Jumbo Group to buy Kok Kee Wanton Noodle stall

Under proposed $2.1m deal, group to take 75% stake in 35-year-old stall, with franchise plans

Kok Kee Wanton Noodle stall at Bistro 8 coffee shop in Foch Road yesterday. Once the sale is complete, Kok Kee will become an indirect subsidiary of the Jumbo Group, which will have exclusive rights to develop a franchise system for Kok Kee in Singap
Kok Kee Wanton Noodle stall at Bistro 8 coffee shop in Foch Road yesterday. Once the sale is complete, Kok Kee will become an indirect subsidiary of the Jumbo Group, which will have exclusive rights to develop a franchise system for Kok Kee in Singapore and abroad.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

The humble wonton noodle is set to be part of a million-dollar deal, with restaurant giant Jumbo Group looking to buy the Kok Kee Wanton Noodle hawker stall and take it across the island and abroad.

If the proposed $2.1 million acquisition goes through, the group will take a 75 per cent stake in the 35-year-old stall. The remaining 25 per cent will be held by Kok Kee's second-generation owner Shirley Leong. Once the sale is complete, Kok Kee will become an indirect subsidiary of the Jumbo Group, which will have exclusive rights to develop a franchise system for Kok Kee in Singapore and abroad.

Kok Kee - known for its springy noodles and lard-based chilli sauce - started in 1985 at the now-defunct Lavender Food Square, before moving to Hoa Nam Building in Jalan Besar. After a three-year closure, it returned last year to its present location at Bistro 8 coffee shop in Foch Road.

Mr Ang Kiam Meng, Jumbo Group chief executive officer and executive director, said having hawker concepts such as Kok Kee will help to diversify the group's income streams, away from its dominant full-service dine-in restaurants.

"We are very excited about the prospects of Kok Kee as it caters primarily to the local mass market, well-suited for fast turnover dine-in or takeaway. We look forward to introducing more of such concepts, if opportunities arise."

Brands under Jumbo include the flagship Jumbo Seafood, Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh and Zui Yu Xuan Teochew Cuisine. On Dec 3, the group will launch virtual brand Hack It, which specialises in seafood meal delivery.

In a separate report, the group also announced a net loss of about $8.2 million for its financial year ended Sept 30.

Mr Ang, a fan of hawker food, added: "I strongly believe Singapore has a unique food culture which should be conserved and propagated.

"In recent years, more pioneer generation hawkers are closing due to old age and lack of successors. This proposed acquisition is not only strategic to the group's business objectives, but also allows Jumbo to play our part as a Singapore enterprise to preserve and promote our Singapore heritage flavours and dishes."

In an e-mail response to The Sunday Times via Jumbo Group, Ms Leong said: "I am very happy and honoured to work with one of the biggest F&B groups in Singapore which appreciates our wonton mee - a simple heritage dish - that I have grown up and fell in love with. More importantly, they want to preserve it as much as I do.

"Age is catching up with our pioneer crew and with my own limited resources, it will be an uphill task for me to manage and expand the business."

After the acquisition, she will stay on to ensure a smooth transition and oversee the transfer of operational knowledge to Jumbo's team, and "hopefully expand our network in Singapore".

Another recent acquisition is BreadTalk Group's deal - for an undisclosed sum - with the hawkers behind First Street Teochew Fish Soup in Upper Serangoon Road. The 32-year-old brand is known for its signature broth made by simmering chicken, pork and fish bones for at least four hours.

Its first new outlet under the partnership was launched on Nov 11 at BreadTalk IHQ's Food Republic food court and more outlets are likely to open in the future.

Previous high-profile acquisitions include Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint in Upper Paya Lebar Road, sold to conglomerate Aztech Group for $4 million in 2014. Two years later, Hersing Culinary sank $1 million into its partnership with hawker Chan Hon Meng of one-Michelin-starred Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at Chinatown Complex Food Centre, to set up the first quick-service Hawker Chan restaurant in Smith Street.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 29, 2020, with the headline 'Jumbo Group to buy Kok Kee Wanton Noodle stall'. Print Edition | Subscribe