Longhouse to live on in two locations
WHEN a beloved hawker centre or coffee shop closes, there are usually laments from hawkers about finding a new place to do business, and from customers who will miss their favourite stalls.
The stallholders leaving the famous Longhouse food centre in Upper Thomson Road are a rather cheery lot, mostly because of what the owner has done to make moving out smooth.
The site was sold in January for $45.2 million to listed developer TEE Land and the centre's last day of operations is April 20.
Instead of being scattered here and there, the hawkers are likely to open in May at two locations. Six will set up shop at Balestier Market in Balestier Road, while five are moving to a coffee shop in Jalan Besar, near Jalan Besar Stadium. The owners of four other stalls, including Longhouse Roasted Meat and Asia Beef Noodle, have already vacated their stalls to look for new jobs or to return to their home countries.
Longhouse is run by Mr Ng Choon Gim, 62, whose late father bought the property for $678,000 in 1980.
The site was previously owned by oil giant Shell, which ran a petrol station there for more than 20 years. In 1980, fast-food chain A&W leased the site for eight years, followed by food-court operator Kopitiam Group, which leased the premises for two years.
The premises were vacant from 1990 to 2000 when Longhouse set up shop there. Mr Ng took over the business eight years ago, and turned it into the successful food haunt it is today.
He bought new equipment for all the stalls, organised a central supply of ingredients, and also tested many other stalls before getting the current crop of hawkers that have, as he says, "stood the test of time".
He admits that the sale of Longhouse was "very sudden", so he looked for stalls the hawkers could move to, including a potential spot in China Street. The hawkers, who do not have any contracts with him, will be able to take the equipment he bought for the stalls to their new premises.
He says that he encouraged those who have already left the food centre to look for other jobs, and gave them each a hongbao.
He hopes that the remaining hawkers will continue the Longhouse legacy after they move, by adding "Longhouse" to their signboards.
"It's my moral obligation to see them succeed," he says. "Being a hawker is a hard life and if they produce good food, they deserve the credit."
His Vietnam-born supervisors Vien Peh, 32, and Joey Kok, 28, who are Singapore permanent residents, have been helping him to manage the food centre. After the closure, they will continue to help the stalls moving to Jalan Besar.
Some of these include the popular Soon Kee Lor Duck Rice stall, Best Western Pasta & Grill, and Te Wei Popiah & Rojak.
Te Wei is run by husband-and-wife team Ong Tze Ghee, 41, who makes rojak, and Ong Wu Yun, 40, who makes popiah.
With the move to Jalan Besar, they are likely to sell only their popular rojak, as Mr Ong says that it is "too much work" to make popiah as well.
High rental is also a concern, Mrs Ong says.
She says in Mandarin: "Beginning at a new place can be tough. But as long as the food suits people, they will come back. We hope our regulars will remember us."
Mr Ong is the nephew of Mr Ong Tan Heng, 60, owner of Soon Kee Lor Duck Rice. To save costs, uncle and nephew will share the stall in Jalan Besar.
The rent there is about $1,000 more than what the elder Mr Ong is paying at Longhouse.
He says: "I won't stop just because we have to move. I will continue working until I cannot work anymore. I was surprised when we heard the news, but at least the stalls are moving together."
Mr Richard Ang of civil engineering company KTC Group, which manages Balestier Market, tells SundayLife! that the first stall from Longhouse, Longhouse Thai Cuisine, opens next month. The other stalls are likely to open by May.