Local diners who mourned the loss of Coney Dogs, curly fries and root beer floats 14 years ago can look forward a new A&W flagship restaurant in Singapore, which is likely to open in the second half of next year.
While the American fast-food company could not confirm where its first outlet will be located, the chain said diners can expect to find stores in key neighbourhood towns as well as commercial malls and the Central Business District.
The stores, which will be halal- certified, will offer freshly made root beer served in frosty mugs, burgers made with Australian beef and other favourites such as its Coney Dog and fried chicken.
"A&W Restaurants receives daily requests to bring the brand back to the Singapore market," says A&W Restaurants' chief executive Kevin Bazner in an e-mail to The Straits Times. "To put this in perspective, hundreds of requests from potential franchisees are recorded each year."
He says the group had been discussing its return to Singapore since 2011, when it took over ownership of A&W from Yum! Brands, an American fast-food conglomerate.
A&W Restaurants opened its international corporate office in Singapore last year.
The group, which plans to use its flagship Singapore store as a training and incubation centre for the region, is looking for partners to open between five and 10 stores every year.
Mr Bazner says: "The Asean countries have a combined population of more than 600 million people, which provides unlimited opportunities for growth.
"In addition to the immense brand recognition in the region, A&W Restaurants has a tenured leadership team that is based in Singapore as well as Malaysia for quicker franchisee support, coupled with a developed regional supply chain system in place."
Fond memories of A&W are likely to smoothen the road for the fast-food chain, which opened its first outlet here in 1968.
It exited the Singapore market in 2003 because of global losses.
Sales executive Nadiah Lee, 41, is excited about the chain's return. She says: "I have have fond memories of tucking into waffles and sipping on root beer ice-cream floats when I was growing up. Now, I can share this with my children."
However, experts caution that Singapore's competitive fast-food dining scene may prove challenging for A&W, given its target demographic of younger diners, many of whom may be unfamiliar with the brand.
National University of Singapore Business School's associate professor of marketing Lau Geok Theng says: "A&W's brand awareness is weaker compared with McDonald's, KFC and Burger King.
"It left Singapore in 2003, 14 years ago. Many young people who are the target audience of fast-food chains have never heard of A&W and those who heard of the name may not have emotional links."
He adds that over the years, the uniqueness of A&W's offerings that include waffles and Coney Dogs, has waned. Other players have since stepped in to fill the gaps with similar items.
As of last month, A&W Restaurants had nearly 1,000 restaurants globally, with outlets in the United States, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Italy, Japan (mostly in Okinawa), Malaysia, Qatar and Thailand. About 30 per cent of the restaurants are in South-east Asia.
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