Two popular eateries closing this month

Two popular eateries closing this month
Hua Nam Restaurant, a 49-year-old dim sum eatery, will close at the end of March.
PHOTO: Shin Min

LEARN HER RECIPES FOR FREE - PAY WHEN YOU SET UP SHOP

Holland Village Ipoh Hor Fun owner Ng Chue Len with her daughter Tham Yi Tian. The stall is set to shut down this month.Photo: The Straits Times

Holland Village Ipoh Hor Fun, which will shut down by this month after 11 years in Holland Village Food Centre, has an interesting proposition for aspiring hawkers.

The owner, Madam Ng Chue Len, 58, is willing to teach her recipes for popular dishes such as Ipoh hor fun, chicken rice and wontons for free.

However, they will need to pay $500 to $800 every month to her after they start their businesses.

Read also: Hua Nam dimsum coffeeshop in Upper Thomson to close in end-March 

Instead of asking for a lump sum for the business takeover, her daughter Tham Yi Tian, 26, thinks such an unorthodox arrangement will entice young people to become hawkers.

She says: "Most youngsters and people who are new to the hawker scene do not have huge capital, so this payment method makes it more accessible for them to start their food business."

Besides being able to use the Holland Village Ipoh Hor Fun name, the new owners can also learn the ropes from Madam Ng, from cooking to managing a stall.

Those interested in taking over the business can call Ms Tham on 9684-0434.

Madam Ng is retiring as the strenuous 12-hour work days have taken a toll on her health. She suffers from backache.

Ms Tham also plans to resume her diploma course in accountancy at a private tertiary institution. She took a seven-year hiatus from her studies to help her parents at the stall full time.

When she was 17, she started working at the stall for a few hours every day, packing chilli sauce and washing the dishes.

"Initially, I disliked working there. It is very hot and I have to stand for long hours," she says.

"However, after I saw how my parents struggled to cope with the heavy workload, I had no choice but to step in to help them."

She learnt everything, from cooking and chopping chicken to cooking hor fun.

Ms Tham is the youngest of five children who are in their late 20s and 30s. Her siblings have no interest in the food business and hold corporate jobs.

Madam Ng worked as a chef for more than 10 years at Yee Cheong Yuen Noodle Restaurant in Lorong Liput, which was owned by a family member. In the 1990s, the restaurant was bought over by Palm Beach Seafood Restaurant and she struck out on her own in 2006, opening a stall in the nearby hawker centre.

She sells 40 to 50 plates of her signature Ipoh hor fun during the lunch peak every day. The stall is known for its affordable food. A plate of chicken rice costs $2.80 and a plate of Ipoh hor fun costs $3.80.

On ensuring that the quality of food is maintained after the takeover, Ms Tham says: "I am sure my parents will nag and scold the new owners until they are satisfied with the taste of the food."

What will she miss most about working as a hawker?

She says: "Chatting with my regulars every day."

When The Straits Times visited the stall on Tuesday morning, she bantered easily with a steady stream of customers and knew some of their orders by heart.

Diners are surprised by the impending closure of the stall.

Housewife Evelyn Goh, 70, who has been a regular customer for 10 years, says: "It is difficult to find food below $3 these days and I like that we can help ourselves to as much chicken soup as we like."

Businessman Andy Jiang, 47, says: "The Ipoh hor fun has an old-school taste that has remained the same all these years. It is sad that more foreigners are cooking at hawker centres and these old hawkers are phasing out."

SHUTTING DOWN TO PRESERVE OLD-SCHOOL QUALITY OF FOOD

Hua Nam second-generation owner Siew Hoy Yean with his son Sam Siew. The restaurant is closing on March 31.Photo: The Straits Times

When popular dim sum restaurant Hua Nam in Upper Thomson Road started in the late 1960s, business was so bad that second-generation owner Siew Hoy Yean, 89, had to borrow money to pay the shop's monthly rent of $400.

He was skilled in gongfu and used the martial art to ward off secret society members who harassed shop owners for protection money.

His son Sam Siew, 54, who now runs the 49-year-old restaurant with five of his 10 siblings, says the shop did not receive a lot of customers in the early years as dim sum was deemed a "luxury food" by those who lived in the kampungs nearby.

"My father's business partner left as the shop made enough money for only our family to survive," he says in Mandarin.

However, business could not be more different last weekend, after it was reported that the restaurant will serve its last dim sum on March 31.

When The Straits Times visited the old-style restaurant on Tuesday at lunchtime, it was thronged with customers tucking into dim sum, duck rice and zi char dishes such as deep-fried spring chicken.

Diners who have patronised the restaurant for up to 20 years came in droves.

The younger Mr Siew says: "While I am thankful for their support, what's the point of having such good business now when we will be shutting down soon?"

The main reason behind the impending closure is that most of his siblings, who are in their 60s and 70s, have "hit the retirement age".

They are too old to handle the day-to-day operations, from making dim sum from scratch and preparing ingredients to serving customers. They made the decision to retire last year.

Coupled with a more competitive dining landscape and massive construction work on the ThomsonEast Coast MRT Line, business has dropped by 40 per cent since construction hoardings were erected in front of the shop in July.

Mr Siew, who has been working at the shop since 1983, says: "We have been depending on our regulars for business. Newcomers will not know about the shop as it is obscured by the hoarding."

Customers also have to grapple with limited parking lots and cannot do drive-through takeaways.

In its heyday in the 1980s, Hua Nam attracted snaking queues and sold about 1,000 baskets of dim sum daily. It also offered catering services for wedding banquets for up to 200 people.

The Siews do not intend to sell the business as they want to preserve "the old-school traditional flavours" of their food. In the early days, the family hired chefs from Hong Kong and Malaysia to come up with dim sum items which are still on the menu.

"Making dim sum is a complicated craft that requires lots of practice. We do not want to pass the recipes on to someone, only for this to affect the old-school quality of our food," he says.

Passing on the business to the family's younger generation is not an option too as they have developed their careers in other industries.

Another food-and-beverage business will take over the shop space.

Diners find it a pity that the restaurant is shutting.

Retiree Tang Seok Chye, 60, who has been a restaurant regular since the 1980s, says: "I always order the chicken porridge and dim sum which are not expensive and are made in-house."

Undergraduate Leo Chua, 23, says: "My friends who live around the area tell me that the food here has the taste of their childhood and I am glad to experience dining in such an old-school eatery before it disappears."


This article was first published on Mar 09, 2017.
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