Covid-19 claims 84-year-old restaurant in Penang

End of a household name: Tan closing the doors of See Kong Ooi restaurant, which first opened in 1936.
PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

GEORGE TOWN - A restaurant which has been serving traditional Hainanese and Hokkien home-cooked dishes for 84 years has closed for good.

See Kong Ooi, a household name here especially among the old-timers, has not been able to fend off the effects of the movement control order (MCO) on its business.

"It took me a lot of courage to make the decision to wind down the business, " said architect-turned-chef Peter Tan, 47, a third-generation member of the Tan family running the show here.

Tan said the restaurant, located at Transfer Road, had been closed since the MCO started in March.

"Customers would usually dine in as the dishes are tastier when served hot, " he said.

He explained that the restaurant did not want to provide takeaway and delivery services as the dishes would be cold and "taste like economy rice".

"It won't be value for money as the dishes won't be tasty anymore.

"Many of our customers used to come for the authentic taste, in addition to the nostalgia and ambience of this old building, " he said.

According to Tan, patrons of See Kong Ooi were fond of dishes such as assam prawns, steamed pork with shredded salted fish, kangkung sambal belacan and assam curry fish.

Recalling the good times, Tan said, "During our heyday, this restaurant had 14 members on its staff, including chefs, kitchen assistants and myself."

The name See Kong Ooi was derived from that of a lake in China, he said.

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It was started by Tan's grandfather, Tan Kong Chye, an immigrant from Fuzhou, China, who ran a small coffeeshop with his wife, selling drinks and toasted bread to customers staying in hotels along Transfer Road.

By the 1970s, they had expanded the menu to include ready-cooked dishes, rice and porridge.

See Kong Ooi was then one of the first few restaurants here to offer home-cooked meals tailored to customers' demands.

Foochow Coffee Shops Owners Federation vice-president Toon Koon Ku said more than 40 per cent of his members had halted their business temporarily as they were unsure how to comply with the MCO standard operating procedure and did not want to take the risk.

"They prefer to wait for the MCO to be lifted before starting business again.

"Most of them depend on hawkers' rental fees to survive.

"If the situation continues, many coffeeshops will not be able to afford the high costs and they would probably cease business for good, " he said yesterday.

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