By Terry Xu
A well-known eating house especially amongst the local elderly for its roasted duck and Hong Kong style roast products, will be closing on 28th April.
It is another of several old restaurants which have closed down in Singapore in recent times.
Madam Yip, or “Yip Tai” (Lady Yip as how customers call her), the owner of the Hong Kong Jin Tian Eating House in Tiong Bahru, sat down and had a little chat with TOC on why she is shutting the doors.
Speaking in a mix of Chinese and Cantonese, she shared how her husband came over from Hong Kong to Singapore more than 20 years ago and subsequently opened this small stall in Tiong Bahru.
Mdm Yip says having to hire 7-8 persons to run a roast meat restaurant is no easy task especially when the restaurant promotes it dishes as authentic Hong Kong cuisine.
She explains that though people think that the shop earns a lot, but in reality they only make a marginal profit. Taking for example, a duck would cost around $19 to them, while they sells it off at $38 each.
To her, business has been good, and the shop has its fair share of old devoted customers.
Just within our short one hour interview, more than 7 individuals came up to Mdm Yip to express their sadness in seeing the shop close and asked if she and her husband will be opening a new shop soon.
Mdm Yip told us that there is one customer of hers who is 80-years old who, after hearing that Mdm Yip was closing the business, visits the shop every alternate day now.
Mdm Yip gave two main reasons why they have decided to close the shop.
First, the rental of the shop will be increased from $8,000 per month to $12,000 per month in the 3 year contract that was offered to them. Ten years ago, her monthly rent was $3800.
Second, as the shop employs a few foreign workers to act as helpers, the rise in work levy will significantly increase her costs.
“Is there any burden placed upon the government by hiring of foreign workers to being with?” asked Mdm Yip. She bluntly asked if there were any justifications for the increase in work permit levy. She is currently paying over $500 for the work levies on top of the other expenses for the foreign workers. This is set to be increased further next year.
She explained that she had tried to hire local helpers through the ads in the Chinese newspapers, but no one responded. Even when she offered S$2,000 for a helper, those who came only worked for a short while before they left, citing the working conditions as reasons.
But Mdm Yip said that it is not that the conditions are bad, but that it is expected that one has to toil long hours, and work in a hot and humid working environment in the food business. Mdm Yip said that Singaporeans are picky when it comes to finding a job and would rather seek jobs in a comfortable environment. But she did wonder why she did not face this problem of hiring locals to fill the job ten years ago.
Mdm Yip said, “The price hike is not raised proportionally,” referring to the rental and work permit levies. She added that they could manage the gradual hikes in raw ingredients and other expenses but not these two. She no longer knows how to factor these two costs into her cost estimates to make the business work.
Rather than waiting for the inevitable, she and her husband decided to throw in the towel earlier.
Mdm Yip lamented that she would have wanted her two sons to take over the shop after their national service and studies. However in light of the trend of price hikes that she is seeing, she does not think this is feasible anymore.
“Impossible,” she said in Cantonese and regretted having her sons to waste several years of their lives learning the skills of the trade.
Asked if she intends to re-open a shop somewhere soon, she said that they have thought of it before, like renting a stall from the government-run hawker centres.
However they will not be able to hire foreign workers as helpers, and they are already of a certain age. The more they think of how they are going to sustain the business, the more they think twice about reopening another shop.
She thinks that eventually all shops like hers may have to close with the current trend of hikes in rentals and the rising costs of work levies.