Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

More than just restaurants opening up in Joo Chiat

Most food-mad Singaporeans go on and on about the Teochew muay, wanton noodles, Peranakan fare and even the authentic all-American barbecue they can get in Joo Chiat. Yes, the area is chock-a-block with restaurants, but thanks to some new entrants — from a bespoke-jewellery business to women’s co-working space Woolf Works, change may be afoot.

Most food-mad Singaporeans go on and on about the Teochew muay, wanton noodles, Peranakan fare and even the authentic all-American barbecue they can get in Joo Chiat. Yes, the area is chock-a-block with restaurants, but thanks to some new entrants — from a bespoke-jewellery business to women’s co-working space Woolf Works, change may be afoot.

And that’s a good thing, says Celia Tham. A relative newcomer to the area herself, she opened the modern industrial-looking BLOC+ hair salon last December. “This area is well known for eateries. However, with these retail stores coming in, it will bring in a new crowd that not only wants to dine, but to shop as well,” she said, adding that she was drawn to Joo Chiat by its Peranakan shophouses and that customers love the fact that the salon isn’t in a mall.

Joo Chiat stalwart and Awfully Chocolate founder Lyn Lee, who has been here since her first store in 1998, “loves” her new neighbours, which include indie curio store Cat Socrates only a couple of doors down from Sinpopo (which is going through a “little makeover” at the moment and will reopen next month). “As a long-time business owner and resident here, I personally think Katong may be oversaturated with food places and generic Western ones, in particular,” she said. “It’s always good to see more independent store owners setting up shop in this heritage neighbourhood.”

While she enjoys the greater variety, she does rue the fact that older businesses haven’t been able to survive with landlords raising rents and cautions against going the way of Tiong Bahru. “I had hoped that as Singapore’s first officially designated Heritage Town, there could have been more effort put towards protecting local and older businesses. When the landlords just want to see returns on their investments, I fear you will see an erosion of history and heritage.”

HERITAGE HOOD

To help counter this seeming inevitability, Joo Chiat newbie Choo Yilin hopes to spark greater appreciation of the Peranakan heritage with her first standalone boutique. Previously, the founder of the eponymous six-year-old jewellery line would usually make private visits to customers and have her jewellery showcased in exclusive pop-ups. When it came to her own space, Choo wanted the location to reflect the jewellery’s emphasis on local culture and heritage. “Moreover, we’re a young start-up and it’s not practical for us to have a boutique on Orchard Road at the moment,” she explained.

Her spacious 1,000sqf boutique features a showroom at the front and a small office at the back. In keeping with its modern Asian aesthetics, the interiors are neutral, with pops of Peranakan and Asian artefacts, and decorative items such as a wooden window panel and vases sourced from Chinatown, the Internet and The Salvation Army. “We serve Nyonya kueh when we have tea sessions with our customers and we invite other artisans to conduct classes in our space too, such as a flower arrangement workshop,” said Choo, who hopes to do more of such collaborations.

CATS AND DOGS

Joo Chiat does flaunt a throwback look, dressed in well-preserved facades, which is why it would be hard to overlook indie curio store Cat Socrates with its whimsical yellow and white sunshade standing out from a row of shophouses. Hellen Jiang, the owner of the popular store at Bras Basah Complex, decided to expand last year. “I know this area and I like it,” said Jiang, who is also a resident in this area. “With Bras Basah Complex undergoing renovation, I wasn’t sure if our business there would be affected, so I started looking for another space last year.”

The high rents in shopping malls put her off and while she was hunting for a place in Joo Chiat, many of the units up for rental came with food licences. It was by sheer luck and timing that she got hers in June, taking over the space left vacant by a retiring business owner who ran a Singapore Pools outlet. Her new shop has seen a steady stream of customers on weekends since it opened early last month. “I do get more families here and more expats. And for some reason, the dog items do much better here. In Joo Chiat, our cat products are more popular,” she shared.

Most of the items at her Bras Basah space, from homeware to posters and ornaments, can be found in the new Joo Chiat store, although there are products such as leather bags which are exclusive here. Her most expensive item is Shanghai’s Forever C bicycle priced at S$640 and many customers as well as passers-by have been taking photos with it. “Customers say the shop is like a breath of fresh air. And they tell me they hope to see more of such shops in Joo Chiat,” Jiang revealed. Will Jiang ever have a cafe extension to showcase her beautifully curated products? “No. It’s too stressful to go into F&B.”

ARTY-FARTY

Further afield is Aart Boxx, an interior design firm, which could be easily mistaken for a cafe in-the-works with its floor-to-ceiling glass doors, blonde wood tables, hanging bulbs and a wooden sign that reads Come In, We’re Open. “I set up the company in March and I’d say that our strength is in Scandinavian-inspired and industrial looks,” explained director Ivan Lin. And, no, he did not set out to deliberately mislead curious passers-by with his cool office set-up. “The glass door is part of the building structure — we can’t change it. We can only beautify the place,” he laughed.

And it’s a good way to demonstrate what he and his team do for their residential projects and corporate clients, which include the likes of Ice Cream Skool cafe (see, we knew there’s a cafe to boot somewhere) and shoe shop Carl & Oak. His Joo Chiat office even boasts stucco walls, cement screed floor and tables fashioned out of pellets, which Lin explained can be easily customised for customers.

As for what drew him to Joo Chiat, he cited that the neighbourhood is a catchment for ID firms and rents here are lower than in other ID clusters, such as Balestier and Jalan Besar. “And there’s good food here!”

Choo Yilin is at 331 Joo Chiat Road; Cat Socrates is at 448 Joo Chiat Road; Aart Boxx is at 307 Joo Chiat Road; BLOC+ Salon is at 462 Joo Chiat Road.

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.

Aa