Monday, January 22, 2007

Singapore's First Fast Food Restaurant

I doubt many young people know that Singapore’s first fast food restaurant was not from MacDonald’s or KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) but A&W. It was located at Dunearn Road near the former University of Singapore’s Bukit Timah Campus.

From 1974 to 1986, I lived at the HDB (Housing and Development Board) estate in nearby Farrer Road and visited this restaurant occasionally. But it is my friend Peter Tan, who used to study at the Singapore U. who could recall details of this place.


Thanks to Peter’s friend for this rare but somewhat faded photo of Singapore’s first fast food restaurant at Dunearn Road.

The shape of A&W Restaurant was like "Raffles Village" at Cuscaden Road - a Minangkabau long house type; with roof that was not tiled but made of attap leaves. The building was raised from the floor and had long glass windows so you could look out to the University grounds and Dunearn Road. There was a small car park for customers - made of granite chips and not metalled road surface. The signature item at A&W was the ceiling lights which we students wanted to "flick" but were afraid to do so.

When we studied at the Union House (of USSU or University of Singapore Students Union), we used to walk over to A&W at night for the food. There used to be a pedestrian path through the Bukit Timah Campus, leading from the Union House to A&W’s. In those days, there were no such things as spaghetti. The menu was plain and simple. Usually the loser of the snooker game - played on level 2 at Union House - had to buy the rest supper.


** I have been informed that there is an error in my sketch above. The location of the old Adam Rd Hawker Centre should be on the same side as the present location. Anyway, I intend to blog about this another time. Hope I can provide more reliable information then. LCS - 23Jan2007.

Here’s the spot where the A&W Restaurant used to stand.

In-between lectures, students dated at A&W ,,, cheap date and air-con for that root beer. Some said Michael Chiang (my classmate) conceptualized his book, "Army Daze" at this place and not SAFTI where he served his NS in the 1970s; but since MINDEF funded his project, he had to "change the script".

If students had more $$$, they would go down to Orchid Inn Hotel for lunch or the former Equatorial Hotel at Stevens/Bukit Timah Road corner but not A&W.

Other things I recall:

- Frosty root beer served in those icy beer glasses - could have been S$1.50 or 1.80 then.
- Promo item in those days was the bear (brown in color and the A&W sash). If you spent about $10, you can buy the bear for another $2
- Waffle served with ice cream.
- The place was popular with ACS boys on weekdays and courting couples on Saturday nights.
- There might have been a drive-in facility, I am not sure. But later on, A&W did open one at Jurong open air drive-in cinema for a short time before it closed shop in 1973 or 1974.


Photo courtesy of Luckypines

Lam Chun See continues ...........


Yes, I certainly miss that root beer and float served in heavy chilled glass mug. For a time, you could still get that in Malaysia, but last month, when I ate at the A&W Jejantas Restaurant at Sungei Buloh along the North South Highway, I was disappointed to discover that they too had changed to paper cups.

Personally, whilst I do enjoy the food at fast food restaurants, I really dislike eating from paper boxes. Did you know that in the early days, KFC used to serve their food in proper plates with normal fork and knife. If fact, you could even bring your date to KFC, as I did once to the KFC outlet opposite the Orchard Cinema, next to the Yuyi Emporium. But the first KFC restaurant I went to was probably the one at Kampong Java Road, near the entrance of the present KK Hospital.

Sadly, the A&W Restaurant, like many other landmarks in Dunearn Road are no more, and so we can only reminisce about it here.

67 comments:

Daryl said...

Ah, I miss those frosty mugs too! I suppose the only solution now is to buy your own mug, freeze it in your own fridge, and then pour A&W Root Beer into it.

I miss the coney dogs and the waffles too.

kate said...

I had a A&W bear water bottle! I was about 4 or 5 then. Must have been in the early 80s.

zen said...

For students and working people with shallow pockets the fast food joints (not many) in those times, were popular for dating couples. Milk-bars on the contrary were plentiful, and one of the most popular milk-bars, which was ideally located in the wing of the Capitol theatre, was considered the choicest for dating. Why do I remember so well ? It was here that I had a very unexpected blind date.

