Tong Seng's last day

Tong Seng's last day

By 11am, the queue for free food was already three shop units long.

The halal-certified Tong Seng Coffeeshop at Bugis was serving its last meals on Monday, before officially closing on Tuesday- after being in business for more than 14 years.

The coffee shop owner, Mr Ong Choon Seng, 36, had decided to give away food during the lunch and dinner peak periods.

They started distributing food at 11.30am and took a 2½-hour break at 3pm, before serving the dinner crowd and finally closing at 9pm.

Many customers came to say their goodbyes to the place they have had their meals at for so many years and the workers they had befriended.

Said Mr Sam Wong, 46, a technician at the nearby InterContinental Hotel: "I'll miss not so much the food, but the friends here. The people working here."

Mr Wong has been going to Tong Seng at least thrice weekly for six years, since he started working in the area.

Mr Nash Rudin, 22, a sales associate at Robinsons, started queueing for the coffee shop's famous chicken rice at 10.30am, an hour before they started serving.

"I will miss this place. The chicken rice here is very fragrant. I tried others, but the one here is still the best," he said. He has been going there a couple of times a week.

Mr Darwiis Muhammad, 18, a staff supervisor at Swensen's, agrees. He said: "I'll be sad that this place is closing. The chicken rice here is very good."

The chicken rice appeared to be the most popular item.

The packets of chicken rice set aside for the lunchtime crowd were completely gone within half an hour, forcing the staff to start making more. The rest of the menu was available.

The distribution of free food on the eve of Hari Raya Haji was originally intended for only Muslim customers.

But an overwhelming number of non-Muslims forced the coffee shop's owner to change his plans.

Mr Ong Choon Seng, 36, the owner of Tong Seng, said: "I wanted to open this to the Muslims, as a thank you to them being our regulars for so many years."

Mr Ong added that 90 per cent of his patrons are Muslims.

He decided to strictly reserve the first three hours of the free dinner at 5.30pm for Muslim customers only, before opening the last hour to all.

Muslim customers

During the dinner rush, many non-Muslims went to Tong Seng, only to be turned away and asked to come back at 8.30pm.

One of those who persevered with the long wait was a housewife in her 50s who did not wish to be named.

She went specially to have one last meal at Tong Seng at 6pm and waited until 8.30pm to have her meal and say her goodbyes to the place.

"It's really a pity that this place is closing down. The food here is good and the people are nice," she said.

Mr Ong said they were closing down Tong Seng because maintaining a coffee shop in the central business district is tough.

"Every place around us is slowly upgrading to a restaurant, with air-conditioning and self-service. We started off as a coffee shop and want to keep it that way. Without air-con, serving our customers directly, selling these Singaporean foods at coffee-shop prices," he said.

Mr Ong's father, Mr Ong Ah Wah, 61, had kept Tong Seng running all these years.

Both father and son agreed that it was a real shame they had to close the place.

"We'll miss the people working here, and the regulars too," they said.

They had originally intended to close the shop at 9.30pm, but at 8.40pm, the last packets of noodles were given out.

Mr Malek Aziz, 22, Mr Saffwan Othman, 21, and Ms Hannah Shafiee, 23, were the lucky ones who got the last dinners Tong Seng served.

The three had been going to Tong Seng since their time together in Republic Polytechnic.

Mr Malek and Mr Saffwan are serving their national service.

They agreed that it was a pity that the place was closing down.

"Please open again eventually, somewhere," Mr Malek said, as he finished his meal.

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