For about 75 years, Tong Ah Eating House has stood out in Keong Saik Road for its distinctive red-and-white facade and shape as it sits on a triangular plot of land.
But from Monday next week, this old-school coffee shop will head out to a new shophouse, even if it is just a few doors down the same road.
The move marks the uprooting of a business the great-grandfather of Mr Tang Chew Fue, 50, started at the spot in 1939, a date embossed on a signage proudly displayed at the top of the three-storey building.
Mr Tang blames the upheaval on the sale of the property to a foreign investor, believed to be a hotelier. It is valued at about $8 million, he said.
The coffee shop's owner is a relative of Mr Tang, who rents the place for $8,000 a month.
He declined to go into the reasons for the sale and neither the relative nor the new owner could be reached for comment.
Nicknamed Ah Wee, Mr Tang took over the coffee shop from his father in 1999.
Little has changed on the menu as the Foochow family stuck to its winning formula of serving kaya toast in the morning and zi char food at night.
He will keep the menu intact in the new place at 35, Keong Saik Road, but he worries about his profit margin as he now pays 50 per cent more in rent.
"I feel squeezed," he said. "Property prices have gone up as many private investors have bought land here."
He also worries that the loss of outdoor seating, for which the coffee shop is known, will hurt his business. "The outdoor seating is important to me. In the new location, the interior is large but my customers will have fewer carpark space," he said.
"I will miss this place," he said. "The atmosphere will not be the same at the new place."
The coffee shop's customers, mainly office workers and residents in the area, were similarly nostalgic.
"Eating on the five-foot walkway is a treat that has been around for a long time. It is a special ambience with an old-world charm," sales executive Lee Siew Song said wistfully.
The 55-year-old works nearby and eats at the coffee shop twice a week.
Tong Ah is the second old-world coffee shop to change hands in just over a month. Last month, 70-year-old Hua Bee coffee shop in Moh Guan Terrace in Tiong Bahru was leased to hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng, 41. As a result, one of its two stallholders, coffee-seller Tony Tiang, 58, has called it a day.
This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 13, 2013
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