Singapore, February 19, 2013
Like it or not, high rents are here to stay. But rather than whinge about it, a few restaurateurs are already trying to come to terms with this reality. The latest modus operandi to be tested: a common space with different day and night uses. After all, hawker stalls are already doing it with their day and night-shift operators, so why not casual restaurants?
Two months ago, seasoned restaurateur Victor Tan established Two Face, a casual pizzeria and bar that takes over an entire 1,200 square foot coffeeshop when the three hawker stalls there shut for the afternoon.
Dark wood panels - which double as chalkboard menus - keep out of sight the messy pails and brash stainless steel fixtures of the day-time operators, and tungsten lights are flicked on to create a sleepy, nostalgic ambience in the retro-chic space.
"This is not a novel concept, it's a practical concept. It was born out of necessity," says Mr Tan. "There are so many young people in Singapore with great ideas, but it's a pity the high rents prevent them from trying."
Echoing his view is Tan Kay Chuan, who holds the master tenancy for Ali Baba Eating House along East Coast Road. Earlier this month, Mr Tan completed his upgrade of the space, turning it into a regular coffeeshop by day, and a hawker bar - a place that serves hawker food in a Western bistro setting - by night, called Alibabar. All in the hopes of attracting more young patrons, as well as young chefs into the hawker trade. "It's going to change people's perception of a coffeeshop," he says. Food prices are kept the same as he's banking on increased patronage to help meet the overheads, he says.
One advantage of running a dual-concept space is that each one helps to market the other, says former corporate communications executive Beverly Yeoh, who runs day-time eatery Shoebox Canteen on North Canal Road. Come sundown, the 500 sq ft space opens up and becomes part of 1,600 sq ft bespoke cocktail bar, Bitters and Love. "When people find out about the bar hidden behind us at lunch, they immediately want to come back in the evenings for drink," says Ms Yeoh.
The more stark the contrast between the two distinct identities, the stronger their appeal, the restaurant owners say. Ms Yeoh elaborates: "We don't let people dine in the bar segment in the day, even when we are full, because it doesn't look at all like what it does at night. We want to protect the image and mood of Bitters and Love."
And as to whether the dual-shift restaurants can be the way of the future, most business owners agree that it is one that can't be easily duplicated. "In any food business, one size doesn't fit all," says Alibabar's Mr Tan. "It all depends on the business, your target audience and the demographic of the neighbourhood. What works in Katong may not work in Woodlands."
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