New eats at PasarBella

Singapore's first permanent farmers' market, PasarBella at The GrandStand, has had new additions, tweaks to concepts and closures since it officially opened last May.

One stall has closed, another has had a change of vendors, a handful of new tenants have moved in and two have tweaked their stall names and concepts slightly to appeal to more customers.

Caria, which specialised in spices, olive oils and wines from Turkey, closed at the end of last month as it had been on a short-term lease, the market's management says.

The other closure took place in the second half of last year, when kitchen and lifestyle shop Pantry Magic moved out, and Lemon Zest, a shop with a similar concept, moved in.

Stalls in the market, located at the former Turf City in Bukit Timah, had started setting up shop gradually from the beginning of last year. Offerings presently include an artisan coffee shop, a patisserie, a creperie and paella stall, and a deli with gourmet hot dogs.

The owner of Caria, who declined to be named, says: "I was just one person, working alone, and I couldn't manage."

She cited manpower issues and says that she was not able to hire anyone to work there.

"I'm not a big chain, it is a personal investment. Many of us at PasarBella are small investors and it is difficult to survive. What I offer is also very niche," she says, adding that business was poor, perhaps due to a combination of factors which may include her lack of marketing.

Walk through the farmers' market on a weekday and you might be able to see why business may have been poor.

While PasarBella is abuzz and brimming with people on weekends, foot traffic is significantly lower on weekdays.

Over the last year, whenever SundayLife! visited PasarBella on a weekday, including Wednesday morning last week, there were barely any people.

Indeed, last Wednesday in the late morning, there were no more than 15 people in the 28,000 sq ft market place.

Ask Ms Alicia Lin, 40, who owns Cicely Kitchen, a Western food and retail shop, what visitorship is like on a weekday and she says: "Non-existent."

It used to be slightly busier on Mondays and Fridays, and for dinner, but that is no longer the case, she says.

But the lack of weekday business has not deterred new tenants from moving in.

These include five-month-old Sea Salt Caribbean Deli, a stall specialising in Latin- American foods and flavours; seven- month-old Keith Crackling Roast, which sells roast pork with crackling; and Laman's Delight, a cake shop with Russian-style cakes, which opened three months ago.

Others that opened after last May include James' Butchery & Co, a butchery and grill; shabu shabu restaurant Maru Shabu; Auum, a nail spa; To Be Calm, a shop selling scented candles; and Paper Girl, a shop selling art and illustrations.

There are currently 38 vendors there and three vacant units.

New entrants who decided to take up a permanent unit there say it is because they saw potential after seeing good business at their weekend pop-up stalls at the market.

Mr Ivan Agramonte, 39, a chef from the Dominican Republic who runs Sea Salt Caribbean Deli with his Singaporean-Chinese wife, Kathy Lau, 33, says he fell in love with the vibe, culture and feel of the place.

He says he also believes that his Latin American food would appeal to diners here.

"Singaporeans are very adventurous. Not many people know about the Caribbean Islands. They might know about salsa, but not much about the flavours. I missed my food and also wanted to introduce it to people here."

His stall offers a pulled pork bun made with an eight-hour roast pork leg that is marinated with herbs and spices such as coriander and cumin; fish and chips served with plantain, yam and sweet potato chips; and a seabass with Latin-American flavours.

Keith Crackling Roast and Laman's Delight decided to take up permanent spaces after successful weekend stints.

They, too, say business is slow on weekdays but are coping.

Mrs Laman Bagheri, 49, of Laman's Delight, who is from Baku in Azerbaijan, says business can be three to four times better on weekends, even though she now has regular customers who preorder cakes from her during the week. Her cakes, which include Drunken Cherry and Russian Napoleon, are priced at $10 a slice, or $50 for a 1kg cake.

Other changes at PasarBella include Nana's Kitchen, which went through three name changes and two concept tweaks in a bid to keep itself relevant. It had started out as Bella's Bakery last May, specialising in pastries and French breads such as baguettes. But its owners soon realised that their breads were not selling well.

They then decided to sell savoury food and rebranded the stall as Bistro Bon Tin Tin in July last year, selling European fare.

It renamed itself Nana's Kitchen last December and now specialises in Spanish and French-style fare such as roast Spanish Iberico pork, Australian steak served in cubes and other eats such as French toast and Spanish tapas.

Co-owner Ron Ooi, 39: "The crowd was very erratic but we found out early on that people didn't want French breads when they came to PasarBella.

"We changed the name to Nana's Kitchen because it has a more wholesome ring to it. We thought it would be better to keep things simple."

On the slow weekday traffic, PasarBella's managing director Charles Lin, 25, says: "We make a conscious effort to work with our vendors, to see how they can evolve."

He admits that more can be done to keep awareness up and says that this is part of the reason PasarBella will be participating in a pop-up event at Marina Bay Sands from the weekend until the end of this month, in conjunction with the i Light Marina Bay festival.

Vendors that SundayLife! spoke to suggest working with agencies to bring in tourists, as well as extending operating hours so that all shops remain open until 10pm.

Currently only the restaurants are open until 10pm. Retail shops and food kiosks close between 7 and 8.30pm.

Account manager Lee Sulyn, 35, who likes to head to PasarBella on weekends, says: "I agree that if the shops remain open at night, maybe more people will go because a lot of people work in the day. But if only half of the shops are going to be open, then there would be no point going, right?

"Maybe opening until about 9.30pm would work - just like a shopping mall."

rltan@sph.com.sg


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