Lam Chun See said...

Hmm ... blind dates? Sounds like a good idea for another post. Zen - prepared to be grilled for details. Haha.

peter said...

Ah those good old days for a sit-down meal date. Still remember these places between 1969 and 1977 down at Orchard Road.

1. Magnolia Bar (present-day Centerpoint)

2. Batik Inn (carpark between Lucky Plaza and TANG's. Set lunch for S$5.00 per person.

3. Bamboo Inn (present-day Yen San Building or where Citibank used to be). Set dinner at S$7.50 per person

4. The Groove (present-day Somerset carpark facing Emerald Hill)

5. Mont D'ior at Ngee Ann Building (now Ngee Ann City)

6. Torika Restaurant at Liat Towers for that authentic Russian meal

7. A Swiss restaurant at Equatorial Hotel (ah yah forgot the name. Can anybody help?)

zen said...

My boss told me that while in England with his colleague he noticed that people there simply loved fast food. He jokingly asked his colleague to open a fast food joint in Singapore when he got back home. His friend conveniently brushed him off, saying that the locals would never like such western food. Then came Robert Kwan who was the first to start selling Mcdonald fast food in the seventies, and the hungry crowds rushed in at Liat Tower, taking his food like fish in water, and the rest was history. The lesson to learn is not to assume too much.

Ee Chuan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ee Chuan said...

Great post for us to reminisce about old favourite hangouts.

One of my warmest memories of the cool things I did with my father (who is still around!) when I was a wee lad was of him bringing me for "beefburger" in A&W in the outlet next to Cathay Cinema.

The A&W Rootbeer float and mug was so heavy that I had to grasp it with both hands to sip from it...

A pity is closed down. Perhaps it was ahead of its time?

I also remember eating KFC when it had forks and plates and waiters to serve you.

Haha... age is catching up.

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marina said...

Zen,

whats a milk bar?

Anyways, I do miss A&W heaps. I love their coney dog tuesdays and the waffles and especially the root beer floats in frosty cold mugs.

I'm sure they would still do pretty well, if only with the right type of management and advertising - the nostalgia factor for A&W alone would be in enough demand.

Kevin said...

My mum used to bring me there on our way downtown. That's where I first fell in love with the Rootbeer float, especially in hot and humid Singapore. So sad it's gone, but thanks so much for remembering this! :)

Anonymous said...

Aye, there was a drive-in at that bukit timah A&W.

Brian Mitchell said...

A quick word on the UK love of fast food - actually quite a controversial issue with lots of discussion about obesity and poor diet due to excessive use of MacDonalds and similar places. But here in Cambridge some of the most popular places are in fact Noodle and Sushi places often run by Japenese or Koreans and these are usually super efficient and very fast (and the food is better of course), there are a few Singapore restaurants as well but its the noodle and sushi places that have to count as (quality) fast food here in the UK

Lam Chun See said...

Peter:

1) I think the Russian restaurant you mentioned is call Troika. I tried it once at the branch in toen, near OCBC Centre & Market St area. Don't suppose it is still around?

2) The Swiss Restaurant at Equatorial Hotel - is it called Chesa?

3) Location of Old Adam Road Hawker Centre. I was pretty sure it was as I drew in the sketch. But my friend Chuck and my younger brother James both think you are right - that it was on the same side of Dunearn Rd as its present location. Never mind. I intend to blog again about some of the lost landmarks of Dunearn Rd in future; e.g. Whitley and Swiss Cottage, floral mile etc. Will re-visit this question then.

household name said...

I remember that every time I passed that Dunearn Rd outlet, I:
a) wondered if it would get flooded since it was right next to the canal
b) looked longingly at it because everything there was too costly (for my pri school allowance).

Anyhow, eventually I did get a taste of A&W and the root beer was great!

The Mont D'or mentioned by Peter was a favourite childhood haunt. My parents used to take us there on special occasions. Loved the place!

oceanskies79 said...

