example of a Streamline Moderne-style building. -- PHOTOS: JULIAN DAVISON

Tiong Bahru is not the only place here with eye-catching Art Deco architecture from the 1920s and 1930s.

There are about 30 such buildings scattered around other parts of Singapore, including the facade of Cathay Building in Handy Road, which was gazetted as a national monument in 2003.

With the help of Dr Julian Davison, an anthropologist and architecture enthusiast, the Urban Redevelopment Authority has put together an exhibition on the history of Art Deco architecture in Singapore.

Learn about the hallmarks of Art Deco styles and how Singapore's culture, climate and lifestyle shaped the country's architecture in the 1920s and 1930s.

The exhibition includes two talks, which will be held at the URA Centre at 45 Maxwell Road. The talks are: Setting Up The Peranakan Home, Bukak Rumah by Peranakan expert Randall Ee (July 25, 3 to 4pm; Level 4, seminar room); and Art Deco Architecture by Dr Davison (Aug 3, 10 to 11am; Level 5, function hall).

The talks are free but pre-registration is required at

Where: The exhibition will be held at URA Gallery, Level 1, URA Centre, 45 Maxwell Road

When: Next Friday to July 28, from 9am to 5pm daily

The so-called 'Rocket Building' (above), at the junction of Circular Road and Lorong Telok, designed by Ho Kwong Yew in 1938. -- PHOTOS: JULIAN DAVISON
The Loke Yew Building on the corner of Armenian and Loke Yew streets, designed by local architect E.C. Seah in 1931. -- PHOTOS: JULIAN DAVISON


Authors such as Yu-Mei Balasingamchow will lead a tour around the neighbourhoods they grew up in. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Experience some of Singapore's neighbourhoods through the eyes of authors who grew up there.

Bookstore BooksActually and author Verena Tay have organised two tours based on Balik Kampung, a collection of eight short stories published late last year, inspired by the childhood memories of its authors.

One tour covers neighbourhoods in central Singapore, including Redhill, Braddell Heights and Old Holland Road, while the other covers neighbourhoods in the east, such as Marine Parade, Upper Changi and Changi Village.

The authors, such as Yu-Mei Balasingamchow and Yeow Kai Chai, will lead the tours, read excerpts of their stories and provide participants with personal anecdotes and memories of the neighbourhoods.

The goal of the tours, says Balasingamchow, is to get people thinking about the idea of home and how it relates to the neighbourhood, a physical place. "The tours are a way to recognise these spaces and pay homage to the past," she says.

Yeow, who is also deputy integration editor at The Straits Times, adds: "Singapore is very good at landscaping and beautifying things beyond recognition. The aim of the tours is to draw attention to some places and the subtle human stories about them that you can't read in a textbook."

Tour participants will meet at BooksActually, where chartered buses will take them to the neighbourhoods on each tour for free.

Each tour is limited to 30 participants and registration is on a first-come-first-served basis. Tour participants will receive a free copy of Balik Kampung at the start of the tour.

Where: Tours start at BooksActually, 9 Yong Siak Street

When: The Eastern tour on July 21, 2 to 5.30pm; the Central Tour on July 28, 2 to 5.30pm

Copyright © 2013 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Business Times : New faces in old places

The Business Times - Dining
Published June 01, 2013

Like it or not, modernisation is here to stay, and along with it, a myriad of ups and downs. BT Weekend traces how gentrification has toggled the balance between residents, new shops and generations-old businesses in seven of Singapore's trendiest dining enclaves.

Modernisation boom

HEIGHTENED TENSION Chief among residents’ anxieties is that the new boutiques, bakeries and cafes (above) will irreversibly displace the generations-old businesses in Tiong Bahru - the very crux of the neighbourhood’s charm - PHOTO: JOHN HENG

IT ALL started with a car. Three weeks ago, as part of the launch for Tiong Bahru barbershop We Need a Hero, a modified car was parked outside the store as a promotional prop.

A resident decided to post a photo of the vehicle on the Tiong Bahru Estate community Facebook page, which quickly sparked off a series of heated comments from residents and followers of the online community.

