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Long before American burger chains like Shake Shack and Five Guys came to our shores, there was coffee shop Western chain Botak Jones. It was founded in 2003 by Bernard ‘Bernie’ Utchenik, 68.

The Detroit native, who became a Singaporean in 2009, made a name for himself serving hearty, generously-portioned ‘ang moh' hawker food. He’s also known for his magnificent bald head, from which sprung an iconic shop logo and name. Bernie had chosen Jones as it’s “a very common Western name”, and therefore easily identifiable.

His marketing paid off. At the height of its popularity in the noughties, Botak Jones had as many as 14 outlets islandwide. In 2011, Bernie and his wife, Faudziah ‘Zee’ Mohd Ali, sold their company shares to their business partners, who had invested in the brand and expanded it into a big chain. “The business came to a point where it was not something I had in mind,” Bernie tells 8days.sg. “Our partners were nice enough to allow us [to sell our shares], and it was a relief.”

Bernie and Zee, who’s in her fifties (“my wife’s age is one of those mysteries”), went on to open their own Western food stalls at hawker centres Timbre+ and Makansutra Gluttons Bay under a new name, Big Bern’s American Grill.

All photos cannot be reproduced without permission from 8days.sg.

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