Future of Holland Village's Wala Wala remains uncertain

Mr Yeo is not keeping all his apples in one basket. He has invested almost $3 million in the Hive outlet in Havelock Road where events like weddings and concerts have been planned to drum up more business.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The future of Holland Village's Wala Wala Cafe Bar is in the balance as owner Stanley Yeo waits for a lease renewal in December.

The landlord died and the place now belongs to his children. Mr Yeo expects a rental increase, especially since the last lease renewal was more than a year ago.

"This year, Wala Wala is 23 years old," the 47-year-old told My Paper at his four-month-old outlet, Hive by Wala Wala at Furama RiverFront.

"Our future there depends on the landlords," said Mr Yeo. "Come December, we will know. This is also another reason I had to expand before the end of this year."

He has shifted 15 per cent of his management crew to Hive, with a new team running operations at Wala Wala Cafe Bar.

Some bands have also been transferred to Hive, "in order to make space for new local talent at Wala Wala".

Should the rent increase significantly at the Holland Village venue, he intends to "drop the top floor and keep only the bottom" of the two-storey establishment.

He stressed that he would be reluctant to let the place go entirely.

Meanwhile, he said business at the sprawling new venue at 407 Havelock Road is "good" though it is difficult to pack the place due to its large size.

Although he planned for Hive to cater to various types of customers, with its mix of a restaurant, bar, cigar room, wine retail shop, events room and ice cream bar, the core clientele is still the bar crowd.

Mr Yeo, who hopes to break even on his almost $3 million investment in about three years, is branching out into events for his 13,800 sq ft venue, with about 20 events slated for the next two months.

They include weddings, product launches and mini-concerts. The cosy outlet can also accommodate car launches and fashion shows, with furniture moved aside for a runway and an arrangement with the landlord for ease of entry, should vehicles for car launches need to be driven in.

With a larger venue, bigger parties for special occasions such as Halloween, Christmas and New Year's Eve are also being planned.

What has not changed is that success depends on having dedicated staff.

"It's relationships (customers build with staff). People don't come to see the owner. Most of the time, they see the bartender," said Mr Yeo.

He has seen watering holes come and go in Singapore's competitive nightclub scene but "we're still around".

He chalks it up to the "friendly vibe" his staff help create. Some of them have worked with him for up to 15 years.

Half his customers at Hive have been to or know Wala Wala, said Mr Yeo.

"When Wala Wala first started, we had a lot of National University of Singapore students. They got married.

"We still see them.

"In a way, they grow old with Wala Wala. Some couples met at Wala Wala and even took wedding pictures there."

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