Several among them bemoaned the non-stop flow of new-fangled Western concept stores that have streamed into the increasingly trendy estate over the last two years. Other residents BT Weekend spoke to say that this is just the tip of simmering tensions between long-time residents of the neighbourhood and new businesses wedging in to cash in on its hype.

Chief among their anxieties is that the new boutiques, bakeries and cafes will irreversibly displace the generations-old businesses in Tiong Bahru - the very crux of the neighbourhood's charm.

A wine shop, an art gallery, several small convenience stores and a 24-hour yong tau foo stall have all been replaced in the last few months. The string of closures climaxed last Friday, when Hup Seng provision shop drew its shutters for the last time after over 50 years, and 70-year-old Hua Bee coffeeshop, known for its meepok and butter-addled kopi, announced that it would close in mid-June.

"I'm for giving a neighbourhood a new lease of life, but it must be done in a sustainable manner and where it is sensitive to the essence of the neighbourhood," says Georgina Koh, 32, who used to run a pop-up store from her Tiong Bahru walk-up apartment of six years. She has since expanded into two permanent retail stores, Nana and Bird and two.o.ri, both in the neighbourhood.

Though the neighbourhood is still a sleepy, resident-dotted enclave on weekdays, the weekend crowds tip the balance, she observes. Fellow Tiong Bahru resident, jewellery designer Chris Lim, 35, agrees: "We see more visitors with cameras here on weekends. It feels like we live in a tourist attraction."

Though modernisation is to be expected, his main gripe is that it is happening too quickly. The new businesses are very similar and do not cater to the needs of the neighbourhood, relying instead on the hype that bring people into Tiong Bahru. "What happens if the new businesses close or move to the next cool spot? I am worried we will be left with an empty shell," he says.

To encourage residents not to take for granted the estate's fast-disappearing hawker stalls and provision shops, a band of business owners and residents came together to set up a 'We Love Hua Bee' Facebook page. "The kopitiam is the true common denominator. It represents community, and it is this rich, multi-cultural community that we want our children to grow up in," says its spokesman, and Tiong Bahru homeowner, Carolyn Oei. "The nail in the coffin will be when we have an established chain move in," adds Ms Koh.

But new businesses say they are mindful of preserving the neighbourhood's vintage vibe, as that is precisely what attracted them to the area in the first place.

Self-taught baker Wendy Koh, 25, who will be opening Kisses Bakery next month in the former Hup Seng space, plans to retain the provision store's iconic blue shutters, its signboard, as well as a 60-year-old antique cupboard handed down from the Gohs.

Spa Esprit's public relations manager Janet Lim says the group makes a concerted effort to craft concepts that blend in with the character of the neighbourhood, rather than open chain outlets. Spa Esprit currently runs four outlets in Tiong Bahru: coffee joint 40 Hands, modern eatery Open Door Policy, Tiong Bahru Bakery and We Need A Hero.

Though Tiong Bahru Bakery is a French bakery (fourth-generation baker Gontran Cherrier is a business partner), its logo is designed to resemble the Chinese seal prints on traditional Chinese biscuits and its take-away packaging inspired by the zichar stalls that dot the neighbourhood, says Ms Lim.

Several residents also laud newcomers such as Two Face Pizzeria for seamlessly integrating a Western eatery into a kopitiam space through a day-and-night use concept. There are green shoots for the hawker business as well. Instead of running yet another air-conditioned cafe, young bakers Melvin Koh, 26, and Lewis Lee, 22, rented out a coffeeshop stall to run their no-frills baking business.

Maria Ng of Orange Thimble Cafe, says the key is for new businesses to make a connection with the residents they reside among. Her cafe hosts community-centric events to connect its stable of artists with residents through artists' talks, for instance.

Despite all their grouses, residents also have to gain from the tizzy over Tiong Bahru. Real estate prices have spiked considerably in the area, with pre-war walk-up apartments going for between $1,200 to $1,600 psf. Some units can fetch as much as $1.4 million.

And the boom has its downsides for the newer businesses too. "Though we're seeing more foot traffic, we are also victims of our own success as the rents have shot up in the neighbourhood," admits Yeo Wenxian, co-founder of homewares store Strangelets.

