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‘Think twice before starting an F&B,’ KF Seetoh reveals hawkers’ hardship in Singapore

KF Seetoh disclosed on FB that CoCo Rice, a beloved nasi lemak stall, will close by March’s end. Highlighting challenges like high costs and limited manpower, he unveils the struggles faced by local hawkers striving to create delectable, authentic dishes for the public.



“If anyone is looking to start an F&B (food and beverage) or hawker stall (businesses) in Singapore, be very careful. I urge you to think twice,” this advice comes from KF Seetoh, a renowned Singaporean food critic and the founder of Makansutra.

In a recent Facebook post, Mr Seetoh shed light on the formidable challenges faced by local hawkers, including high operational costs and a shortage of manpower, despite their passionate efforts to produce delectable and authentic dishes for the public.

Sharing a post on Monday (11 March), Mr Seetoh featured Aries Chan, the founder of CoCo Rice, renowned for her flagship blue pea flower (also known as butterfly pea flower) nasi lemak dish, beloved by clients and the community.

Mr Seetoh disclosed that Ms Chan’s business will cease operations by the end of March, with potential plans for a restart in the future.

This decision was also confirmed by Ms Chan on her business’s official Facebook page earlier on 6 March.

The Coco Rice bid farewell

In her post, Ms Chan shared the heartfelt decision to bid farewell to her nasi lemak business after three years of serving at Tiong Bahru Hawker Centre.

“This decision has not been made lightly. We are immensely grateful for the unwavering support and love that you, our cherished customers and supporters, have shown us throughout our time here. ”

“Your patronage has not only sustained us but has also inspired us to continually strive for excellence in every dish we served.”

Reflecting on the hawker’s journey, Ms Chan described it as nothing short of extraordinary, starting from humble beginnings and garnering numerous awards, government collaborations, and recognition from esteemed influencers and media outlets.

The closure, according to the announcement, is a result of a strategic shift in the business. The Coco Rice looks forward to exploring new opportunities and avenues for growth.

She reassured loyal customers that her commitment to delivering exceptional flavours and experiences would remain unwavering.

The closure applies to both Tiong Bahru and One Punggol hawker locations, marking the end of an era for The Coco Rice’s presence in these areas.

From marketer to culinary entrepreneur

In commenting on Ms Chan’s business closure, Mr Seetoh expressed a poignant perspective, stating, “Your passion, dreams and vision can merely be dust in the wind if society gives you no support to fly that ambition.”

He highlighted Ms Chan’s bold decision to leave her marketing job to pursue her passion for creating delicious dishes for the community.

Despite Ms Chan’s ambitious vision of expanding to ten outlets and establishing a central kitchen in Tampines, challenges arose.

Mr Seetoh shared that the Punggol Socially-conscious Enterprise Hawker Centre (SEHC) management allegedly instructed her to sell nasi kandar instead of her flagship nasi lemak, posing a challenge as it wasn’t her forte.

Mr Seetoh further highlighted the business was impacted by the burden of high operational costs, and the public’s expectation of affordable hawker food may have contributed to reduced profit margins and financial strain on the business.

The shortage of manpower, coupled with restrictions on hiring foreigners, further compounded the difficulties, with Ms Chan revealing, “Some months were minus revenue.”

Citing the overall challenging environment for operating Food & Beverage (F&B) or hawker stalls in Singapore, Mr Seetoh cautioned potential entrepreneurs to “think twice” before entering the industry, emphasizing the perceived lack of support and representation for their causes and passions.

“There’s no support for your cause and passion, no one represents your problem and concerns.”

Describing the SEHC business models as “non-negotiable,” Mr Seetoh questioned their flexibility and adaptability in regulations and policies governing these establishments.

He challenged the term “nonprofit” within SEHC contexts, revealing that these entities can generate substantial revenue, such as the SEHC at Old Airport Road Hawker Centre, which he claimed rakes in an estimated half a million dollars monthly.

“On average, the SEHC at Old Airport Rd hawkers, rake in an estimated half a million bucks, yes $500,000.00 a month, (averaging 180 stalls at $2k rent each plus $700 on cleaning fees)”

“What social enterprise, where does it go, how does it help, protect and preserve our hawker culture?” Mr Seetoh challenged.

