Jul 14, 2014

    Hip joints sprout in Bedok

    BEDOK 85 hawker centre has always been a gem of the East. It boasts a wide spread of local fare, such as BBQ chicken wings, sambal stingray, fried oyster omelette and, of course, the famous bak chor mee.

    So when 39-year-old Ivan Teo first opened his gelato parlour IScream, he was eager to tap the supper crowd that would swarm the area every night without fail.

    "There's a lot of night traffic here, so we thought Bedok as a neighbourhood is a good place to start a business," says Mr Teo, who also runs other F&B ventures such as Arteastiq at Mandarin Gallery.

    "The rent is not that expensive, and the risk is less. So we wanted to use this as a testbed for the business."

    He adds that while looking for a good location, he found similar-sized spaces in other heartland areas going for four times his current rental.

    And it seems he wasn't the only one scoping out Bedok North as a place to start a business. In fact, two other cafes have popped up in the vicinity in the last few months, adding to the variety of dining options in the area.

    One of them is To-Gather Cafe, which is also located just around the corner from Bedok 85. Opened in December last year, it is run by three girls - sisters Hong Wei Ting, 22, and Wei Ling, 25, along with their cousin Crystal Yeo, 25.

    Like Mr Teo, they, too, were attracted by the lower rent in the area because it allowed them to keep their food prices affordable. According to Ms Hong Wei Ling, their main reason for choosing Bedok was that they grew up there.

    "This place holds most of our childhood memories," she says. "From playing at the nearby playground, to helping out at our aunts' shops, to patronising our favourite eateries nearby, we're really attached to this place."

    So far, their customer base includes families young and old, students, housewives, and even groups of senior citizens looking for a place to eat with friends.

    The other new entrant is Percolate - a speciality coffee joint that's about a 10-minute walk from Bedok 85, run by 27-year-old Avin Tan and his partner Vincent Ng, 26.

    They settled on the location because they were on the lookout for "a neighbourhood vibe with an oldie charm" and stumbled across the place by chance, says Mr Tan.

    The other reason is that as Easties themselves, they had noticed a lack of cafes (with the exception of perhaps Penny University and Chock Full of Beans) catering to the highly populated East area.

    But as Mr Tan points out, it was still a risky move because, in general, the heartland areas have not been tried and tested for F&B concepts such as speciality coffee.

    "It may not be a concept that is readily accepted by locals and particularly the senior community as they are probably more familiar with their traditional 'kopi'," he says. "But what we want to do is introduce and educate people on what speciality coffee is about, and why we are so passionate about it."

    But even with these new eateries opening around the Bedok North area, it seems the area is too spread out to qualify as the next "hipster hangout" spot.

    Traditional shops still dominate, but Mr Teo hopes more young entrepreneurs will follow in their footsteps. "The more the merrier," he says. "If more places like ours open, then more people will be aware, and the place will be more interesting, and attract more customers."

    In the meantime, Ms Hong Wei Ling points out that the current state of affairs has a silver lining.

    She explains: "The people here are nice because the shops are mature, so it's not very competitive. Like we always buy eggs from the shop next door and they are very friendly. It's very harmonious that way."