And there's another irony. "I often see owners and staff of the new F&B outlets frequent the old coffeeshops. It seems the new businesses need the 'old' Tiong Bahru too," quips Mr Lim.

By Debbie Yong

The march of progress

The Keong Saik neighbourhood - a collection of shops and  eateries - PHOTO: YEN MENG JIIN
GENTRIFICATION is like adolescence: for some neighbourhoods, the process is ridden with awkward growing pains, and parts that develop either too quickly or not fast enough. Yet others, such as the Keong Saik Road dining enclave, seem to sail through the phase gracefully.

Ever since the Jason Atherton-fronted Spanish tapas bar, Esquina, opened along the strip in late 2011, the Keong Saik neighbourhood - a collection of shops and eateries that lie along the intersecting triangle of Teck Lim Road, Jiak Chuan Road and Keong Saik Road - has been slowly blossoming into a dining destination in its own righ.

Swiftly trailing in Esquina's wake came eateries offering up a global range of flavours, from French restaurants Taratata, Nicolas le Restaurant and Provence to Thai eatery MooJaa, 1980s-themed British restaurant The Retrospective and, most recently, Japanese ramen-bar Mariko's and barbecue specialist, Burnt Ends.

What the area has got going for it - and which makes the sudden explosion of new restaurants seem like a natural progression rather than an unexpected development - is Keong Saik's existing pedigree as a food street, say the area's tenants.

Treasures await behind the doors of Cheng Hoo Tian, a four-storey part-museum, part-fine dining Teochew restaurant. - PHOTO: YEN MENG JIIN

Tong Ah Coffeeshop is a four-generation-old business that dates back to1939. Neighbouring zichar eatery Kok Sen is one of the street's oldest and most iconic, and packs a full-house even on an early weekday evening. Between them is Kim Hock Seng, a bak kwa specialist that's been around for 30 years. Its owner, Ong Geok Hoo, 63, recalls in Mandarin: "It used to be very quiet, and very hard for businesses to survive in the 1990s. We've seen many come and go within months." The area's former reputation as a thriving red light district didn't help. "My customers would be too embarrassed to walk on the street, they either call for delivery and some even asked me not to print my shop's address on our boxes," he laughs.

Which is why, like him, many of Keong Saik's long-time business owners cheer the area's new tenants for replacing the seedy karaoke bars that once lined the streets, and for helping to boost area's vibrancy by drawing in young, often foreign, patrons.

"They may come here for the Western restaurants but when they are here, they may hear people talking about the local coffeeshops and return to give us a try," says Foong Kee's Derrick Wong, who has noticed a significant increase in foreign customers in recent months.

But Tong Ah's Tang Chew Fue, 49, is less optimistic: "Though the new businesses bring more people to the area, the demographics of our customers are completely different. Theirs happily pay $70 for a meal but ours complain when they have to pay more than $4 for a plate of noodles," he says.

Along with the exponentially rowing interest in the area is his rent, which jumped 100 per cent over the last two years. It is ultimately the consumer who will pay for this in terms of higher food prices, he says. A cup of local coffee, for instance, will cost $1.20 from this month, up from $1 previously.

For some, higher rents are an "inevitability" that they've already learnt to accept. Foong Kee's Mr Wong has just extended his lease by two years at a 30 per cent increase. "As the street gets busier, so does our business, so as long as the rent increase is reasonable and proportionate to the increase in takings, we can still manage."

But Kim Hock Seng's Mr Ong does feel threatened by incoming young entrepreneurs with deep pockets because he has built up a long-standing relationship with his landlords: "If landlords get too greedy raise their rents too high, they risk having to constantly look for new tenants who default after a few months."

Agreeing, Patrick Fok, who runs both The Retrospective and Mariko', believes the focus should be on encouraging landlords to be more reasonable. "Many of the landlords around Chinatown have owned the buildings for many years and are likely not paying off mortgages, so they should not be ruthless in ramping up rents. Landlords need to be socially responsible too."

But Esquina's Loh Lik Peng believes that the desire to reap profit is an understandable one: "How do you stop them? Do we tell them they must carry on in the face of such lost opportunity or that they can't retire because somebody remote to them says it's detrimental to the area's character?"

