Despite the spate of Covid-19 casualties in the food and beverage industry, several F&B players here are forging ahead and opening new eateries.
In particular, a few are bringing in foreign food brands with an eye on consumers pining for a taste of the foreign, now that overseas travel for leisure is off the table.
Joy Luck Teahouse at Ion Orchard, which opens on Friday, will boast three Hong Kong brands - Tak Hing Fishball Company, Hoover Cake Shop and Kam Kee Cafe - under one roof. The brands are brought together by Singapore-born television producer Robert Chua, who is also behind the entrance of Tim Ho Wan and Kam's Roast here.
He says: "Since people can't go to Hong Kong, this could work in our favour as they are likely to come to (our outlet) instead."
For a taste of Thailand, famous Thai tea brand ChaTraMue marks its re-entrance into the Singapore market with a flagship outlet at Paya Lebar Quarter opening on Saturday. A second outlet is slated to open by the end of next month at One Raffles Place.
ChaTraMue previously ran three franchised outlets here, and the last one at The Star Vista mall closed at the start of this year.
Ms Lim Xiu Ru, a lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic's School of Business, notes that there is much hype over the foreign F&B brands coming to Singapore. "There will be a lot of excitement initially, based on one's perception of the brand when dining overseas. Their success depends on the ability to deliver consistency."
There are pros and cons to opening new eateries now, she says, adding that operators have to deal with restrained consumer spending and reduced dine-in capacity.
On the upside, she says: "In pre-Covid-19 days, a lot of F&B concepts were launched on a very regular basis, which created clutter in the scene. The pace of new concepts being introduced is a lot slower than in the past, so new brands can gain more prominence now."
The BreadTalk Group is certainly hoping that is the case. It is launching two new home-grown brands - Butter Bean cafe and tea shop Charlie Tea.
Butter Bean opens a 45-seat cafe at Funan mall on Friday, with a second, bigger outlet at VivoCity due to open next month. The brand puts a modern spin on traditional Nanyang coffee with drinks such as Brulee Kopi Latte, topped with salty cream foam and torched sugar. Instead of the usual kaya toast, it will offer "toast pocket" sandwiches such as B.F.F. (Battered Fried Fish), which includes omelette, sliced cheese and butterhead lettuce.
Charlie Tea, to open next month at Takashimaya Shopping Centre, will specialise in a variety of tea beverages and baked goods. The drinks include Yuzu Cloud drink, which is topped with a housemade "cloud" made from pink Himalayan sea salt and cream cheese foam.
The three new outlets for Butter Bean and Charlie Tea take over the spaces previously occupied by Nayuki - a cheese tea and bakery cafe concept from Shenzhen, China - which exited the Singapore market at the end of June.
In addition, its BreadTalk outlet at Wheelock Place - which opens on Friday - is a "new-generation" set-up featuring a soya milk bar with flavours like yam, red bean and pumpkin.
The group's brand director Joanne Wong says the new brands target the younger generation, who have higher spending power.
"As a group, we are taking a pro-active approach to the situation now instead of waiting for pre-Covid-19 times to return. As part of Singapore's economy relies on tourism, and with the impact caused by Covid-19, we needed to look at ways to further increase local consumption and entice our customers," she says.
Koung's Wanton Mee, a hawker stall in Geylang with a 56-year history, is opening its first outlet in a mall, at Jem, on Tuesday after a three-month delay. It will offer the brand's signature wonton mee topped with fried pork lard.
Kumoya cafe, known for its pop-up comic character themes, will open a second outlet in Orchard Central. Themed "Rilakkuma - The Relax Cafe" as it features the Rilakkuma bear comic character by Japanese company San-X, the 2,000 sq ft cafe is slated to run for one year. It opens on Saturday.
Kumoya's first outlet in Jalan Klapa was closed during the circuit breaker and its director of operations Joseph Koh, 44, hopes there will be no repeat of restrictions on dine-in. "We are in the business of brand experience, so dine-in and cafe vibes are very crucial for us."
Other new restaurants opening from next month include the Les Amis Group's Lemak Boys concept at Shaw Centre. It specialises in nasi lemak and is run by the team behind the group's Peranakan restaurant, Indigo Blue Kitchen.
In October, the group will open the second outlets of tendon restaurant Tenjin and patisserie Tarte by Cheryl Koh, both at Raffles City Shopping Centre.
Also opening in October is Strait Place 1819 - by d'Good Cafe - at VivoCity. D'Good Cafe has outlets in Holland Village and Jewel Changi Airport. Its outlet in Takashimaya Shopping Centre closes next month when its lease ends.
The 88-seat Strait Place 1819 offers a fusion menu, with a spin on local favourites. Highlights include Strait Place Carrot Cake, with both black and white versions of fried radish cake topped with carrot and cucumber; BCM Capellini, a luxe version of bak chor mee, which includes scallops, caviar and prawns; and Cheng Tng Genmaicha, with red dates, dried longans, winter melon and peach gum.
Whether these new eateries take off depends a lot on "whether customers like your food and are willing to pay for the type of food that restaurants or cafes are offering", says Ms Regina Yeo, adjunct senior lecturer of marketing at the National University of Singapore Business School.
But given the pandemic, eateries will have to ensure safe and hygiene practices among staff and diners. Says Ms Yeo: "In current uncertain times, diners want to eat at places where they know the restaurants and cafes carry out responsible checks."
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