Some stallholders in heartland coffee shops call it quits over high rent and costs

SINGAPORE: Higher rent and rising costs are forcing some stallholders to exit coffee shops in the heartlands.

Some stalls have tried to cope by passing on the costs to consumers and scrimping in other areas, but overheads remain high.

Japanese food stall chain Mentai-Ya is one such business affected by growing expenses. Last month, it shuttered two stalls in coffee shops in Clementi and Boon Keng.

Its owner Khoo Keat Hwee said rent at the Clementi outlet, situated at a prime location near the MRT station, has gone up by about 20 to 30 per cent since he set up shop there two years ago.

He did not reveal how much rent he was paying there, but said the price can go up to S$9,000 (US$6,700) per month for spaces at good locations.

“The stalls we closed were doing fine in terms of customers but with the rent increase, it won’t be sustainable as we would have to increase the price and lose customers in the process,” he said.

Aside from rental, other costs such as employee wages, ingredients, supplies and utilities have also gone up.

Last year, the price of salmon increased by about 25 to 30 per cent, said Mr Khoo. The fish is an integral ingredient for one of the stall signature dishes – the salmon mentai don.

This forced Mr Khoo to also increase the price of his dishes by S$1. However, he has lost at least 10 per cent of his patrons since then.

“Some of my customers, their kids love to eat salmon mentai but they say ‘Can you lower down your price a bit? We don’t come (so often anymore) because it’s expensive’,” he told CNA.

“It’s one of my biggest regrets (to raise prices) because a lot of people won’t be able to afford it. I’ve been finding ways to really make things affordable for the public.”

Mr Khoo said that should business expenses continue to rise, it would become harder to maintain the six more Mentai-Ya outlets in heartland coffee shops around the island.

Two branches are situated in Sengkang and Punggol, newer estates which command much higher rent than mature neighbourhoods.

He said none of his outlets are housed within coffee shops that were sold for record prices.

“My rental is (considered) normal, but this normal is really high cost,” he said.

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