Fifty and still dishing out the goodies

Cousins (clockwise from left) Alvin Say, Jerry Lim and Jason Ong - grandchildren of Jack's Place founder Say Lip Hai - are set to take the restaurant chain on its next lap. Its plans to go regional will start next year in countries like Vietnam and M
Cousins (clockwise from left) Alvin Say, Jerry Lim and Jason Ong - grandchildren of Jack's Place founder Say Lip Hai - are set to take the restaurant chain on its next lap. Its plans to go regional will start next year in countries like Vietnam and Malaysia.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

Jack's Place adopts new concepts even as it taps a nostalgic vein

In today's competitive environment where food and beverage outlets open and close with increasing frequency, surviving 50 years is a true feat - as Jack's Place shows.

The restaurant chain founded 50 years ago is not only going strong by sticking to its traditional specialities but also trying new concepts that it hopes will keep the customers coming in the decades ahead.

Jack's Place was started in September 1966 by Mr Say Lip Hai, who was a cook-boy with the British troops in the 1960s.

His cooking found favour with a British housewife who suggested that he start a catering business in a pub owned by her husband, Jack Hunt.

The first Jack's Place Steak House opened in the Orchard Road area and has since expanded to 17 outlets, with 330 employees and an annual revenue of around $35 million.

Its flagship outlet in Ang Mo Kio, which opened in 1979, still reminds customers of the old days. With its signature green-and-white checkered table cloths and wooden furniture, it was a sort of hangout place for couples on dates.

BUILDING BLOCKS

Our parents who built up the brand focused on giving good food, and a decent amount of service.

MR JERRY LIM, who runs the restaurant operations.

Mr Jerry Lim, who runs the restaurant operations, said: "Our parents who built up the brand focused on giving good food and a decent amount of service."

Today, it continues to be a family business with three maternal cousins, Mr Lim, Mr Jason Ong and Mr Alvin Say, at the helm.

The third-generation leaders, grandchildren of Mr Say Lip Hai, intend to forge the new Jack's Place concept around the twin prongs of relevance and productivity.

The chain has started embracing new concepts such as collaborating with local ice cream start-up Udders and coffee brewer Smittens to meet changing customer needs.

"This will also allow Singaporean brands to come together and emerge stronger and fitter to move out to the region," said Mr Lim.

The restaurant has also embraced fusion cuisine over the years, using sambal sauce, for example, for its traditionally Western steaks.

In June, it introduced a new ice cream flavour, mango pomelo, typically used in the Chinese dessert mango pomelo sago.

And it has special treats lined up for its 50th anniversary, including dolling up its Bras Basah outlet in the style of the 1970s for a week.

The aim is to combine the nostalgia of years past, by serving up classic dishes from past menus, with the trendy pop-up cafe concept.

But it is not just older patrons who have fond memories of the eateries. Jack's Place always "felt like a treat when I was a child because of the large portions", said Calvin Teoh, 19. "It's a place I like to dine at with my friends because of its affordability."

While this year entails a lot of looking back, the chain has its eyes firmly fixed on the future as well as its expansion plans take shape.

Jack's Place aims to start small by going regional first, to places like Vietnam and Malaysia next year, a cautious approach after failed ventures to expand to Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur a few years ago.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2016, with the headline 'Fifty and still dishing out the goodies'. Print Edition | Subscribe