Crowds flocked to Lau Pa Sat yesterday on its first day open, after being closed for nine months for a $4 million revamp meant to last just two months.
People started queueing at some stalls in the iconic 120-year-old market-turned- food centre at Raffles Place from as early as 11.30am.
One hour later, the lines at some stalls had grown beyond 20 people each and waiting times for food were up to 30 minutes.
Kopitiam, which manages Lau Pa Sat, estimated that about 20,000 people visited the food centre yesterday.
General manager Masayuki Kato, 47, who used to visit it almost every weekday for lunch or dinner, made a beeline for his favourite stall, Song Kee Fishball Noodles. He said: "I am very happy. My office is just opposite and it has been inconvenient to find food stores that are open late."
Ms Lynica Foo, in her 40s, vice-president of an investment holding company, used to frequent Lau Pa Sat about three times a week. She visited it twice yesterday - to buy fried bee hoon in the morning and thunder tea rice for lunch.
But she was surprised to find that her food cost more. Fried bee hoon with two dishes now costs $3.80, up from slightly more than $2 in the past. Thunder tea rice now costs $5.50, up from $5. She said: "I've been looking forward to the reopening, but a jump of about $1 or so is a bit much."
One reason is the increase in stall rental fees from an average of $3,700 to $4,700 a month, stall owners said. Rising manpower and ingredient costs have also contributed.
They are hopeful the increased seating capacity of the food centre will help bring more business. It can now seat 2,500 diners, 460 more than in the past.
The ventilation has also been improved by installing eight industrial ceiling fans and reconfiguring the stalls' layout to allow air to flow better from one end of the food centre to the other.
Madam Callie Lim, 40, who owns the Thunder Tea Rice stall, said: "It does seem to be a bit cooler. Office workers tend to complain that it is too hot here, and take the food back to their offices to eat. With air flowing better, hopefully more people will come."
The number of stalls has fallen from 90 to almost 60, but customers are not bothered. Ms Tan Seok Keng, 46, who works in the banking industry, said: "In the past, many stalls sold similar things."
While business was brisk at the older stores at Lau Pa Sat, it was quieter at some of the new stalls.
Mr Kevin Tan, 55, who owns a new pizza stall, said: "Most people seemed to be looking for the stalls they were familiar with, but we expect that business will pick up soon."