Then there is the question of whether the old businesses are in themselves sustainable.

While regulations prescribed by the Urban Renewal Authority ensure the preservation of heritage building faces, the issue of the old trades disappearing is "much more complex and is tied up in Singapore's modernisation", says Mr Loh.

"A lot of these old trades die out because not enough people patronise them or are prepared to pay them enough for them to make a decent enough economic return. Sometimes, they simply retire and nobody takes over. This is the reality.

"How do you stop the march of progress?"

By Debbie Yong

A sense of community

Despite sweeping changes over the past year in Kampong Glam, tenants young and old are not particularly concerned with gentrification; Aliwal Arts Centre (above) has two new indie cafes, A for Arbite and Eat Play Love. - PHOTO: BH FILE PHOTO

CONTROVERSY comes with the territory the moment you take over a pre-war shophouse or a conservation site, as Charmaine Ong would know. The vice-CEO of family-owned boutique hotel The Sultan has had to weather critical posts on the hotel's Facebook page. When the 64-room hotel won a URA Architectural Heritage Award last October, it was slammed by a netizen who posted nasty comments questioning the credibility of their research.

"But with Kampong Glam, people always speak of a sense of community that defines the zeitgeist of the area," she says, allowing that different folks have varying views on conservation.

Regardless, Kampong Glam's transformation is not over. Last October, Forward Land - managed by the Choo family behind brands such as Hotel 81, Value and V - won the tender for a 0.84 hectare site near The Sultan, at the corner of Jalan Sultan and Victoria Street. Apart from bohemian hangout Haji Lane, surrounding streets such as Bussorah, Kandahar, and even farther-flung Jalan Kubor are seeing a wave of modernised retailers and cafes with original concepts.

There is the newly opened Aliwal Arts Centre, for one, where two indie cafes, A for Arbite and Eat Play Love, have already popped up on its premises. In addition, four shophouses along Sultan Gate - destroyed by fire in 2006 - are currently undergoing reconstruction. They are owned by engineering house Lai Yew Seng, and possess highly-coveted restaurant permits. They're expected to be ready by the third quarter of the year.

Despite these sweeping changes over the past year, tenants young and old are not particularly concerned with gentrification. Says Abbyshane Lim, chef-owner of restaurant Symmetry along Jalan Kubor: "There are still plenty of traditional textile shops and the like . . . we can coexist peacefully and in balance."

Agrees Taher Amir Khan, owner of 92-year-old carpet business Amir & Sons: "I don't think the youngsters here are affecting the older businesses, in fact they are doing very fresh and exciting things, and they are very enterprising!"

A bigger issue is the crushing lack of parking space in the area. Older businesses such as zichar place Seow Choon Hua Restaurant says that they are losing regulars who complain that parking is harder to find.

Mr Amir suggests converting the nearby open-air parking lot into a multi-storey facility. The plot lies between Sultan Gate and Aliwal Street. Other suggestions include pedestrianising more streets during peak periods, following the example of veteran Haji Lane tenant Going Om bar, which is behind the Samsara Sunday Fair series. To close the road for two Sundays in February and May, co-founders Barry Tan and Oliver Pang had to apply for a Public Entertainment Licence and a Road Closure permit with the Singapore Police Force and the Land Transport Authority respectively.

Neighbouring tenants are intrigued by the idea. "We will definitely benefit from the spillover crowd during such events," says Levine Teo, co-owner of Ogopogo cafe over at Bussorah Street.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has since lauded Samsara Sunday Fair on his blog. Says Going Om's Mr Tan: "We are flattered, and are certainly encouraged to create more of such events to promote an inclusive and harmonious community."

Samsara Sunday Fair where streets are closed to traffic. - PHOTO: MND

He acknowledges that there are complications, however. "To be honest, it is not easy work trying to make everyone satisfied," he says. "We have lost money on these events, but the outcome and feedback made up for it."

Besides, he quips, "What's Singapore without a few complaints?"

