KARU'S INDIAN BANANA LEAF RESTAURANT
Where: 05-01 Sime Darby Centre, 896 Dunearn Road
Open: 10.30am to 10pm, Tuesdays to Sundays; closed on Mondays
Info: Call 6762-7284 or go to www.karusindianrestaurant.com
When Karu's Indian Banana Leaf Restaurant was located in Upper Bukit Timah Road, diners had to grapple with limited parking lots and a no-reservations policy because the restaurant could seat only 90.
After 23 years there, owner Nallappan Subramaniyam, 51, decided to upgrade his business to a 200-seat restaurant in Sime Darby Centre in Dunearn Road.
The new establishment, which has been open for a month, is twice as big.
"For years, the growth of my business was limited by the restaurant's seating capacity," he says. "We had to turn away customers during peak hours."
Another reason for moving is that the new location is more accessible.
Sime Darby Centre is a two- minute walk from King Albert Park MRT station and has about 150 parking spaces.
Parking there is free on weekends and public holidays. Previously, customers had to park at a makeshift parking area behind the restaurant.
The new restaurant also has a larger kitchen with room to house machines that help automate parts of the food preparation process.
To boost productivity in the kitchen, Mr Subramaniyam bought an industrial-grade food mixer that can stir and cook about 50kg of vegetables or 180 litres of curry within an hour, before they are cooked with meat in woks.
Previously, the curry had to be cooked by three staff in three separate batches, and that took more than two hours.
Also new is a vegetable slicing machine that can process large quantities of ingredients.
Mr Subramaniyam spent about $34,000 on the two pieces of equipment, which made up about 40 per cent of the costs of setting up the new kitchen.
These machines help ease the manpower crunch that has been plaguing his restaurant for the past five years because of quotas set on foreign workers, he says.
With a more efficient kitchen, the restaurant has branched out to home delivery service via Deliveroo and will add dishes from North Indian cuisine, such as naan and tandoori chicken, next year.
Its most popular dishes include fish head curry (from $23.50), chicken masala and mutton Mysore (both from $5.40).
Today, the restaurant's business is at 80 per cent of of its previous level, with regulars making up the majority of customers.
Mr Subramaniyam says some regulars are still figuring out how to get to the new location. He expects business to stabilise within the next two months.
It also helps that the new restaurant has a brighter and more spacious feel, thanks to wide windows that open to greenery outside.
It also has a 1,000 sq ft rooftop space, where Mr Subramaniyam will add tables for alfresco dining later this year.
He says: "It is important to upgrade so that we can enhance the dining experience for customers."
NEW UBIN SEAFOOD
Where: Level 6, Lam Soon Industrial Building canteen, 63 Hillview Avenue, from Nov 3
Open: 11am to 2pm daily except Mondays; 5.30 to 10.30pm daily
Info: Call 6466-9558/9740-6870 or go to ubinseafood.com
Most restaurants take the opportunity to overhaul their interiors and menus when they set up shop in a new location.
Not New Ubin Seafood.
When the popular zi char restaurant moves to Lam Soon Industrial Building in Hillview Avenue on Nov 3, everything from the menu to its kopitiam-style tables and chairs will be "transplanted" to the new 6,200 sq ft space. It will seat about 280 people; its current restaurant at Sin Ming Industrial Estatehas a similar capacity.
The restaurant's marketing manager Joline Lim, 31, says: "Part of the restaurant's unique identity is its relaxed kampung feel and most customers want us to retain this feel instead of going upmarket."
At the new place, diners can expect the same signature dishes such as the Beef Set, comprising char- grilled cubes of Black Angus ribeye steak and rice fried with drippings from the grilled meat ($14 for l00g, minimum order 500g).
Other popular dishes are baked garlic crab (from $58) and Hokkien Mee (from $14).
It is also planning to roll out new lunch dishes such as bak kut teh and prawn noodles to cater to the office crowd and residents from the neighbouring private estate.
Ms Lim says the restaurant is relocating because Sin Ming Industrial Estate, which houses mainly car workshops, will be redeveloped in December. Its last day of operations at Sin Ming will be Oct 30.
She adds that the rental at the new location is comparable to that at Sin Ming's.
"We are sad to move," she says, "as this location was where the restaurant took off and became more prominent."
The restaurant was on the Bib Gourmand list of Singapore's Michelin Guide launched this year.
