New-school hawkers dishing up a difference

New-school hawkers dishing up a difference

SINGAPORE - You may be used to having char kway teow and chicken rice at a hawker centre, but what about a peach salad or Brewdog Mashtag beer from Scotland?

More unconventional stalls have been popping up at hawker centres in Singapore, selling food you would not consider as traditional fare, such as salad, gourmet coffee and even exotic craft beer.

Their owners are making this move largely thanks to the cheaper rents in hawker centres. Though profit margins are the same as setting up in fancier environs, these new hawkers say they are better placed to expand.

Stalls selling unusual fare include My Salad Bowl, Salad Corner and Damn Good Coffee at Market Street Food Centre; B Salad Kitchen at Amoy Street Food Centre; and The Good Beer Company and Smith Street Taps at Chinatown Complex.

Mr Boris Leong, who owns B Salad Kitchen, said that the average rent of a hawker centre stall in his area is approximately $2,000 per month, which is about half the rate for a similar-sized commercial space in a shopping mall. Rents for shophouses can be even higher and can go up to $6,000, he said.

Though hawker stalls enjoy lower rents, customers also expect hawker food to be priced lower than that found elsewhere, added Mr Leong. He prices the pasta at his salad stall around $5, about half that of pasta found in mall restaurants.

One advantage that the hawkers have over mall restaurants is the reduced risk.

Mr Madi Gras is the co-owner of Damn Good Coffee as well as the cafe The Spiffy Dapper, located in a Boat Quay shophouse. He said a hawker centre's foot traffic can be 50 per cent more than that of a shophouse, even if the latter is centrally located.

"Our hawker stall provides greater visibility for our brand. So, we hope to use it as a base for expansion," he said, adding that "it's less risky compared to renting space in a mall or shophouse".

Despite more of these unconventional stalls popping up, old-school hawkers remain unfazed.

Mr Mohammed Kassim Sahaba, owner of a coffee and drinks stall which faces Damn Good Coffee, said he does not feel threatened, as he can rely on his regular customers.

Mr K. F. Seetoh, founder of food consultancy Makansutra, said that unconventional stalls will not dilute the identity of hawker centres.

Rather, he feels that their offerings add to the variety of food and, in time, will become part of the "new normal comfort food" in hawker centres.

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