Singapore

Food For Thought shuts at Botanic Gardens

Food For Thought shuts at Botanic Gardens
Food For Thought's outlet at the Botanic Gardens will close, but will open a new child-focused outlet nearby at Jacob Ballas Children's Garden. Photo: Kenneth Cheng
But it will open a child-focused cafe at Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden in November
Published: 12:50 AM, August 13, 2017
Updated: 5:30 AM, August 13, 2017

SINGAPORE — Nearly six years after it opened, social enterprise Food For Thought has closed its largest outlet at the Singapore Botanic Gardens after failing to secure a new lease for the space.

Sunday (Aug 13) is the outlet’s last day of operations; and the National Parks Board (NParks) said a new operator, Food Paradise Enterprise Holding, is expected to open for business by early next year.

Food For Thought’s lease for the space, which is about 900sqm, was to end in October. NParks, which runs the Botanic Gardens, called a tender in April that attracted four bidders including Spize and Wangzai Hongkong Cafe. Food For Thought’s bid of S$8,896 for a licence to run the space was the second-lowest, while Food Paradise Enterprise Holding had the highest bid of S$15,015, according to data published on the government procurement portal GeBiz.

Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin, director of The Thought Collective, which comprises several firms including Food For Thought, said the space had been put up for tender with new requirements, including the need to focus on local food options at a “lower price point”.

“We were prepared to continue even with the required change of concept but ... our tender bid was ultimately unsuccessful,” she said.

The social enterprise had closed its outlet at the Singapore Art Museum at 8 Queen Street last September at the tail-end of its lease, and also because it had secured a location at the National Museum of Singapore, said Ms Kuik.

In the pipeline is a “much smaller” cafe called Food For Tots at the new extension of the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden, which is part of the Botanic Gardens. The cafe will open in November.

In a Facebook post last week, Food For Thought said the new outlet will be more child-focused and host “family-friendly fests every quarter that encourage parents and children from different families to learn from and learn with one another”.

Ms Kuik said it hopes to run bilingual reading sessions and is discussing with social sector players how best it can support efforts to meet the nutritional and educational needs of children from less privileged families.

She said of the social enterprise’s food-and-beverage (F&B) experience: “We had to learn many basic things ... through costly trial and error.”

In recent years, the sector has also been hit by rising costs and shrinking profit margins. Average customer spending has also tumbled and the social enterprise has seen slower footfall, she said.

Unlike larger players with deeper pockets and more “economies of scale” to invest in technological and marketing efforts, for instance, small- and medium-sized players have had a harder time, said Ms Kuik, whose firm offers flexible working hours to single parents and mature workers. It also offers patrons water for free and encourages them to donate to its well-building fund, which goes towards communities in India.

Most patrons who spoke to TODAY at the Botanic Gardens outlet on Friday were unaware it was closing, despite notices placed in and outside the eatery.

Housewife Sofia Seah, 31, who has a 1.5-year-old daughter, visits the eatery every six months. She praised the helpful employees and the “kid-friendly” environment.

“There’s a lot of space, they provide kids’ cutlery and there are food options for children,” she said.

Fitness trainer Angelin Wong, 47, visits every three months after a walk in the gardens. “It’s not like the cafes at Orchard Road,” she said of its spacious premises and quiet atmosphere on weekdays.

Mr Wilfrid Wong, 45, enjoyed the eatery’s proximity to the gardens and its open spaces. The banker said of its social causes: “It’s a very noble mission. In Singapore, we need more of this. Sometimes, we’re too focused on making money.”

Dr Nigel Taylor, the gardens’ group director, said it “continually strives to provide a variety of family-friendly, quality and value-for-money dining options”.

Other eateries in the Botanic Gardens, Singapore’s only World Heritage Site, include upscale restaurant Corner House as well as Halia restaurant, which was recently halal-certified.