By Tan Teck Heng

Commercialisation pains

Apart from must-try hawker fare at Chomp Chomp and Serangoon Gardens Market, what remains of familiar haunts in Serangoon Gardens (above) include sports bar cum pet cafe Happy Daze. - PHOTO: ST FILE PHOTO

SINCE February last year, no new shophouse lots can be converted to eateries along Serangoon Garden Way. The moratorium imposed by the URA was meant to curb traffic and parking problems.

URA has since explained that alternative solutions such as widening the roads or building multi-storey carparks are not feasible because of lack of room.

More than a year on, some remain doubtful over the ban's efficacy. "In fact, I feel that the traffic situation is getting worse," says resident Reetha Sturgess.

By limiting the supply of F&B shophouse lots, the ban also has the unfortunate effect of driving rents up even further on properties with restaurant permits. Observes resident of 40 years Debra Zuzarte: "We've lost a couple of the old-style coffee shops. It's just sad that rentals seem to dictate who stays."

Ms Zuzarte also owns BZB's Pub, a decade-old establishment which has become a meeting ground for regulars and Serangoon residents. It boasts bluesy live music, monthly potlucks and charity drives.

Apart from must-try hawker fare at Chomp Chomp and Serangoon Gardens Market, what remains of familiar haunts in Serangoon Gardens include sports bar cum pet cafe Happy Daze (above). - PHOTO: ST FILE PHOTO

Apart from must-try hawker fare at Chomp Chomp and Serangoon Gardens Market, what remains of familiar haunts include sports bar cum pet cafe Happy Daze (opened since 1999), and the famous Pow Sing Restaurant, which grew from a humble chicken rice stall back in 1983.

Past the ban, owner of Chillax Café and Radio DJ with 98.7FM Darren Wee appears to be the only indie F&B operator who has managed to acquire an existing restaurant lot. The cafe has a second-level massage bar, and has replaced Liquid Kitchen as of April last year.

"I used to enjoy going to Liquid Kitchen a lot," says Mr Wee, who previously lived in the area for over 18 years.

For him, the URA ban does not address the lack of parking space. "It's not just eateries; there are tuition centres, dance schools, banks and so forth - all these increase the number of people visiting this area as well," he says. "What we need is the expansion of existing parking spaces".

Ms Sturgess agrees: "The new mall could have been built with more parking lots, and so can the hawker centre which was supposedly just upgraded."

"The establishments keep changing, so there isn't enough time to have any sort of history," adds Ms Zuzarte. Concludes Ms Sturgess: "Commercialisation has butchered the neighbourhood".

By Tan Teck Heng

Inevitable evolution

BOTH Adora Tan-Richer and her father grew up on treats from the Red House Bakery on East Coast Road. She also remembers posing for photos in room settings at IKEA Katong along Amber Road, and sending them to her penpals with little notes like "This is my room - isn't it nice?"

Today, the streets of Katong are a far cry from the heart-warming masak-masak days. "Old Katong shophouses are being turned into Internet cafes, convenience stores and swanky joints," observes Ms Tan-Richer, who lived there till she was 16. "With every change, a piece of Katong is lost."

The iconic Red House Bakery was closed in 2003. This month, Warees Investments - the property arm of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) - will relaunch it as The Red House. The residential project includes 42 units, a heritage gallery that will open 24/7, and of course, a bakery.

In the face of related changes over the past couple of years, anxieties surrounding iconic F&B haunts in Katong are mounting. In November 2011, Katong Mall redeveloped into 112 Katong. And come October, Katong Village - a lifestyle hotspot along East Coast Road in the former Joo Chiat police station - may be put up again for tender after the first failed to draw bids last year.

More recent casualties include one third of the Katong laksa trio at number 49 (the other two being 328 Laksa and Roxy Laksa), replaced last November by café Rabbit Carrot Gun. Lord Trenchard Richard Huggins owns the quirky joint, and has since started luxe bed-and-breakfast Rabbit Warren upstairs, followed by pub The Trenchard Arms just next door.

Further down the road, Ali Baba Eating House - which incubated local restaurant chains such as steakhouse Astons and French bistro Saveur - has been remodelled into Alibabar, a posh concept known as a "hawker bar", as coined by owner Tan Kay Chuan.

