Thirty-year-old Shashlik, a restaurant known for its borsch, steak and meat on skewers, will close at the end of the year, when the lease for its Far East Shopping Centre premises runs out. One of the partners of the Russian restaurant, Ms Jenny Lee, 57, told The Straits Times that the staff are getting old, hiring new employees is hard and business has been slow.
She said the owners considered closing 18 months ago, but the landlord persuaded them not to.
"It's very sad, but we have no choice," she said. "We are getting old and we are very tired."
The 100-seat eatery was popular in the 1980s and 1990s. It was set up by former employees of Troika, a well-known restaurant in Bras Basah Road that closed in 1985. They named Shashlik after Troika's signature beef skewers. Regulars, who included Cabinet ministers, followed them to the new place.
The old-school restaurant was known for its geriatric Hainanese waiters, some of whom could be curmudgeonly. Its former captain, the late Tan Niap Hin, worked until he was 83, stopping only because of ill health. He died in 2013 of pneumonia, months after he left the job.
Shashlik is one of the few places here to offer tableside service. Desserts such as cherries jubilee and baked Alaska are prepared right at the table, wheeled out on rickety trolleys by waiters who also whip up drinks such as Irish coffee.
Ms Lee said the owners are not averse to selling the business, which would come with a book of heritage recipes passed down over the years.
"Whoever buys the business will get all our recipes. We will leave it up to the new owner to decide what to do with the space, and if he wants to re-employ us. If not, it will be an early retirement for me," said Ms Lee, who noted that her son, now 30, grew up with Shashlik.
One of its last remaining Hainanese waiters, Mr Foo Sek Chuan, 75, said: "I am happy when regular customers come to dine, and look for me because I am a familiar face. But we are old and we need to rest."
Both Ms Lee and Mr Foo - who have worked at Shashlik for 30 years - have fond memories of the restaurant. They recalled how much they enjoyed catching up with regular diners, and how they would play mahjong during service breaks years ago.
Diners whom The Straits Times spoke to were shocked by the news.
Retired businessman Bernard Tan, 63, who dines at Shashlik every few months with his family of five, said: "It's a pity, but they've had a good run and they deserve a break. I will miss the the beef shashlik and baked Alaska."
Marketing executive Geraldine Chen, 37, said: "I will miss Shashlik - it's a hidden gem in Orchard Road. I like the old-school premises, the friendly staff and the food.
"Now I feel terrible that I haven't been back for a while. I'll have to go back many times before it closes."
This article was first published on July 17, 2015.
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