MSE dismissed suggestion to allow elderly hawkers to hire foreign workers

According to a Parliamentary written response from Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment (MSE), only Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents are permitted to operate and work in hawker centres managed by the National Environment Agency (NEA) or NEA-appointed operators.

The strict policy aims to “safeguard and preserve the local identity of Singapore’s hawker culture,” as emphasized by Ms Fu in her response to PQ filed by Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Dr Tan Yia Swam in April last year.

Dr Tan had suggested exploring the possibility of allowing hawkers aged 60 and above to hire a foreign worker. The purpose would be to assist with tasks such as food preparation and training, to preserve the rich hawker culture.

However, Ms Fu indicated that the current regulations were in place to maintain the integrity of the local hawker’s identity.

To address the persistent manpower challenges faced by our hawkers, the government has implemented various schemes to encourage the adoption of technology.

“For instance, we recently enhanced the Hawkers’ Productivity Grant which provides hawkers with up to 80% co-funding support capped at S$7,000, for stall-level kitchen automation equipment and digital services solutions such as e-ordering and queue management.”

Minister Fu: Median stall rental rates at SEHCs “comparable” to NEA-operated hawker centres

Mr Leong Mun Wai, Non-Constituency MP from Progress Singapore Party (PSP), filed a separate PQ on 10 January this year, seeking information from the MSE Minister regarding the operational aspects of hawker centres run by social enterprises as of 31 December 2023.

He inquired about the number of hawker centres operated by social enterprises, and the comparative costs of various expenses such as rent, table-cleaning, dishwashing fees, and parking fees at social enterprise-operated hawker centres versus those operated by the NEA.

Additionally, he questioned whether these costs are regulated by the government and, if not, the reasons behind this.

In response, Ms Fu confirmed that as of 31 Dec 2023, 12 hawker centres are operated by SEHC operators.

To maintain reasonable and affordable stall rentals at SEHCs, the NEA evaluates bids by considering proposed rental rates, operating costs, and ancillary expenses like table cleaning fees and central dishwashing charges.

It is emphasized that operators are prohibited from deviating from the rental terms stated in the tender bid or subjecting stall rentals to competitive bidding.

The operator is not allowed to charge stallholders rent that differs from that stated in the tender bid or subject the stall rentals to bidding.

Ms. Fu defended the fairness of stall rentals at SEHCs, stating that the median rates are “comparable” to those at similar hawker centres operated by the NEA.

“The ancillary costs of business operations at SEHCs, such as table-cleaning fees and centralised dishwashing (CDW) services, are also comparable with those at similar hawker centres operated by NEA.”

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Social Enterprise What???
All under the Ministry gets their salaries from there.
So Social.

I have always questioned the existence of the so-called Social Enterprise Hawker Centres. The term “social enterprise” is meant to give a veneer of respectability; that these centres exist to provide employment to hawkers a fair income and at the same time provide very affordable food to Singaporeans. In reality, if we were to patronise any of these “social enterprise” outlets, we find the food similar to other hawker centres with prices non- competitive. To me, the term “social enterprise” is really meaningless and frankly, quite misleading. These SEHCs are out to make money and that is not wrong. Just… Read more »

Singaporeans want cheap and good. No such thing. Cheap cannot be good Good cannot be cheap. Sauces made from scratch and not from a commercial bottle takes effort, raw ingredients, time. Fish ball made from scratch and not from a factory takes time, effort and raw ingredients. But many do not believe and expect ‘good’ quality. Hawker works 6 days a week Starts at 5am, some even earlier Stops at 5pm, non stop, wash stall, wash utensils. Go home by 6pm… crash… Everything starts again next day wakes up 4am. No medical leave No paid ‘off days’.. stall not open,… Read more »

Mr Seetoh looks a bit naive, but tho must agree his warning is thoroughly valid – one should think THRICE or Even More times, not just twice.

If u are big, but real big, the entice of hiring Malaysians, or Ah Tiongs are there, courtesy of PAP Administration who gives out permits quite freely those who work in F and B.