Those starting out or expanding forge ahead despite bumpy ride

Those starting out or expanding forge ahead despite bumpy ride


It has been a baptism of fire for Mr Alex Chok, whose modern European restaurant and cocktail bar Lumo in South Bridge Road has been open for a month.

It is the 35-year-old’s first foray into the food-and-beverage scene – right in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis.

Given that the industry has been battered by the pandemic – a survey by restaurant reservations platform Chope found that 93 per cent of 249 restaurants polled have seen a dip in revenue – it would not appear to be an opportune time to open a dining establishment.

But the 70-seat Lumo had been a year in the making and Mr Chok did not want to disappoint his team of eight, so he bit the bullet.

Unfortunately, he finds himself in the same boat as many other F&B owners.

Business has taken a hard hit due to the decline in footfall in the Boat Quay area after bars and entertainment outlets had to close.

Mr Chok says: “At this moment, it’s all about survival. The goal now is to keep the place afloat enough to pay salaries.”

In the Chope survey, 78 per cent of the restaurants said they are not prepared to last longer than six months if things do not get better.

While some F&B owners may be putting their opening or expansion plans on hold, there are others like Mr Chok who are going against the tide.

With tenancy agreements already signed and rent kicking in around the time of the outbreak, hospitality group The Supermarket Company went ahead with opening its third Sprmrkt restaurant yesterday in Dempsey. Its neighbouring new Portuguese restaurant Tuga launches at the end of this month.

The group’s managing partner, Ms Quek Sue-Shan, is already facing a manpower shortage. There were some people who signed the contracts but did not turn up for work.

She is also working on Sprmrkt’s online ordering platform, which will also offer delivery from the other two outlets at Cluny Court and Robertson Quay.

Mr Carlos Couto, Tuga Singapore’s co-founder, says: “With the current situation evolving at such a rapid pace, it is hard to predict how the F&B landscape will look like in six months. As such, we need to be flexible and fast-moving.”

Also monitoring the situation closely is China Whampoa Home Made Noodles’ business manager Tan Pei Nam, 35.

The brand recently opened its second and third outlets – a 24-hour branch at Nam Wah Coffeeshop in Geylang Lorong 12 opened on Dec 31 and an outlet opened last month in Bukit Merah.

Plans for further expansion are on hold, as Mr Tan cautions there could be more disruptions ahead for the industry.

The original outlet in Whampoa Drive is run by second-generation owners Alan Ng, 48, and his wife Inthawong Duangcheewan, 42.

The Geylang outlet doubles as a central kitchen space to prepare the noodles, soup and chilli, as well as ingredients such as the marinated pork and sliced mushrooms. The outlet also offers more fancy options of abalone and crayfish.

Mr Tan says business is still thriving despite the bleak times – especially at the Bukit Merah outlet. He points out that unlike pricier restaurants, homemade noodles can be a daily staple for diners.

However, he is not resting on his laurels and also offers the noodles on food delivery platforms such as GrabFood, Deliveroo and Foodpanda.

New brands continue to enter and expand in Singapore. They include South Korean pizza chain Go Pizza, which will launch at cloud kitchen space Tampines Food Co on April 17. It will then expand into delivery-only locations in Clementi, Orchard and Sembawang.

Other home-grown F&B businesses have also taken the opportunity to relaunch or revamp their offerings.

Two refurbished establishments at One Fullerton – two-Michelin-starred French restaurant Saint Pierre and Riviera Forlino (formerly Italian restaurant Forlino) – have relaunched with new menus. The latter also has a new chef.

At Blue Lotus Concepts International, managing director Ricky Ng has rebranded Blue Lotus Kitchen & Bar in Alexandra Road, which served Mediterranean food, and renamed it Opio Kitchen & Bar. It had a soft launch last week and now serves Asian fusion cuisine.

But due to the pandemic, he has pushed back plans to open Opio in Perth at the end of this month, as well as another Blue Lotus restaurant in London in July.

He says: “Even though the economy is down, it is a good time for us to soft-launch Opio. It is easier for the team to practise and train first. When the market is back up, we will go full force into marketing.

“For the overseas openings, we’d rather be safe than sorry. If you push to open, you’re going to end up with more problems.”

But he is prepared for the worst.

Both Opio and his flagship Blue Lotus Chinese Eating House at Sentosa Cove have their leases up this year, and he does not rule out closing them if things worsen.

“If the market continues to be like that, why not? Nobody will be able to survive,” he says.

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