Shisha ban takes its toll on eateries

The Derwish Turkish is one of the last remaining licensed retailers in Bussorah Street to sell shisha, before the ban kicks in next week. Its owner, Mr Salim, is not too worried, however. He has restructured his business and is now focused on making it a
The Derwish Turkish is one of the last remaining licensed retailers in Bussorah Street to sell shisha, before the ban kicks in next week. Its owner, Mr Salim, is not too worried, however. He has restructured his business and is now focused on making it a family-friendly restaurant. PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
A close-up of a hookah, the instrument used for burning and smoking shisha tobacco. The upcoming ban on shisha has forced many restaurants to change their business models.
A close-up of a hookah, the instrument used for burning and smoking shisha tobacco. The upcoming ban on shisha has forced many restaurants to change their business models. PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

End of the road for restaurants that failed to restructure their business model

Time has run out for establishments here that have shisha tobacco on the menu to phase it out and find other business models. From Monday, they will have to stop serving shisha.

Shisha was banned in November 2014, but the authorities allowed existing retailers and importers to sell it until July 31 this year.

However, many of them say shisha was their main offering and that they have not been able to find other sustainable models. Thus, they say, it is the end of the line for them, too.

The Ministry of Health had said in a press statement, when shisha tobacco was banned, that the grace period was to allow retailers "ample time to deplete their stock and restructure their business away from shisha".

However 18 out of 20 cafes and restaurants contacted in the Kampong Glam and Boat Quay areas said the non-shisha models they tried have not worked well.

When The Straits Times visited last Friday, two licensed restaurants were selling shisha: Derwish Turkish Restaurant in Bussorah Street and the Sahara Restaurant in Boat Quay.

 

  • 18

    18 out of 20 cafes and restaurants contacted in Kampong Glam and Boat Quay said non-shisha models they tried have not worked well.

    60%

    Twelve out of 14 restaurants that have depleted their stock of shisha in the past year said they lost 60 per cent of customers after they stopped providing the product.

    90%

    The remaining two out of 14 restaurants that have depleted their stock put losses at 90 per cent.

Moving on, without shisha on the menu

Twelve out of 14 restaurants that have depleted their stock of shisha tobacco in the past year said they lost about 60 per cent of their customers after they stopped providing it, while the remaining two put their loss at about 90 per cent.

Mr Esad Sedjic, 46, who owns four restaurants including Sahara Restaurant in Boat Quay, said: "I tried to restructure my business model, focusing on Mediterranean cuisine and expanding the menu, but it has been unsuccessful, as our patrons come solely for shisha.

"I have already put up two of my restaurants on sale. After the end of July, I will have to reconsider continuing business at Sahara as well."

Mr Mahmoud Mohamed, 28, who owns Elhalal Restaurant in Haji Lane, is another proprietor planning to sell his business soon. When he stopped selling shisha 15 months ago, his customer numbers dropped drastically. "The business is not profitable for me any more," he said.

While many cafe owners lament the ban, some, such as the owner of Derwish Turkish, Mr Mohamad Salim, 35, agree with its rationale.

He said: "Before, this area used to see many underage smokers, lower seating capacity and fights breaking out regularly. Now, I see more families and children frequenting the area, and it is peaceful here."

Mr Salim has used the two years since the ban to restructure his business. He closed two other restaurants he owned and focused on improving the menu and building a family-friendly ambience at his remaining establishments.

He said: "What we need now, is more tourism in the area. There should be events and festivals for people to experience the spirit of Kampong Glam and to change the fixation around shisha smoking."

The owner of Blue Jaz Cafe in Bali Lane, Mr Jose Villanueva, 45, has also taken the ban in his stride.

"After we stopped selling shisha in December, we saw a dip in business, but we managed to sustain it. The sale of shisha tobacco is not our bread and butter."

Besides selling food and beverages, Blu Jaz Cafe now also hosts more events such as birthday parties and corporate events.

One patron at the Sahara Restaurant, who wanted to be known only as Ms Pang agrees with the ban. The 27-year-old sales executive said she had smoked shisha regularly for five years, and wanted to stop.

She said: "Perhaps, the ban in Singapore will be the catalyst for people like me to quit the habit."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2016, with the headline 'Shisha ban takes its toll on eateries'. Print Edition | Subscribe