Hey Chun See, I miss drinking A&W rootbeer in an A&W restaurant. I wish A&W could survive all the competition. Mac Donalds doesn't taste as nice to me....I am biased.

matreshka said...

What's bizarre is that I happened to just ask my older colleagues if they remembered this particular A&W just last Thursday over lunch!

Yes, I recall a drive-in facility where we could wind down the windows, and the tray would be hooked to the sides. So we could just eat out of the window. That's what struck me the most about A&W at Dunearn Road, even though I was just a mere 4-year old! That would be around 1980 - 1981.

Thanks for the post and the memories!

oceanskies79 said...

OH yes, I remember the times when KFC served food on plates. Those were the days when I frequent KFC almost every fornight.
Now, it would be ages before I eat anything from KFC.

Thanks for bringing back some nice memories.

Boris the Red said...

I passed that spot today and for the first time today had a real indication where A&W stood! I have been wondering for months. Thanks for the memory.

I recall Adam road hawker center being rebuilt on the spot of the old one. i recall this because of the location of the ura parking beside college green has not changed.

Does anyone remember the copthorne when it was still the Orchid Inn !

-K.

peter said...

Orchid Inn - yes I have memories of it during the 1970s. It was actually a private apartment before it converted into a hotel.

Back in the 1960s, I still remember it was a single block of flats (called Orchid Apartments) facing what is now the flyover. Each apartment had a balcony. There's trace of this heritage if you examine the same block today. When it became a hotel, new wings were added at its side. The present restaurant is on the new wing and so is the car park and the Chinese restaurant. US Vietnam soldiers and their families stayed at Orchid Apartment in 1968.

When I was at the university, we visisted my friend's girlfriend (a Dutch) who lived with her family on the ground floor facing the swimming pool. There was a low-level diving board at one end of the pool. We spend many afternoons after lecture lazing at the pool.

There was another place we went - Serene House down at Cluny Road. Just the other day, I saw the old building there. It was a R&R accomodation for the US Vietnam soldiers who came to Singapore in 1969. Because it was built for the US soldiers, it had a pool and that's where we crossed over for that afternoon swim. BTW the Students Union House in the Bukit Timah Campus has been demolished. Luckily I took some old photos and now it's gone.

Thanks Chun See - yes it was the Chesa. I think the interiors had flat red bricks as the decor.

To Marina your question - "milk bar" refers to a place where they sell ice cream only. The other place where they specialised in ice cream (before Hagen Daz) was "Copper Kettle" in an alley between the former Lido Cinema and Shaw Center. The exact spot today is just behind the department store as you walk towards Shaw Center. There was this signature dish called "Earthquake" with 8 different scoops of ice cream. Back in the 1960s upstairs the Fitzpatrick Supermarket (now the Paragon) was a restaurant which sold fish & chips, minute steak and anything a British would eat.

zen said...

Marina - Peter defined the term milk-bar correctly. I got the names of these eating places mixed up. Singapore being administered by the British for more than a hundred years had many things under its influence, and they were very precise when coming to names.

Lam Chun See said...

Matreshka - Wow! You have 6th sense or wat? Actually Peter and I have been wanting to blog about this topic a couple of months ago. But I was hoping to be able to take a photo of the frosty mug when I make my year-end trip to Ipoh. We usually stop at the 'Bridge' Restaurants (Restoran Jejantas) for lunch so that no need to exit the N-S Highway.

Orchid Inn- I certainly have some knowledge of this place from 80's. My wife and I had our wedding dinner at the Charming Restaurant there just over 2 decades ago. Since then occasionally still go there for seminars etc becos I am associate trainer for Spring, PSB and SPA. They often house their foreign participants there.

Serene House - No knowledge of what was it before. But yes, there was a Mobil station across Farrer Rd, just before the post office. We were their regular customers.

Chesa Restaurant@Equatorial. When I was working in Philips, we used to have training sessions in Equatorial Hotel. Once we had end-of-course dinner there. They have the singers with guitars who would come to your table to sing. They sang for us the song Feelings; but changed the word to Philips.

