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The last three months have been a roller coaster ride for Ben Yeo. The actor had ambitious plans to open his three new F&B concepts, all housed within a hip 400-seat Kallang industrial canteen (it has a kopitiam license), in June, but the evolving dining restrictions threw a spanner in the works.

Out of the seven food stalls at the canteen, Ben co-owns two, plus a spacious al fresco beer garden. One of his stalls is SG Umami, which serves Japanese izakaya-style food. It soft-launched with a limited menu of fusion pizzas on May 15, but had to scramble to get on delivery platforms when Phase 2 (HA)’s dine-in ban kicked in the next day. It was almost déjà vu when he opened Korean fusion lok lok stall Geon Bae. Barely two weeks after opening, the stall was forced to close temporarily when restrictions kicked in again in July.

And now, as the number of local COVID-19 cases continue to climb, Ben, 43, is keeping his fingers and toes crossed that his speakeasy beer garden, Playground, does not suffer the same fate. A kopitiam by day, hip beer garden by night, the space finally opened its doors on Sep 1 after a three-month delay.

“We postponed the renovation ’cos we couldn’t operate during Phase 2 (Heightened Alert). We have beer dispensers and it is not good to leave them idle and not use them, so we waited until the dine-in ban was lifted before we started work. The renovation was also delayed due to the shortage of workers. There were days where only two guys came to work for two hours as they were juggling a few projects,” explains Ben.

Even though his food stalls are currently “doing okay”, sales have been affected by the two pax dine-in limit. “When groups of five were allowed to dine in, things were madness. There was a two-hour wait for our pizzas. Business dropped about 30 per cent during the second P2HA and now it is slowly returning, but it is not as good as before. A lot of my followers are families, so I can see that a lot of regulars don’t come anymore. I hope the government will increase the limit at coffeeshops to five pax soon,” he laments.

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