Alibabar (above) has brought buzz to the Katong area. - PHOTO: DEBBIE YONG

And just earlier this year, paranoia broke out over rumours that traditional confectionary Chin Mee Chin would soon close. Its owners have clarified that no revamp is in sight.

"If we want to maintain traditional and cultural food, we have to keep it exactly the same," says spokesman Tan Cheow Suan, stressing that the last major renovation was 20 years ago.

If anyone has a bone to pick with these developments, it would be Peter Wee, the fourth-generation owner of the century-old shophouse lot which houses Katong Antiques House. His outfit gives tours of the carefully preserved interior, which comprise a small courtyard and rare Peranakan heirlooms.

Yet, Mr Wee - who happens to be the president of the Peranakan Association Singapore - concedes that evolution is inevitable.

"We have to give way to modernisation, and changes like 112 Katong and Alibabar have brought life to this area of Katong and generated buzz," says Mr Wee.

For him, what is contentious is the degree of conservation. "Big developers and new businesses cannot just gut historic buildings and leave a façade or a shell," he says. "These 21st-century shells cannot accommodate the past or its people; without the people, a building is just a building".

Agrees Ms Tan-Richer: "New F&B outlets are great, but perhaps the fare offered should be in line with the area," she says, citing Peranakan cuisine as a quintessential part of Katong.

Newcomer Sinpopo (above) preserves details of earlier Singapore, from the shophouse grille and tiles right down to the toilet door. - PHOTO: SINPOPO BRAND

In that sense, newcomer Sinpopo along Joo Chiat Road checks all the boxes. The concept by Awfully Chocolate preserves details of earlier Singapore, from the shophouse grille and tiles right down to the toilet door. Some degree of Peranakan influence is evident on the menu, which includes dishes such as pengat - or fruits stewed with coconut milk and gula melaka.

As for The Red House, nostalgia and history will be part of its DNA, says COO of Warees Investments Zaini Osman. "We have 'walked the ground' to meet local grassroots, Peranakan and business associations, and did research on the heritage of Katong," he says. "We hope to deliver a landmark development which contributes to national efforts towards heritage preservation".

And while Rabbit Carrot Gun serves largely British fare, Lord Trenchard has been careful to renovate sensitively. "Breathing new life into the beauty of this historic piece was a key driver," says the Singapore citizen. "When we removed the scaffolding for the first time, there was a spontaneous round of applause from the diners at the neighbouring Laksa noodle bar!"

But conservation seems to be a losing battle. Cautions Lord Trenchard: "Preserving buildings - irrespective of usage - faces financial pressure via mounting regulation. It will prove harder and harder for conservation to be commercially viable".

By Tan Teck Heng

A better dining experience

DINING in a quiet residential estate far from the madding crowd: it sounds a dream to foodies craving a break from the hustle and bustle of city life.

But this has created some unhappiness among residents in Jalan Riang - a neighbourhood in Braddell Heights estate off Upper Serangoon Road.

Gone is the tranquility of the neighbourhood. In its place stands an enclave of hip new restaurants that draws the crowds, leading to traffic congestion, illegal parking as some customers do not want to walk a long way, and increased noise levels.

These issues have ruffled feathers among residents.

"Parking can be a big problem here. Sometimes, people park outside my house and block the way. The road is already so narrow; it doesn't help that there are so many cars," says resident Theresa Lim, who has lived in Jalan Riang for some 20 years.

The retiree in her 70s, lives several doors away from the shophouses which house five eateries and other businesses.

It's not the noise that bothers her as her home is some distance away; it is just the sudden influx of visitors to a once quiet place, that has taken some getting used to.

"This place used to be so peaceful 20 years ago. There was just a provision shop and a kopitiam. Now it's different," she says.

Following complaints from residents about the congested roads and illegally parked vehicles, the owners of four eateries jointly hired private traffic wardens on Friday evenings and weekends, to direct cars passing through the area.

Four eateries, including Australian-themed cafe Rokeby (above), have hired wardens from a traffic management company to direct the cars passing through the area, helping to reduce traffic congestion. - PHOTO: ROKEBY

The initiative has been in place for around six weeks and seems to have helped a little, says Kelvin Lim, 28, who owns the Australian-themed cafe Rokeby, which opened in February. He and the other restaurant owners have to pay around $400 monthly to hire the traffic wardens.

