No Signboard Seafood founder dies at age of 74

Relatives and friends were at Madam Ong Kim Hoi’s wake yesterday. -- ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
Relatives and friends were at Madam Ong Kim Hoi’s wake yesterday. -- ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

The founder of popular restaurant chain No Signboard Seafood, Madam Ong Kim Hoi, died last Thursday at the age of 74.

The one-time hawker is said to have died of natural causes and had been in and out of hospital for the past three months with complications from a stroke she suffered nearly a decade ago. It had left her bedridden.

She leaves behind her husband Choo Ah Kow, 76, and three sons and two daughters, four of whom are in the family business.

In an obituary published in The Straits Times yesterday, her age was stated as 79. Her grandson Sam Lim, 37, said it is Chinese funeral custom to add five years to the ages of deceased elderly female family members.

Mr Lim is chairman of the home-grown chain that grew from a small stall run by Madam Ong at the Mattar Road hawker centre in Aljunied in the 1970s. It now has five outlets across Singapore, including those at the Esplanade and East Coast Park. It is famed for its white pepper crab created by Madam Ong.

The chain's distinctive name pays homage to its humble roots. Back then, the cash-strapped family could not afford a proper sign. Instead, they painted the plank above their stall orange. Patrons soon began to refer to it as "No Signboard".

Madam Ong died just before dawn on the eve of Chinese New Year. But the family was still reunited for their reunion dinner after her body was brought home for the seven-day wake, which ends on Wednesday.

"We were thinking of eating with her at home if she got better. In the end, we still did," said Mr Lim. "Maybe that's what she wanted."

A large tent has been set up outside the family's terraced house along Teow Hock Avenue in Yio Chu Kang, in anticipation of large crowds. Three of the chain's outlets in Geylang, East Coast and Clarke Quay will close tomorrow and Wednesday. The cortege will leave for Choa Chu Kang Cemetery at 1pm on Wednesday.

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