EteL said...

Ah, I was in bangkok last month & was having my lunch at KFC. I was surprised that they have fork and knife! I didnt know that Singapore used to have them... Or maybe I wasnt rich enough to eat KFC when i was younger.. And the KFCs in Bangkok uses glass mugs to contain the pepsi. Totally cool.

I remember A&W's curlies fries only, unfortunately. =x

peter said...

Can someone advise me- was the A&W at Cathay Cinema inside the cinema or at the corner of a row of shophouses called Kirk Terrace fronting Selegie Road?

To Household Name: By 1971, the government raised the grounds of the Bukit Timah Campus to road level by dumping more earth. The flood situation improved. Another round of earth was dumped again for the Botanical Garden nurseries such that today it appears that the campus ground is higher than Bukit Timah Road itself. Plus the dredging at Rochore Canal in front of Tek Kah Mall, the Dunearn Road area flood situation improved.

BTW the first train service in the 1920s stopped at the corner of Cluny Road and Bukit Timah Road - where they are now building a MRT Station.

Now I can better recall after what Chun See said about Chesa at Equatorial Hotel. The table cloth was a red chequered one, the signature dish was roast beef on the wagon (S$22 for 200 gms) and the wine. I think it was on the basement floor if my memory is still good.

tinynutz said...

Hey Guys , Batam Megamall aka Waterfront city the shopping center which is link to the ferry terminal of batam have A&W and everything is still the same..Mug Beer ,Curely Fries,PanCake..it only 45 min boat ride form harbourfont..Do check it out..I just had my root beer last week

cockroach//蟑螂 said...

I remember sawing A&W when I was young. now no longer have any A&W?

zen said...

A&W most probably surveys the food scene: "Wah, so many eating places ah!, better go to other places "

Anonymous said...

Ang Mo Kio Central used to have a A & W, i spent my secondary school days there.. 蠍子

zen said...

It is pity that A&W, a pioneer fast food company, being muscled out by new comers. It should rejuvenate and make a comeback, showing its reivals that it is not an easy push-over.

skhanfonic said...

My cousin worked at A&W right before they close down in Singapore and they gave away some of the things away to the staff and so my cousin gets to keep one the mugs!

Lam Chun See said...

Maybe u shd ask yr cousin to sell his mug on eBay. Not surprised if some ppl willing to pay good money for it.

zen said...

Gave away things to the staff. Obviously the company had decided to throw in the towel.

Anonymous said...

About the sketch of former A&W restaurant, I believe the sketch is correct. The old hawker centre is on the side of the canal. I studied at Swiss Cottage Pri further down after whitley road from 67-72. Pri 4 & pri 5 I was in the badminton team and we trained on "Sundays" from 8.30- 12.00 because Swiss Cottage Secondary had a big badminton hall and it was only available on Sunday. After practice, my father would pick me at 12.00 and we would head to the hawker centre to have "hainanese chicken rice" and also chendol- always the same ritual every week for 2 years. I also remembered about A&W rest. but then I was in pri, we were simply not well-off so I had never step into it. But I do know that it has a drive-in. Swiss cottage pri was bkt timah district champ and national runner-up for 1971 for the senior team. For the snr team, you are allowed to include those repeat students who had failed PSLE once or twice and maybe even 3 times ( age 13-15 ). I was one of 2 reserve players in the snr team. The team is very simple - 1st, 2nd, 3rd singles, 1st double ( consisting of 1st single player and any player) and the 2nd double( consisting of 2nd and 3rd single player). Well I am digressing a bit

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Anonymous for that contribution. Now I am as confused as ever about the location of the old Adam Road Food Centre. But never mind, that gives me incentive to 're-blog' about it.

So you also a reserve on Badminton team like me. Have you read my earlier article (May2006) about kampong badminton?

Anonymous said...

