44-year-old Joo Chiat bak kut teh restaurant closing on Friday due to shortage of manpower

The restaurant, known for its signature curry fish head and bak kut teh, has its roots from 1973.
The restaurant, known for its signature curry fish head and bak kut teh, has its roots from 1973.PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO

SINGAPORE - A bak kut teh restaurant at Joo Chiat with 44 years of history is closing on Friday (June 30) due to manpower shortage, and customers have been flocking to the eatery for a last taste of its signature pork rib broth and curry fish head.

Lau Hock Guan Kee Bak Kut Teh, Fish Head Curry & Steam Fish started out as a street stall in Dunman Road in 1973, Lianhe Wanbao reported on Thursday.

It moved to its current location at 328 Joo Chiat Rd in 1985. It was run by two brothers - Chen Jingfu and Chen Jingyuan - for more than four decades, but older brother Chen Jingfu died in March this year.

The younger brother, 67-year-old Chen Jingyuan, told Wanbao that they were unable to retain staff for the past one to two years, and that local workers "wanted to quit after two days".

He said extended family members used to help out but they became busy with looking after their grandchildren, and could not help any longer.

Mr Chen and his wife, along with an employee who has been with them for more than 30 years, handled the restaurant.

However, the employee quit in March this year after her husband had health problems.

Mr Chen decided to close the restaurant as he is short on manpower.

After customers heard of the news, they came flocking to the restaurant for last meals. Online, customers have shared photos and written tributes to the eatery.

Facebook user Reenie Poh shared photos of the restaurant on June 26. "Four more days till #LauHockGuanKee closes its shutters," she wrote.

She wrote that she visits for the selection of fish including curry fish, Teochew steamed fish and black bean fish.

Dennis Chong wrote on May 16 that he has been eating there for 13 years.

"(I'm) saddened to know they are closing because they feel they are getting old and they can't find good helpers to do prep and upkeep the standard of the food," he wrote. "All the heirloom of precious recipes will go with them with no next generation (to carry it on)."

Retiree Li Youfu, 75, told Wanbao that three generations of his family grew up eating at the restaurant.

Mr Li has been a loyal customer for 35 years.

He said he found out about the impending closure last week, and rushed to have a last meal.

Another customer, 40-year-old chef Zhong Jiwen, said he went to the restaurant at least 10 times after learning that it was closing.

"The chef's skills are very good, and the price is worth it, even I as a chef find it delicious," he said.