Goodbye, 'Singapore's oldest waiter'

Goodbye, 'Singapore's oldest waiter'

He spent 50 years of his life serving customers, and was possibly Singapore's oldest waiter.

For eight hours a day, six days a week, Mr Tan Niap Hin, 83, faithfully donned his maroon waistcoat as he went about his job.

He only stopped in April this year due to ill health.

That was how much the captain of the Shashlik Restaurant in Far East Shopping Centre loved working.

He died on Friday from pneumonia.

His widow, Madam Loo Mui Nam, 76, told The New Paper: "Serving people was his life. Even when he had difficulty walking, he insisted on carrying those dishes. It's not like we needed the money. It was something he liked doing."

In 2003, Mr Tan, who was then 73, said in an interview: "What can I do at home? If I can move, I'll move. Treat it like a form of exercise."

Born in Hainan Island in 1930, he migrated to Singapore with his father when he was eight.

At age 12, the Primary 6 dropout started his extensive restaurant experience by washing dishes and cleaning floors in a small Japanese restaurant to supplement his family's income.

It was there that he picked up the art of bowing, scraping dishes, smiling and chirping "Hello".

At age 18, he became a cook's helper in a British home in Tanglin Road, earning $45 a month. He also picked up English there.

After this, he became a catering worker at the Naval Base in Sembawang for two years, followed by other waiting jobs.

Troika, then Shashlik

In 1963, at 32, he joined the now legendary Troika Restaurant at Bras Basah Road. He worked there for 22 years until it folded in 1985.

Jobless overnight at 55, Mr Tan banded with eight other Troika cooks, waiters and bartenders to set up Shashlik, named after Troika's beef kebab speciality.

There, they carried on serving Troika's regulars - cabinet ministers, company directors and other geriatric gourmands - their usual Wednesday oxtail set lunch.

The restaurant is famous for its Borsch soup and grilled beef fillets, and is still pulling in the crowds today.

Mr Tan leaves behind three children and four grandchildren.

Said his eldest son, Mr Alan Tan, 42, an executive director in Goldman Sachs: "He was quite the workaholic, but still found time for us.

"He was our family's sole breadwinner for so many years, and we are very grateful."

His second son, Mr Derrick Tan, 41, an assistant corporate kitchen trainer in restaurant chain Tony Roma's, said: "He inspired me to join the food and beverage industry. He always told me to treat every customer as your family member.

"It was not just a job to him. It was his calling."


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