I am very very sure that the location of the Adam rd hawker ctr is as it is in the sketch at least in 1970 & 1971. After all, I had chicken rice and chendol every sunday with my dad there for lunch after badminton practice. We would take a "Green Bus" to the hwker centre from Swiss Cottage Pri, had lunch and then I think No.7 "Tay Koh Yat" bus back home to Margaret Drive, Queenstown. I believe initially, a flyover was built so the hawker centre being on the canal side was relocated. Later the flyover was knocked down and an underpass( today situation) was constructed with a new flyover now linking adam road.

As for badminton, I started playing at age 5. I was a reserve player in the senior team as the snr team players were those repeat students aged 14-15. Of course there is a big gulf between the 2 reserve players and the first team as they were 14-15 years old and the 2 reserve playerswere 11 years old. Swiss Cottage Pri is unique in that it is an integrated sch - both english and malay stream. The team had 4 malays(1st, 2nd, 3rd singles and reserve0 and only 2 chinese(1st double player and me).All bkt timah dist matches were held at Dunearn tech Sec sch (opp chinese high) which of course is now longer there. The national matches were at Badminton Hall, Guillemard rd. As a reserve player, I was given 25cts for every match that we won but i think the 1st team players were probably given 50 or 75 cts. But then again I did not even play a single match and broke a sweat! 25 cts was not bad because for 10cts you could get a bottled soft drink and 15cts noodle, mee-rebus or mee siam at our canteen.

We had a very passionate coach who of course is a teacher in the school. I don't remeber doing any laps or push-ups or any other physical exer to build up str. We just turn up on "Sunday" in the morning and play against each other. The badminton hall in Swiss Cottage Sec is quite big atleast 3 courts maybe 4 courts in it so together with the junior team( no repeat students) there were only about 12 of us so one dosn't hv to wait long for a game. of course I played with those wooden frame racket. Towards the end of the practice, we would play against the coach and see how many points we pick off him. However we don't train on weekdays as the courts are not available, after all it belongs to Swiss Cottage Sec. Swiss Cottage Sec principal then was Mr. Mosbergen( I think he was later RJC principalin the 80's or 90's). It is a pity I drop badminton in 1972 when I was doing my PSLE.

Jules said...

Wow, Michael Chiang was your classmate?

Jeffery said...

I remembered when I was young, my mum would bring me to the A&W Restaurant at Bedok Bus Interchange (next to Bedok National Library)after my school to have my favourite coney dog and of course my rootbeer float! The last time I had my favourite curly fries was couple years ago in a small outlet in Tampines St 21. Now the outlet has been demolished and has changed to a 24 hours muslim coffeeshop. Frankly speaking, the curly fries are much more tastier than the current french fries serve in other fast food restaurant. It was a great memory for me but sadly A&W is no longer around! :(

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

Its good to know that some fellow Singaporeans remember Mont d'Or at Ngee Ann. Mont d'Or holds many fond memories for me... My uncle and aunt used to run and own the whole chain of Mont d'Or Cake Shops & the snack bar at Ngee Ann...

From a girl

Anonymous said...

A&W @ Clementi Centre was one of my fave hangouts.

However, I think the main reason for A&W's demise is the decline in their ability to maintain/improve the quality of their fare/service/ambience.

For example, the quality of their food went downhill so bad that nearing the end, I only went there for their rootbeer float.

Julie said...

WOW! A&W in that huge mug! somebody please bring that back!

Deedee said...

Anybody remember the name of that fastfood place next to Katong Shopping Centre back in th 80s?
I just can't remember the name..

Anonymous said...

In the late 70s/early 80s, on my way home from school, I used to drop by the A&W branch along East Coast Road (next to The Red House confectionary)on Tuesdays since it was Coney Dog Day. It's a pity that A&W could not reinvent itself when the other fast food chains started to appear.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know why a&w is closed here in singapore?

peter said...

According to my friend who worked at the company, A&W Family Restaurant closed at the Bukit Timah Canal site c1986 becuase the government wanted to widen the BT Canal to its present size. All the flower nurseries also moved out at the same time.

Anonymous said...

I'm currently studying in Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) and I've not heard about how A&W was all the rage for my seniors waaaay back! Guess this goes to show how easy it is for heritages fade away with time! Sad~ =/

Anonymous said...

