89-year-old Tan Hock Seng Cake Shop, famous for Hokkien pastries, will stay open for another year

Tan Boon Chai, 70, third generation owner of Tan Hock Seng, an 89 year old confectionery shop, holding tau sar piah, one the shop's bestsellers.
Tan Boon Chai, 70, third generation owner of Tan Hock Seng, an 89 year old confectionery shop, holding tau sar piah, one the shop's bestsellers.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - For months, the fate of Tan Hock Seng Cake Shop, an 89-year-old bakery specialising in Hokkien pastries, was in limbo.

The traditional confectionery at Far East Square in Telok Ayer Street was facing closure as its lease was due to end this month (March).

When The Straits Times visited the shop on Feb 21, its third-generation owner, Mr Tan Boon Chai, 70, said he was still in talks with landlord Far East Organization to extend the lease.

A week later, he finally got some good news and was told he could stay for another year.

The shop has been at its current location since 2000. The first shop was in China Street and moved to Upper Pickering Street for five years in the early 1990s before settling in Far East Square.

The confectionery sells more than 40 different kinds of traditional pastries, and its best-sellers are beh teh saw and tau sar piah. Mr Tan runs the shop with his sister, Ms Tan Siew Heoh, 72.

Their grandfather, Mr Tan Tiam, started the business in 1931. Mr Tan grew up watching his father, Mr Tan Kar Teng, bake pastries and took over the business when he was 20.

The shop has seen its fair share of famous customers, such as veteran Hong Kong actress Michelle Yim.

However, for Mr Tan, the most unforgettable customers are his old friends.


Mr Tan Boon Chai, 70, third generation owner of Tan Hock Seng, an 89 year old confectionery shop, greeting guests while this photograph was being taken. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

"A lot of our customers are elderly. Sometimes, we won't see them for a while and we get worried. But every time we see someone (familiar) again, it brings us a lot of joy."

Among their regulars is Mr Ryan Koh, a 35-year-old event planner who used to work in the Central Business District. He and his wife bought pastries from the shop as gifts for their wedding guests.

He says: "We didn't want the regular thank-you gifts and chose the pastries from Tan Hock Seng as the taste brings us back to our childhood days."

The pastries were a "hit", and Mr Koh still drops by often to buy pastries for afternoon tea or to bring home.

Mr Tan, who works every day save for the first day of Chinese New Year, says he has been facing manpower shortages and rising rental costs. "We work very long hours. This business is hard."

But, he adds: "I'll work as long as I can."