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Eateries struggle with shisha off menu

TIME IS RUNNING OUT: Customers smoking shisha at the Derwish Turkish restaurant in Bussorah Street. The ban allows for existing retailers to sell it until July 31 to enable them to restructure their business.


    Jul 28, 2016

    Eateries struggle with shisha off menu

    TIME has run out for establishments here that have had shisha tobacco on the menu to phase it out and find other business models.

    From Monday, they will have to stop serving shisha.

    It was banned in November 2014 but the authorities allowed existing retailers and importers to sell it until July 31 this year.

    But many of them say shisha was their main offering and that they have been unable to find other sustainable models.

    Thus, they say, it is the end of the line for them too.

    The Ministry of Health said when the tobacco was banned that the grace period was to allow retailers "ample time to deplete their stock and restructure their business away from shisha".

    However, 18 out of 20 cafes and restaurants contacted in the Kampong Glam and Boat Quay areas said non-shisha models they have tried have not worked well.

    When The Straits Times visited last Friday, two licensed restaurants were selling shisha: Derwish Turkish restaurant in Bussorah Street and the Sahara restaurant in Boat Quay.

    Twelve out of 14 restaurants that have depleted their stock of shisha in the past year said they lost about 60 per cent of their customers after they stopped providing the product.

    The remaining two put their loss at about 90 per cent.

    Esad Sedjic, 46, who owns four restaurants, including Sahara, said: "I tried to restructure my business model, focusing on Mediterranean cuisine and expanding the menu, but it has been unsuccessful, as our patrons come solely for shisha.

    "I have already put up two of my restaurants for sale."

    Mahmoud Mohamed, who owns Elhalal restaurant in Haji Lane, plans to sell his business soon.

    The 28-year-old said since he stopped selling shisha 15 months ago, his customer numbers have dropped drastically.

    He added: "I am only able to serve three to five tables in a day. The business is not profitable for me anymore."

    Despite the challenges, some cafe owners, such as the owner of Derwish Turkish, Mohamad Salim, 35, agrees with the rationale behind the ban.

    "Before, this area used to see many underage smokers, lower seating capacity and fights breaking out regularly.

    "Now, I see more families and children frequenting the area and it is peaceful here."

    Mr Salim has closed two other restaurants he owned. At his remaining establishment, he focused on improving the menu and building a family-friendly ambience.

    He has opened a new eatery in Bussorah street, called Lubnan, which focuses on food and beverage.

    The owner of Blue Jaz cafe in Bali Lane, Jose Villanueva, 45, has also taken the ban in his stride.

    "After we stopped selling shisha in December, we saw a dip in business but we managed to sustain the business.

    "The sale of shisha tobacco is not our bread and butter."