SINGAPORE - Residents in Jurong now have more food options to choose from.
A new hawker centre-cum-market, located in Jurong West Street 61, has just opened, offering 34 cooked food stalls and 14 market stalls.
But the 500-seat centre is a little different - it is managed on a not-for-profit basis by food operator Koufu's subsidiary Hawker Management, a social enterprise.
The aim, among other objectives, is to keep prices low and pump back income into the centre and the community.
For instance, each cooked food stall there sells two regular-portion dishes at $2.80 each.
The centre is part of the National Environment Agency's (NEA) efforts in exploring alternative management models for hawker centres by engaging "socially conscious" operators to improve operational efficiency while ensuring affordable food.
Mr David Yang, chief operating officer of Hawker Management, said the enterprise is offering practical support to stallholders to keep the hawker culture going and to help preserve traditional skills and flavours.
For instance, it has been helping to groom and guide six "hawkerpreneurs". Under this scheme, the management also gives subsidies to lower initial capital costs, such as by offering lower rental rates starting from $1,500, free stall signage, and free rent in the first month.
Mr Yang said: "Hawker centres are an indispensable part of Singapore's food-loving DNA and many of us have fond memories tied to our neighbourhood markets and favourite hawker dishes.
"By working together with the community to impart, share and support an environment for the hawker trade to adapt and flourish, we hope to do our part to ensure that hawker centres remain a place we hold dear, for generations to come."
One hawkerpreneur, Mr Jackson Tan, 24, who sells fusion Western and Korean vegetarian food, said the scheme is attractive as rents are much more affordable than those at regular hawker centres and foodcourts.
Another hawkerpreneur, Ms Lim Peck Ngoh, 42, who runs a stall selling nasi lemak, said Hawker Management guided her along in the early stages of the process by, for instance, teaching her how to apply for an NEA licence.
Ms Lim had been working as a planner and buyer in the engineering industry for 20 years and recently decided to switch careers to carry on her mother's legacy. Her retired 72-year-old mother used to sell nasi lemak in Outram.
"I eventually hope to set up a food empire in Singapore and overseas," said Ms Lim.
Mr Yang added that interest for the scheme was good and that it had received 80 applications.
This is Koufu's first such centre.
Mr Patrick Tay, an MP for West Coast GRC, who officially opened the centre alongside fellow MP Cedric Foo and Senior Minister of State for Health and the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor, said that it has been a "much-awaited addition" to the community.
Mr Tay said: "I am pleased to see that residents are enjoying the variety of stalls and the modern conveniences offered. The social initiatives that will be rolled out also makes this hawker centre a natural gathering place for residents to bond and enjoy their meals together."
Resident Kathy Quek, 34, a housewife, said that she appreciates the convenience of having a new hawker centre near her home. She added: "It is also good that people new to the hawker trade are given help and encouragement to create interesting food for the community."