SINGAPORE – When second-generation owner of Founder Bak Kut Teh, Mr Nigel Chua, posted a heartfelt appeal on social media on July 15 to save his reeling 42-year-old establishment, it was met with a mix of cheers and criticism.
Many netizens rooted for him and said they would make it a point to dine at his chain of four restaurants, which was started in 1978 by Mr Chua’s 75-year-old father Mr Chua Chwee What.
Others called it a shameless publicity stunt to drum up business in a time of mass food and beverage closures.
Some even gave him advice to consolidate his business – which has expanded to Jalan Sultan, Downtown East and Bugis – and focus on keeping standards consistent at his original flagship Balestier outlet. The business also has offshoots in China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Indonesia, which are managed by overseas partners.
In his post, Mr Chua, 45, said the homegrown brand is in danger of closing in the next two months as business has plummeted by 85 per cent over the last five months, which he described as the “most tiring, trying and difficult” ever.
During the circuit breaker, he closed the Balestier and Bugis outlets as tourists make up the bulk of their customers, but continued paying employees 85 per cent of their salaries.
They waited out the closure period, anticipating the return of hungry hordes in phase two, but the reopening of the economy turned out to be a false dawn.
“My dad was elated, grinning from ear to ear, and gleefully headed down to the restaurant in the wee hours to prepare the aromatic bak kut teh broth himself. We were hopeful that the situation would turn for the better. But we were wrong,” Mr Chua recounts.
Since then, they have been keeping afloat by relying on takeaways and deliveries “but our efforts are still insufficient”, he laments. To encourage diners to return, he is offering over 30 per cent discount off set menus at three of his outlets (Jalan Sultan, Bugis and Downtown East) from July 17 to Aug 17.
Mr Chua says that he will also be coming up with new dishes to attract customers back, and reaching out to landlords to help with lowering rent.
“We understand that all hawkers and food and beverage businesses are struggling, and we are in a desperate, dire situation. The open letter is not just a plea for us, but for those in the industry suffering as well. We hope that Singaporeans will be able to help us stay afloat,” he says.
There has been a slew of F&B casualties in the past few months.
Closures in July include Peruvian restaurant Tono Cevicheria at Duo Galleria, and Japanese izakaya Neon Pigeon in Keong Saik Road.
British gastropub Oxwell & Co at Ann Siang Hill closes on July 18, and is in the midst of looking for a new location.
Mr Ben Jones, chief executive officer of M. Group – the hospitality group behind Oxwell & Co – adds this plea: “The industry is having a tough time, and needs your support. Eat in, take out, tip well, and show your appreciation. Every little bit helps.”