The iconic Chin Mee Chin is back

(From far left) Ebb & Flow Group's executive pastry chef Maxine Ngooi; Chin Mee Chin Confectionery's Sharon Tan and main managing partner Leoang Kwang Ling; and Ebb & Flow Group chief executive Lim Kian Chun.
(From left) Ebb & Flow Group's executive pastry chef Maxine Ngooi; Chin Mee Chin Confectionery's Sharon Tan and main managing partner Leoang Kwang Ling; and Ebb & Flow Group chief executive Lim Kian Chun.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Famous old school confectionery Chin Mee Chin, which has been shuttered for two years, is making a comeback.

The iconic coffee shop is slated to reopen by the end of next month in its original location at 204 East Coast Road. It is best known for its traditional toasted kaya buns, kopi and baked goods such as Swiss rolls, cream horns, sugee cakes and luncheon meat buns.

It closed in December 2018, citing lack of succession and manpower issues.

Its return is in partnership with the Ebb & Flow Group, which runs food and beverage brands such as online business Tigerlily Patisserie, modern Chinese restaurant The Dragon Chamber in Circular Road and new modern European restaurant Sommer Dining at Marina Boulevard.

In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times, the group's chief executive Lim Kian Chun, 29, says that the brand will remain true to its traditional Hainanese roots.

"There's no point doing this just to modernise it into another brand. Our vision was quite aligned and we will preserve its tradition and heritage," he says.

Mr Lim, who lives in Katong, is neighbours with the Tan family behind the confectionery. Negotiations with the family began in January last year and were finalised in July. However, due to the ongoing pandemic, the opening was delayed to this year.

The family remain shareholders in the business and are working closely with Mr Lim and his group's executive pastry chef Maxine Ngooi, 29, of Tigerlily Patisserie, to pass on their heritage recipes.

Madam Sharon Tan, 62, the granddaughter of the confectionery's late founder, says: "Mr Lim and Ms Ngooi both grew up eating our pastries, and so did their parents and grandparents. They understood how important it was to the wider community.

"They have always consulted us on all decisions and we have a very good relationship."

She says that she and her mother, Madam Leoang Kwang Ling, 81, who is Chin Mee Chin's main managing partner, have enjoyed a good rest during the two-year hiatus.

"Now, we are charged up and our energy is back," adds Madam Tan, who recalls helping to wash cups at the shop from age six with her elder sister and younger brother.

The coffee shop, which has been around since 1925, was named Chin Mee Chin - which means genuine, beautiful treasure in Mandarin - by Madam Tan's late father Tan Joon Ling in the 1940s.

Its iconic signboard, along with its green floor tiles and original tables, will be preserved.

The bulk of renovation works will be done in the kitchen. Seating capacity will be doubled to 50 seats, including a new alfresco area.

Paying homage to the brand's history, Mr Lim will bring back charcoal-grilled buns, as well as the use of coffee beans instead of powder.

Prices will increase but "remain affordable", says Mr Lim. However, he is figuring out how to offer "heavily discounted prices" to Pioneer and Merdeka Generation customers.

"They are the original customers. It is not about making money from them, but giving them a taste of what they had," he adds.

Other new openings the Ebb & Flow Group is planning include multi-concept venue Katong Kanteen - now open for delivery first - at 266 Tanjong Katong Road; and Tigerlily Patisserie's first dine-in concept at 350 Joo Chiat Road, which will launch next month and focus on pastries made with seasonal produce.

The patisserie now operates from HongKong Street.

Once it moves to Joo Chiat, the HongKong Street location will be converted into another dining concept under the group, slated to open by end April.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 07, 2021, with the headline 'The iconic Chin Mee Chin is back'. Subscribe