Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint has been sold for $4 million to conglomerate Aztech Group, 2 1/2 years after the 32-year-old roast meats institution in Upper Paya Lebar Road was put up for sale.
Publicly-listed Aztech, with diverse businesses ranging from electronics to LED lighting to marine logistics, paid $500,000 more than the original asking price of $3.5 million.
Madam Betty Kong, 68, who owns Kay Lee with her husband Ha Wai Kay, 64, said the price went up because the value of the freehold, 1,313 sq ft shop space had increased. When they first put the business up for sale, they received some 70 offers but none of them met the asking price.
The shop attracts queues and turns in a four-figure daily profit.
She told The Straits Times last night: "They were very sincere and met our asking price. We wanted the name to continue successfully and I will support them. When I'm 90 years old, Kay Lee will still be here."
Mr Jeremy Mun, 39, Aztech's senior vice-president and head of marketing, said his father, Mr Michael Mun, 64, the company's group chief executive, has been a long-time customer.
The younger Mr Mun said: "It's not about making money, it's about preserving a heritage brand because a lot of good food has disappeared. So we want to extend the life of Kay Lee and also expand the business."
So the company approached the couple in August and the deal was completed on Sept 18. The newly set up Kay Lee Pte Ltd will be a subsidiary of Aztech and it will take over operations on Nov 18. The couple will continue to work at the flagship outlet, but it is not known how long they will stay.
Madam Kong, whose two children do not want to continue the business, said: "I will still be there because I have customers who look for me at the stall. If I'm not there, they think the flavour is not the same."
The roast meats business that she and her husband built from scratch will expand beyond their dreams. Aztech plans to open at least 10 casual restaurants under the Kay Lee name, mostly in heartland malls, in the next two years. The first is expected to open early next year.
The younger Mr Mun said the company had been looking to expand its food business.
"Even in bad times, people still have to eat," he said.
Aztech has a subsidiary called Shiro Corporation, which sells wines and distributes canned and frozen food, but this is its first foray into restaurants.
The company has hired chefs to learn how to roast the meats using Guangzhou-style recipes that Mr Ha's father developed in the 1950s. It will retain Kay Lee's staff and use its current suppliers. By the end of the year, the company will also open a central kitchen.
Mr Mun does not rule out taking the Kay Lee brand to countries in the region and even China.
"After all, the recipes technically came from Guangzhou," he said.