With its cheerful ambiance, kooky graphics and swirling fans, Ow Meeting Place in Kim Tian Road is the epitome of a Singaporean family-owned and run kopitiam or foodcourt – the type that was everywhere in Singapore in the ’80s.
The one thing you would not hear amid the clink of glass cups, chaotic chat and raucous laughter at this foodcourt is price hikes. And complaints about food quality.
Good news for those who love their zi char (wok-fried) dishes! This foodcourt run by the Ow family will ensure that the quality and prices of your dishes stay the same for the next two decades, at least as promised by the operator. A plate of chicken rice costs S$3 and a cup of coffee stands at S$1.10.
Says 2nd-generation owner and chef Edric Ow: “This is the Ow family’s very own business. We keep our prices reasonable so that people can enjoy our food. What’s more important is that you must keep yourself full every day so that you don’t have to go hungry.”
Singapore’s hawker food scene has evolved from street food peddlers to concept themed outfits. Large corporations or Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) snap up large spaces and then rent it to foodcourt operators. Almost 90 per cent of Singapore’s food courts are backed by large businesses or REITs.
Foodcourt operators, the likes of Food Republic and Kopitiam, are wooed by these organisations to start a Food & Beverages operation in new malls. This inadvertently drives up rental costs and, with inflation and a tight manpower situation, foodcourt stall owners are finding it tough to maintain the prices of their food items.
Some stall owners are forced to pay through their noses for their ingredients. Others have yet to see their paycheques. In the case of Banquet, it was reported in both mainstream and social media that the now defunct foodcourt operator owed some of its tenants money.
In such a business model, foodcourt stall owners are not treated as business owners. They are seen as mere employees who work long hours to fulfill a contractual obligation and increase their operators’ bottom-lines. They are pegged to Key Performance Indicators and part of their profits go to paying the space on behalf of the foodcourt operators.
As a result, the quality of food served in foodcourts has, over the years, drastically taken a dive. Prices, on the other hand, has steadily increased.
Edric’s family want their very own space. Although he claims that he is doing his family a favour by keeping everyone together like in the old days, it is the rising cost of living and monopolistic practices of large businesses and REITs that drove the Ows to buy over the space at 127 Kim Tian Road. Otherwise they, like many independent foodcourt stall owners, would have joined everyone else in the the foodcourt jungle.