Closure of Hup Lee Coffee Shop: 6 other popular old-school eateries in Singapore that faded away

Singapore's F&B scene is a super-buzzy one, spanning the range from affordable hawker food to the pricey three-starred Michelin restaurant Joel Robuchon Restaurant.

The flurry of new F&B places also mean a good proportion die out like unlamented food fads. But there are the veteran establishments whose closures bring on foodie laments and a last-minute rush to sample their fare before the kitchens close.

The latest to close down is Hup Lee, a coffee shop in Jalan Besar known for its kaya toast grilled over a charcoal fire, soft-boiled eggs and traditional sock-brewed coffee and tea. 

It will close on Aug 22, after the shophouse where it is located was sold in mid-May for an undisclosed sum. 

Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox

Mr Cheong Mun Loong, the son of co-owner Foo Mui Ya, said one of the reasons for closing down was his mother's deteriorating health. 

"My mother works every day of the year, except for the first two days of Chinese New Year. She may be tough but she is getting old and needs to take it easy," he told the Straits Times.

He believes the shop space, which has been occupied by Hup Lee since the 1950s, will be used for a restaurant. 

Here are six other old-school eateries that have pulled down their shutters in recent years.

1. LAU HOCK GUAN KEE BAK KUT TEH, FISH HEAD CURRY & STEAM FISH


The restaurant, known for its signature curry fish head and bak kut teh, has its roots from 1973.PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO

  

The 44-year-old Lau Hock Guan Kee Bak Kut Teh, Fish Head Curry & Steam Fish closed its doors on June 30 this year due to a manpower shortage.

Starting out as a street stall in Dunman Road in 1973, the restaurant was run by a pair of brothers until the elder brother's death in March 2017.

Before its closure, the business had had issues with staff retention. Extended family members helped out for a while, but became busy looking after their grandchildren, leaving Mr Chen Jingyuan, the surviving brother, shorthanded.

After a long-time employee of 30 years quit due to her husband's health problems, Mr Chen decided to close the restaurant.

2. HOLLAND VILLAGE IPOH HOR FUN


Holland Village Ipoh Hor Fun owner Ng Chue Len with her daughter Tham Yi Tian. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Before its closure in March this year, the eatery was best known for its signature Ipoh hor fun and chicken rice, priced affordably at $3.80 and $2.80 respectively.

Its owner, 59-year-old Madam Ng Chue Len, started the stall after working as a chef for more than 10 years at a noodle restaurant. Her youngest daughter, Ms Tham Yi Tian, 26, took a seven-year hiatus from her studies to help her parents at the stall full time.

Business was good for the family as the stall would sell about 40 to 50 plates of its Ipoh hor fun during the lunch peak every day.

However, the strenuous 12-hour work days began to take a toll on Madam Ng's health, and she decided to retire as she suffered from backaches.

At the time of its closure, Madam Ng offered to pass her recipes to aspiring new hawkers for free, in exchange for a payment of $500 to $800 every month after they started their businesses.

3. HUA NAM RESTAURANT


The interior of Hua Nam Restaurant located at 244F Upper Thomson Road. PHOTO: ST FILE

Run by the Siew family for three generations, popular Upper Thomson Road restaurant Hua Nam was well known for its duck rice, deep fried spring chicken, and most famously, its dim sum.

The restaurant's heyday was in the 1980s, when it was invited to cater for wedding parties of up to 200 people, and sold about 1,000 baskets of dim sum daily.

However, it saw a huge drop in business over the years as a more competitive dining landscape emerged. The massive construction work on the nearby Thomson-East Coast MRT Line did not help with foot traffic either. Hua Nam lost around 40 per cent of its customers when construction hoardings were erected in front of the shop in July 2016.

The Siew family decided in 2016 to close the restaurant, as most of Mr Siew's siblings felt they were too old to handle the day-to-day operations, from making dim sum from scratch to serving customers.

They chose not to sell their business as they wished to preserve their food's traditional flavours.

The eatery sold its last piece of dim sum on March 31 this year.

4. SWA GARDEN TEOCHEW RESTAURANT


It was all hands on deck as staff cooked for customers in the last days of Swa Garden Teochew Restaurant’s operation. PHOTO: SHIN MIN

Macpherson eatery Swa Garden Teochew Restaurant was well known to residents of the area for its signature dishes of roast pork and orh nee ( yam paste with gingko nuts).

Its owners, Mr Wu Guangliang, 64, and Mr Chen Daying, 62, told reporters that they had decided to close the restaurant as they could not find any successor, and also due to their ailing health.

In its final days of operation, more than 300 customers swamped the eatery daily, staying behind to take photographs.

Mr Wu and Mr Chen also held a special dinner at the restaurant for their staff to thank them for their years of support.

5. THE CATHAY RESTAURANT


Interior of The Cathay Restaurant. The Iconic eatery, located on the second floor of The Cathay building in Handy Road, has closed its doors on Monday. PHOTO: THE CATHAY RESTAURANT

The oldest eatery on this list, The Cathay Restaurant opened in 1940, initially serving European food. It later renovated and reopened as a Chinese restaurant in 1951, serving popular Cantonese and Shanghainese dishes.

At one point, it was considered one of the finest restaurants in town, with a bar serving Western cocktails, and a dance floor. A resident band performed alongside popular singers of the era such as Ruby Wah and Chang Lu.

However, in the 1960s, the restaurant's popularity dwindled and it closed again in 1964.

The outlet was resurrected once more in 2007 by Cathay Organisation on the second floor of The Cathay building in Handy Road.

It shut down once more on June 15, 2015.

6. BOON LAY RAJA RESTAURANT


Henry Tan Kweng Nam, owner of Boon Lay Raja Restaurant. PHOTO: ST FILE

Located on prime land near Jurong East MRT, Boon Lay Raja Restaurant was sold to the owners of listed construction firm Lian Beng Group in January 2015 for around $15 million.

Mr Henry Tan, the restaurant's owner, said that his old age made it tough for him to continue running the business.

The eatery originally opened in Jalan Boon Lay in 1979, moving to Jurong Gateway Road in 1989.

It was famous for its red garoupa in Nonya sauce, roasted duck with mango, and Buddha jumps over the wall.

Mr Tan told reporters at the time: "I am happy to retire soon."