Barely five months after opening, Dennis Chew has shut his third and newest The Famous Zhou porridge stall in Bedok. The Love 972 DJ and actor tells 8days.sg over the phone yesterday (Apr 1) that even though food delivery sales at its other coffeeshop stalls in Ang Mo Kio and Tampines have picked up in recent weeks, business at its Bedok outlet has been declining, compounded by the Covid-19 outbreak, so he decided to close it for good. March 31 was its last day of operations.
And if things continue to worsen, the 46-year-old says he will have no choice but to shut his 888 Mookata stall in Bukit Batok too. With everyone staying home, his Thai barbecue-cum-steamboat business has taken a huge hit, suffering a 40 per cent drop in sales in the past three weeks. Including the Bukit Batok outlet, Dennis runs four mookata stalls and (now two) porridge stalls together with actor and F&B business partner Chew Chor Meng.
“People can still order food delivery or tapau porridge, but not mookata. It’s impossible to do takeout. Business last weekend was the worst,” laments Dennis. The other three mookata stalls are in Hougang, Bishan and Tampines.
He continues, “Our business is really suffering, but I understand that it is necessary that all of us stay home to curb the spread of the virus. Right now, I myself wouldn’t dare go out. So all we can do now is to promote our businesses on social media so people will keep us in mind and when the situation improves, they will come down to eat.”
While ingredients and labour are his greatest financial expenses, Dennis says there are no plans to lay off any of his 24 workers. Staff members affected by the closure have been deployed to other outlets and some employees will take no-pay leave in groups.
“Hopefully we are eligible for the government wage support for businesses because that will really help us a great deal. Layoffs are the last resort,” he says.
Despite steep losses, Dennis and his team have not forgotten about the less privileged. Two weeks ago, the team, along with some volunteers, delivered their heartwarming porridge to the elderly living alone in rental flats in Toa Payoh.
“We didn’t know if their meals were affected by the virus outbreak, so we decided to deliver food to them,” says Dennis. “We hope to do this more often. It is important that we support the community during this difficult time. We used to invite underprivileged kids over for mookata, but of course we cannot do this now.”
Ever the optimist, he adds, “What I really hope now is that the prediction by the Indian boy, who correctly predicted this virus last year, will come true, and that things will start to turn for the better on May 29.”
We hope so too.