Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre: The Forsaken Place
By Victoria Lim - Tuesday, Sep 01, 2015
We pride ourselves about ‘it’, overseas celebrities make it a point to visit ‘it’ (mostly at Newton and Gluttons Bay) and politicians frequent ‘it’ (they even like to instgram it). The ‘it’ refers to our hawker centres. Hawker centres are the heart of our culture, they are our identity. We cannot deny this fact. Even politicians carry out their rounds there; not in the community centre, where the purpose of the building was to gather the community together in one place.
The first Singapore government hawker centre, in 1971 at Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre has now become a shadow of its former glory – I spent two days at Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre and it was a reminiscent of a ghost town, during lunch hour owners could be seen swatting flies by empty tables. This is also the place frequently quote when unsettling noises are made about expensive rents at hawker centre.
Despite the upgrading, five storey building with creative architecture designs – “more space, better ventilation and better facilities for the residents and hawkers” – resistance and complains are plenty. “I think the design of the building is not very friendly for us (hawkers). Railings are blocking our customers from forming a queue, stalls at the back are neglected and we have to draw lots to decide where our stall is going to be,” says Madam Juliayn Yeo, 64-year-old owner of Star Plus Traditional Goodness Freshly Made Soya Bean.
In 2012, a hawker bid for a stall in the food centre for $21 a month and won the bid, but according to the long-time stall owners, the person did not show up for work. So was it the lack of crowd, bad location and/or unpreparedness that drove him away? We are still clueless. But here are some (hard) lessons we learned and observed from Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre.
1/ There is no guarantee that there will be success
Sorry to burst your bubbles, all you young and eager hawkerpreneurs who thinks that setting up a stall is as easy as ordering a plate of char kway teow mai towgay (without beansprouts), vegetables and blood cockles. It isn’t.
We have heard of horror stories of how in the span of ten years, stall 65 has switched more than half a dozen owners, and hawkers who only operate for a day before calling it quits. Even if you pick up skills from a top flight first generation hawker it does not equate to instant success. “We are just getting by with whatever we have,” says 76-year-oldKoo Kin San who has been selling prawn noodles since 1972.
2/ Location does matter
A good 15 minutes brisk walk or 10 minutes bus ride from Lakeside station is required to reach Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre. Surrounded by HDB flats and factories, the bulk of the customers are factory workers and the residents. With the recent shifting of several factories – their lease was up – the pool of individuals visiting the centre has shrunk despite being framed by a residential estate.
3/ You’ve got to move with the times
It’ll soon be 2016, and no longer are we still caught in the 60s, where hawker stalls exist solely to provide food for people. With globalizations and expectations of the new generations, many new innovative eateries are popping up with more varieties for consumers with a more attractive setting and presentation. “The slice of cake (consumers) is now being shared with many more eaters (F&B owners)” says Ong Bee Hiang, 52-year-old owner of Ginga Vegetarian Food.
That said, in order to last, one must adjust their flavours and look of the shop to attract more new customers. Think; decluttering the stall and getting rid of that holey wife-beater, replacing it with a clean crisp white shirt – pleasing to the (customer) eyes. It helps if you knew a trick or two about customer service..like a nice smile, a friendly comment and slipping in upselling tricks.
4/ Your food has got to be good
It is a tried and tested formula, a guarantee-plus-chop plan to survive. Singaporeans are known to be picky eaters, with a taste that captures their attention, and you’ve won half the battle. Case in point, Tai Hwa Pork Noodle at Crawford Lane for their sumptuous bak chor mee that requires 30 minutes of waiting time or Mei Xiang Lor Mee at Old Airport Road food centre. It is really about fast efficient service and unforgivingly good food
Fact is, all of us, not just those in the street food business, have to move with the times- they are a changing. While deliciousness is timeless, we must keep up with the times to deliver it appropriately.