It’s not hard to see why these popular local chicken rice chains are a hit with Singaporeans.
Photo: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS
In 1979, founder Thian Boon Hua started Boon Tong Kee as a stall in Chinatown serving Cantonese chicken rice. Business took off and Thian rallied his family to establish Boon Tong Kee’s first restaurant in Balestier Road in 1983.
In 1999, the business evolved and zi char dishes were included on the menu. At present, it has seven outlets, including those in Ang Mo Kio and Bukit Timah. It also retails its own line of sauces such as chilli sauce, ginger paste and XO sauce. In an interview with The New Paper in 2013, Thian said his biggest challenge was the bird flu scare, which hit in February and August 2004.
He said: “It was such a low point in my life. I was very worried but I had to be responsible to all the staff under me. I always told them that we were going to make it no matter how bad it was. I had to step up to be a strong leader.”
Photo: LIANHE WANBAO
Loy Kee’s history goes back to the 1940s when its Hainan-born founder, Loy Nie In, came to Singapore and started selling porridge. In 1953, Loy, together with his wife, Madam Qua Tee, set up a stall at the now-defunct Raymond Market in Balestier selling Hainanese chicken rice and chicken porridge.
His son, James Loy, took over the business and, in 1995, owned 13 Loy Kee Chicken Rice outlets. In 2010, James Loy’s elder brother, Loy Sai Hong, was still running the stall originally opened by their father at Block 91, Whampoa Drive.
In an interview with The Straits Times in 2010, Loy Sai Hong said that his father started selling chicken rice to cater to construction workers, who formed the majority of his customers in the early 1950s. In the early 2000s, Loy Kee closed its foodcourt outlets and continued to operate two restaurants – its flagship in Balestier and one in Woodlands. It closed its Woodlands restaurant in May last year when the lease expired.
At present, James Loy’s daughter, Angeline Loy, 27, helps him manage the Balestier restaurant. Loy Kee also opened an outlet in Ho Chi Minh City in January and will open a second outlet there in November. James Loy’s son, Sebastian Loy, 34, who is a director of Loy Kee International, said there are plans to open a second Singapore outlet by the middle of next year. He said the company is also planning to franchise its chicken rice business overseas.
342 Balestier Rd, 329774
Photo: ST FILE
Opened in 1935 by Lim Kim Choon, Chin Chin Eating House was originally located at 24 Seah Street. Lim died during the Japanese occupation and his son, Lim Hong Pow, who was 15 at the time, took over. The Hainanese coffee shop became famous for its chicken rice and pork chop.
The younger Lim ran the business with his wife, Tan Quee Wah, until 2002 when the couple, then aged 72, decided to close the business as their rented shop house was due for redevelopment. Their children, David and Janet, started a coffee shop under the Chin Chin name in Perth.
In 2003, due to overwhelming response from former customers, Lim Hong Pow’s other sons, Randy and Dennis, reopened Chin Chin Eating House at its current location at 19 Purvis Street. It sold Chin Chin’s signature dishes as well as new ones, including Hainanese prawn rolls and steamed stuffed fish maw.
19 Purvis St, 188598
Photo: ST FILE
Pow Sing was started in 1983 by Lee Chin Soo and Steven Tan, who wanted to present their version of Hainanese chicken rice. They opened Pow Sing Hainanese Chicken Rice stall in Serangoon Garden Way, which later evolved into a restaurant selling chicken rice. The restaurant also won over patrons with its other dishes, such as Nonya Otak Otak, Crispy Fried Chicken Wing with Prawn Paste and Fish Head Curry.
The management later opened Pow Sing Kitchen nearby, with a menu that included wonton noodles and roast meat dishes, in addition to chicken rice. In 2016, the National Environment Agency suspended the licences of both restaurants due to suspected cases of gastroenteritis reported by its patrons. The restaurants reopened after the month-long suspension.
In April this year, Pow Sing opened its third outlet – the 120-seat Pow Sing Restaurant, which specialises in Peranakan cuisine and chicken rice, at Jewel Changi Airport’s Basement 2.
59 Serangoon Garden Way, 555961
Wee Toon Ouut, founder of popular local chicken rice chain Wee Nam Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant, died on Oct 13.
In an interview with The Straits Times in 2013, Wee admitted that he was initially not serious about the chicken rice brand that would eventually make his name. He had entered the chicken rice business by chance in the 1980s, taking over a friend’s chicken rice stall after it had run into financial troubles.
Wee said then: “I took the restaurant on as a hobby. I saw it as a ‘play-play’ kind of restaurant. I thought I could sell it later and had no intention of carrying on the business.” It was only later in the 1990s that he started to get interested in the business, eventually turning Wee Nam Kee into the household name that it is today.
By Hedy Khoo + Clement Yong, The Straits Times, October 2019