She adds that customers have mixed feelings about the move. "You win some, you lose some. Customers who live in the West are happy while those who do not may have to travel a bit."
Those who do not want the hassle of travelling can use the restaurant's month-old online delivery service - the restaurant is working with a logistics company to deliver most of its dishes islandwide for a flat fee of $18.
It is planning to open a second restaurant next year.
Where: 97 Frankel Avenue, from early next month
Info: Go to www.facebook.com/birdbirdsg
When "ghetto-style" restaurant Bird Bird was at Ann Siang Hill, it failed to take flight.
The menu at the Thai fried chicken restaurant centred on dishes such as Bangkok-style fried chicken with a fiery green chilli sauce and Isaan-style barbecued chicken from north-east Thailand.
Chef-owner Bjorn Shen says most diners did not understand the concept and expected tom yum soup, pineapple rice and other familiar Thai dishes.
"People got annoyed and upset when we told them we didn't serve these dishes and we gave up explaining our food,'' the 34-year-old says.
"While we had fun with the innovative cuisine, we could have done better to see if it was the right fit for diners and make it economically sustainable," he adds.
He is scrapping the Thai element at Bird Bird and moving on to a concept that "goes along a more simplified expectation of fried chicken among diners here" - an American-style fried chicken restaurant.
Bird Bird, which was at Ann Siang Hill for about a year, closed last Friday. Shen is relocating the restaurant to a bigger place in Frankel Avenue, which will open early next month.
He adds that it was easy to make the transition as the rent was "fair and good".
The new eatery will serve buttermilk fried chicken, cornbread waffles, green goddess slaw made with tarragon vinegar and chives and soft-serve desserts.
Other dishes include Big Mac Fried Rice with wagyu beef balls (pictured), greens and Sriracha mayonnaise.
Prices will remain the same at about $30 a person including drinks.
He also says that the Ann Siang Hill restaurant, which seated about 40 people, was too small and he had to turn away customers on busier days such as Fridays.
Bird Bird's new space has room for about 65 diners.
He decided to move the business out of the Central Business District into a residential estate as the suburban crowd will be more consistent throughout the week.
He says: "It is a hassle to go into the city on weekends as most people do not want to return to the place where they work."
The decor of the new outlet will be more family-friendly and very different from the "bohemian feel with neon lights" look that evoked a dive bar at the former venue.
In contrast, the new space will have an "evergreen, airy and bright look".
Where: 729 Havelock Road
Opens: Early December
Mr Niven Leong (pictured) is on a quest to groom the next generation of food entrepreneurs.
He closed his Uncle Chicken Rice stall in The Bedok Marketplace two weeks ago and will open a 120-seat chicken rice restaurant in a shophouse in Havelock Road in early December. He is helped by two business partners.
The 57-year-old says that for his upcoming Uncle Chicken restaurant, the star of the menu will be Cantonese-style poached white chicken with ginger sauce, a dish he learnt from his late father who owned the popular Sin Kee Famous Chicken Rice at the now-defunct Margaret Drive Hawker Centre in the 1970s.
At his stall in The Bedok Marketplace, Mr Leong also served chicken rice cooked from his father's recipe.
His restaurant menu will expand to include "old school" side dishes such as minced pork with salted egg; braised bittergourd with fish head or pork ribs; double-boiled soups; Hainanese pork chop; and emperor chicken. Desserts will include Hong Kong-style green bean soup and ginger custard.
By running a full-fledged business, Mr Leong hopes to attract more people to work in the food and beverage sector.
For a start, with a larger-scale business, he can offer his employees higher salaries compared with what they might earn at hawker stalls.
He is also looking to train his staff and show them the ropes of operating a food business, so that they can eventually take over his business or build it into a chain.
He hopes to impart the "A to Z of running a business" to them, from cooking to managing inventory.
"With a proper restaurant, I can create more routes for advancement for those who want to carve out a career in the food business," says Mr Leong, who plan to employ three kitchen staff and three service staff.
He will be spending $70,000 to $80,000 to renovate the space.
Mr Leong made headlines last month when he sold his chicken rice recipe to two aspiring hawkers for $42,800 each. The fee includes training on aspects such as managing a business.
He says: "It is only by sharing your knowledge and skills that you can ensure that the chicken rice recipe can be preserved."
This story was originally published in The Straits Times.