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Loving the smell of bread and earning a crust at the same time

Mr Lai Chee Peng, 58, runs Sing Hon Loong Bakery located at 4 Whampoa Drive in Balestier. The family business has been operating for more than 50 years, making it one of the last traditional bakeries here.
Mr Tan Hock Heng, a long-time employee of Sing Hon Loong Bakery, slicing freshly baked bread according to customers' preferred thickness. With most employees over 60 years old and no successor in mind, this family business at 4 Whampoa Drive, in Bale
Mr Tan Hock Heng, a long-time employee of Sing Hon Loong Bakery, slicing freshly baked bread according to customers' preferred thickness. With most employees over 60 years old and no successor in mind, this family business at 4 Whampoa Drive, in Balestier, is facing an uncertain future. However, bakery owner Lai Chee Peng plans to keep the business going for as long as his workers are willing. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
While Mr Tan kneads dough to make more loaves, Mr Wong Meng Huat (in blue) and Mr Zong Wei Dong transfer the shaped dough, covered and separated by brown cloth, for baking.
While Mr Tan kneads dough to make more loaves, Mr Wong Meng Huat (in blue) and Mr Zong Wei Dong transfer the shaped dough, covered and separated by brown cloth, for baking.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
The bakery is open 24 hours, closing for only four days a year during Chinese New Year.
The bakery is open 24 hours, closing for only four days a year during Chinese New Year. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
The baked bread is cooled on shelves (above) before the crust is cut.
The baked bread is cooled on shelves (above) before the crust is cut. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
The baked bread is cooled on shelves before the crust is cut (above, here by bakery owner Lai Chee Peng) and binned. The loaf is sliced and then bagged.
The baked bread is cooled on shelves before the crust is cut (above, here by bakery owner Lai Chee Peng) and binned. The loaf is sliced and then bagged. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
The baked bread is cooled on shelves before the crust is cut and binned (above). The loaf is sliced and then bagged.
The baked bread is cooled on shelves before the crust is cut and binned (above). The loaf is sliced and then bagged. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

A lifetime closely intertwined with two humble ingredients - flour and water - has allowed Mr Lai Chee Peng to follow his passion for baking bread, and earn a crust at the same time.

His father was a baker who owned a traditional bakery in Serangoon, so Mr Lai grew up loving the smell of freshly baked loaves.

His childhood was spent picking up various tricks of the trade and making deliveries with his father.

He joined the family business in 1984 after completing national service.

Mr Lai, 58, now runs Sing Hon Loong Bakery, which used to be managed by his two uncles.

The business at 4 Whampoa Drive, in Balestier, has been operating for more than 50 years, making it one of the last traditional bakeries here.

It churns out hundreds of loaves of soft, handmade bread with no added preservatives daily, and customers can request spreads such as butter, kaya and peanut butter.

Mr Lai tastes the different types of bread that are made to ensure their quality is consistent.

The bakery stays open 24 hours and closes for only four days in a year during Chinese New Year.

 

Most of his 15 staff are old-timers who have been working there for more than a decade, with 83-year-old Neo Wee Seng the oldest.

Mr Lai is married, but, with no children, his bakery faces an uncertain future as he does not have a successor in mind.

"Good hires are hard to find," he says.

"Most youngsters prefer to work in an air-conditioned environment, and the toughest part of the job involves taking the bread out and standing in front of the hot oven."

But bread lovers can relax - he plans to keep the bakery going for as long as his workers are willing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2019, with the headline 'Loving the smell of bread and earning a crust at the same time'. Print Edition | Subscribe