HEY I'm the guy who commented above!

Dear blogger, I just realised something... your friend, Peter Tan (as stated at the head of this post of yours), might be my current principal! Um is he Mr. Peter Tan Chong Tze?? haha =P

Lam Chun See said...

No. Yours is a different Peter.

If you are studying in ACS now, it is likely that even your younger teachers do not know of the A&W restaurant at Dunearn Road.

singapore said...

This seems to be great site for providing restaurant, . Food, dine, Delivery, Pizza services for people. I would surely like to try their service.

Anonymous said...

I miss the chicken in the basket.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know what the reason A&W will close in asia market? B'cos no more market? or any reason?

Ahmed Qabyr said...

Hey! awesome blog you have there! Are you by any chance an old boy of ACS? haha, curious :) by the way, the info from this blog has provided me with valuable info that i could use for my coursework :) Cheers! Been in ACS since pri1. am in sec4 now, wish me luck :D

Lam Chun See said...

Yes Ahmed. The best is yet to be! Read my story here. My son too went to ACS - from P1 to Yr 6. My youngest daughter also went to ACSI.

Tah Chung said...

Milk Bar - I vaguely remember my dad bringing me to one along Hill Street in the early 70s. Can anyone confirm for me that indeed there was a milk bar along Hill Street? What's the name if there was?

Yes, Mont d'Or...I miss the Eclaire and Mur cake (maybe that's not the name but I got the name from a similar cake at Polar).

peter said...

Tah Chung,

answer to yr question.

Hill Street in the 1970s very boring place. Milkbar could be Magnolia Milk Bar@present-day Capitol. It could also be Red House Bakery at corner of Victoria Street and Bras Basah Road. Question: Did u go on week days or week-ends? On week-days you see school girls after school makan?

Tah Chung said...

Peter,

Maybe it's Capitol then. Can't remember whether it's weekday or weekend as it was really long time ago. In my impression, the place was quite empty. Anyway at least now I know Hill St was a boring place, contrary to my idea of the place.

Thanks for sharing.

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LT said...

I remember Mont D'or cake shop very well. Growing up, our birthday cakes were Mont D;or cakes.

They moved later to Queenstown in the building that used to house Ta Chung emporium.

One of the pastry chefs left Mont D'or when it closed there, and set up Wong's Confectionery in Toa Payoh. I could still get my Mont D'or cake fix there, but Mr. Wong passed away later from cancer and the shop was closed.

jade said...

Hi LT, was Wong Confectionery in Toa Payoh Central? It was still there when I moved out of TP in 1976.

Josephian said...

Hi all; I'd like to add that the old Magnolia milk bars at the Capitol(opposite St Andrew's) & the now-Centrepoint site didn't just serve icecream but had milkshakes also & some cakes IIRC.

I remember them well because of 2 hot dates I brought there ;)

The old Red House at Bras Basah was also a milk bar of sorts & these 3 places were exotic oases in our climate for their airconditioning.

Between the Red House & the old SJI (Art Museum) was also a fine establishment/hotel (I'll come back & post the name when I remember) serving up great chicken pies & puffs.

peter said...

Magnolia served also very piping hot curry puff on a plate. We have to use the fork n knife to cut up the curry puff and not use our hands.

Andy Loh said...

At one time, A&W Bukit Timah served Campbells soups in cute little half-size tins. You choose the soup, and they make it for you. Anyone remember that? Great with the burgers and coney dogs.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember the motorbike gangs that used to meet at the A&W Bukit Timah? There were some 50 bikes at a time.

Anonymous said...

Hello, may I ask if anyone remembers how much does the meal cost during the year 1966, when it first opened in Singapore?

Anonymous said...

Can anyone remember a fast food place call Hardy's or Hardies. Can't remember the spelling. Located somewhere near or at Liat Towers.

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Anonymous said...

For the comment regarding the Copper Kettle cafe, their signature 8 scoop ice cream was called "The Tidal Wave" and not "Earthquake". You might have mistaken the latter with that from Swensen''s. :)

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