With that little bit of history behind us, happenings in the last 20 to 25 years were fast and furious.
Singapore was hyperactive. Singaporeans continued to be laborious and hungry and commercial activities that used to be found only in the business districts spread their presence into the heartlands where rental is more palatable.
Food centres as they are now commonly called to make a distinct difference to those with wet market sprouted up following the businesses wherever they are opening. An organic evolution was subtly taking place at the same time.
We saw the transformation of traditional coffeeshops into mini food centres with the number of stalls increased to optimize the floor space, generating more rental revenue and at the same time multiplying the spread of offerings.
HDB expanded the floor size of its commercial space dedicated for coffeeshops, usually the corner units of a HDB block. They also began developing stand-alone food centres. This happened during the period where HDB commercial space are sold as leases instead of rental of the past.
What happened was the whole concept of F & B business has taken a twist to be partly a real estate play. Strategic locations near bus interchange or MRT stations saw unprecedented bids in open tender. A new category in the real estate listings was created.
Investor groupings took advantage of the opportunities presented before them and expanded their operations quickly. We saw the birth of groups like Kopitiam, Aik Hua, S11, First Partners, and Food Junction (mainly commercial malls).
Meanwhile rentals per stall continued to rise and so was food prices. Notwithstanding, these developments were not hostile to the average consumer as salaries too were rising in tandem.
Then, Singaporeans were less demanding and less discerning of the food offerings churned out by the continuous expansion of these food groups. It was simply a cloning process of replicating the same stalls at each of their outlets.
Yu Kee duck rice and kuay chap for example can be found in practically most of the food centres in Singapore. Chang Chern vegetable rice was part of the Aik Hua F&B group then run by the Pang brothers who later sold it to emerge again as Hawkerway and Kou Fu.
Essentially, when you step into any one of these respective outlets, you must expect the same food offerings that they also served elsewhere.
Meanwhile a parallel wing was growing, the food courts. The concept was brought in by the Jumabhoys with the help of singer and composer Dick Lee. They introduced the concept of hawker fares at the Scotts in Orchard Rd and named it Picnic. It proved popular, not just because i was there every other night but so were many other Singaporeans and visitors alike.
Food seemed to be a sure way of making money in Singapore, until reality strikes that all good things must come to an end, for some at least.
A shake up of the industry was on the way in the following article.