He says: "We felt we had to do something about it; to be fair to the residents."

Another restaurant, The Cajun Kings, now provides free valet parking for its customers on Fridays and weekends.

This has created "a better dining experience" for its patrons as they no longer need to walk a long distance from parking spaces located far away, as well as reduced complaints from the residents, says restaurant owner Marcus Kok. He runs the place with two business partners.

"It's a good neighbourhood and the residents here are nice people. Many of them are our regular customers. It's only right that we don't create any inconvenience for them."

Dessert cafe Wimbly Lu (above) has pegged the closing time at 10.30pm on weekdays and 11pm on weekends, so that they 'don't disturb the residents'. - PHOTO: WIMBLY LU
At dessert cafe Wimbly Lu - one of the first few eateries to open in Jalan Riang - its owners have pegged the closing time at 10.30pm on weekdays and 11pm on weekends, so that they "don't disturb the residents".

"When we first opened in 2011, Jalan Riang wasn't so crowded the way it is now. It had this quiet charm. I think the residents like having more food options, but I'm sure they miss how quiet it used to be," says co-owner Luciana Tan, 41.

One long-term resident in his 70s, who wants only to be known as Mr Tan, has lived in Jalan Riang for some 50 years. While he isn't too pleased about the congested roads and occasional illegally parked car outside his home, he has gotten used to how crowded his once peaceful neighbourhood has become.

"People tend to park outside the houses. But apart from that, there aren't any major problems," he says. "A place can't stay the same forever anyway, things are bound to change."

By Sara Yap

Being mindful

TUCKED away in Greenwood, a residential area in Bukit Timah, is a burgeoning dining enclave where new waves of eateries are constantly popping up. Just this year, four new restaurants opened in the neighbourhood.

The increased dining options have come at a price, though. From clogged roads to indiscriminately parked cars that obstruct the flow of traffic outside homes - Greenwood's residents have seen it all.

Last year, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) even added Greenwood Avenue to a list of "problematic" traffic areas where new eateries cannot be opened, unless they are taking over the shop space previously occupied by another food business.

But some Greenwood residents feel that the inconveniences brought by the influx of visitors are minor in comparison to the benefits of having easy accessibility to food and amenities.

"I love the atmosphere here; the cluster of dining spots here has elevated the quality of the neighbourhood. It has also made it easier for us to get food and groceries," says consultant Matthias Goertz, 47, who has lived at the nearby Hillcrest Arcadia condominium for the past five years.

To avoid getting caught in heavy traffic, the German-born permanent resident prefers to take a 10 minute walk to the food enclave.

Housewife Colleen Sommerin, 43, who lives at Hillcrest Villa - a cluster housing development located a few minutes walk away - shares Mr Goertz's sentiment.

She says that the variety of food options available and the close proximity to grocery stores - there is also a Cold Storage supermarket on the strip - have made the neighbourhood "an ideal place to live in".

The traffic congestion is not entirely the eateries' fault, Ms Sommerin adds. The roads get clogged on weekday afternoons too, when parents pick up their children from the nearby Raffles Girls' Primary School.

Owners of some eateries say they suggest alternative parking areas to their customers when the lots outside are fully occupied, so as to reduce the congestion and deter people from parking illegally.

French restaurant Shelter In The Woods (above) lets customers know of alternative places to park their cars, so as to reduce the congestion and deter people from parking illegally. - PHOTO: SHELTER IN THE WOODS

"For customers who drive, we let them know about other places where they can park. I haven't received any complaints from residents, though," says chef-owner David Thien of French restaurant Shelter In The Woods.

Baker & Cook owner Mr Brettschneider tries to reduce the inconvenience caused to the residents. - PHOTO: BAKER & COOK

At bakery Baker & Cook, owner Dean Brettschneider feels the onus is on business operators to reduce the inconvenience caused to the residents.

He says: "As long as business owners act responsibly and help educate their customers about being mindful they are in someone else's neighbourhood, things will be fine."

By Sara Yap