Forum: Restaurant mistaken for nightlife venue that pivoted to F&B

I opened the restaurant of my dreams in January, jumping at the opportunity because of favourable rent when we took over what was previously an ailing nightclub venue in a prime downtown area.

The past six months have naturally been full of highs and lows, with challenges ranging from pivoting to delivery to the usual ironing out of kinks in any new operation.

Moments after the revised regulations came out last week (not even a week after we had painstakingly revised our dining floor plan to seat groups of five), we were visited by plain-clothes members of the Singapore Police Force (SPF), asking us to shut down our business operations by 10pm on a busy Friday night.

We were given less than an hour to do so. When I probed further, I received three responses - "Haven't you seen the new regulations?", "Didn't SFA (Singapore Food Agency) send you a message?" and "You are on the list that I have".

The police officers then handed us a flier and walked off. I looked at the flier only to realise that it was addressed to "nightlife venues that pivoted to F&B establishments".

I did not close my restaurant that Friday night because it was clear that the actions were a result of incorrect information.

The officer in charge returned at 10pm to shut us down and then left. No resolution was reached that night.

While I fully understood why we might have been put on that list, I expected SFA and SPF to have done their homework before starting their sting operation.

From an Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority BizFile+ account and bank accounts, to changing the use of the property and having an SFA licence, all our documents were new.

A simple search would have shown that we were in no way related to the previous occupants of the unit.

Beyond that, a large open kitchen was the first thing that greeted the police officers as they walked through our doors, and at every single table people were consuming full meals (not bar snacks). A masquerading nightlife venue we certainly are not.

My team and I endured an anxiety-riddled 24 hours, wondering whether to shut down the restaurant since none of the relevant agencies was contactable over the weekend.

We eventually decided that the financial burden from closing on the busiest Saturday night in months would be too high, and decided to stay open.

I got a call from the police only after 8pm that Saturday, officially permitting us to open.

It has been blow after blow for the food and beverage industry in Singapore, and while I understand that many of the measures taken are necessary, the situation could have been handled better.

Goh Tong Hann