A&W returning to Singapore: 5 things about the old-time fast food chain

A&W said that diners can expect to find stores in key neighbourhood towns or regions, as well as commercial malls and in the Central Business District. PHOTO: A&W RESTAURANTS/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Think A&W and you remember curly fries, coney dogs and root beer floats, for those of us who were around when the American fast-food restaurant had outlets all across Singapore.

The chain has announced that it will be returning to Singapore's shores next year, getting the little kid in all of us all excited and providing actual little kids with a gastronomic blast from the past.

Here are some things about the American fast-food chain's long history in Singapore:

1. It was the fast food-trailblazer in Singapore

A&W's first outlet in Singapore opened in Dunearn Road in 1966. It eventually had to make way for the widening of the Bukit Timah Canal. PHOTO: ST FILE

When most Singaporeans think fast food, they think of outlets such as McDonald's and KFC.

But way before Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders touched down in Singapore in 1979 and 1977 respectively, A&W had arrived over a decade ago.

In 1966, American couple Al and Geri Lieboff brought the franchise here after introducing the brand to Malaysia, selling hamburgers, hot dogs and its signature root beer in Dunearn Road.

The location was near the former University of Singapore's Bukit Timah Campus and was a popular hangout for students to grab a bite and to go on dates at.

A&W later opened Singapore's first drive-in restaurant in Bukit Timah Road in 1970.

It went on to open many outlets, but had only five when it pulled out of Singapore in 2003 as it could not keep up with the competition and was suffering losses.

2. More than just letters

The "A" and "W" in the name refer to the founders.

The chain originated in Lodi, California, when Roy W. Allen opened a root beer stand in June 1919.

The business took off and Allen partnered his employee Frank Wright. The two opened the first A&W restaurant in 1923 in Sacramento, California.

They put their initials together and the rest is fast-food history.

3. About that signature root beer

The closest the young could get to ordering Anchor and draught was settling for tangy root "beer" on draught at A&W. PHOTO: ST FILE

One of the chain's crowd favourites is the root beer float. The magical ingredient in this is the root beer.

A&W had gained popularity in America for its "frosty mugs", which were sort of like those used by some coffee shops selling beer in Singapore. The mugs were kept in a freezer until they were used to serve the beverage to customers.

The chain's root beer was concocted with a special recipe of a blend of herbs, spices, barks and berries.

3. The bear with a story

The mascot of A&W is Rooty, also known as the Great American Root Bear.

He appears in the brand's advertisements both in print and online. He also appears in some YouTube videos and is the persona behind the company's Twitter account, with the account's description saying "Tweets from Spokesbear Rooty signed - RB".

Rooty made history in 2013 by becoming the first mascot to have an official LinkedIn account, but sadly that did not last long.

"Although they found Rooty's profile clever and funny, they ultimately shut it down because 'Rooty isn't real'. For all of us at A&W, Rooty is very much real and all of the recommendations and networking connections were done by someone real, not an autobot or generic response," said A&W's social & digital communications strategist Liz Bazner back then.

4. Going on strike

Some of the 100 workers who staged a walkout over wage claims. They claimed that A&W management refused to implement the recommendations of the National Wages Council. PHOTO: ST FILE

A&W, the fast-food outlet which had brought countless people joy, was at the centre of grievances in 1973.

On Oct 8 that year, 100 workers from three outlets - in SIA Building in Robinson Road, Dunearn Road and Jurong - staged a walkout over wage claims.

They claimed the A&W management refused to implement the recommendations of the National Wages Council.

However, they returned to work the next day after the management agreed to meet them for negotiations.

5. Where to get it if you cannot wait

A&W, famous for its coney dogs and root beer floats, closed its last outlet in Singapore in Woodlands in 2003. PHOTO: BT FILE

For those of you who are super impatient and cannot wait for Rooty and company to swoop back into sunny Singapore, there are some things you can do.

If it is root beer you are craving, it is available off the shelves in supermarkets and shops.

Those who have tried it may or may not agree with me that the canned root beer just does not taste the same as the authentic version. Then again, beggars cannot be choosers.

If you are dedicated to the cause, make a trip across the causeway.

There are several A&W outlets, such as the one in Aeon Bukit Indah Shopping Centre in Johor Baru.

Or just hang in there. After all, good things come to those who wait.

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