Rising rent, worker shortage threaten rich Asia food culture

Mon Apr 28, 2014 7:26am EDT
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By Eveline Danubrata and Alice Woodhouse

SINGAPORE/HONG KONG (Reuters) - The Hong Kong Jin Tian Eating House in Singapore has stopped selling the savory roast duck and pork ribs that drew crowds for a generation, the latest to close down due to escalating rents and difficulty in finding workers.

The eatery run by Yip Chan Yuk Ying, a Hong Kong-born Singapore citizen, shut its doors on Monday after its landlord jacked up its monthly rent by 46 percent to S$12,000 ($9,600) from S$8,200.

"There doesn't seem to be any control in the rise of rent and local workers are very hard to get," said Yip, 56, who has been in the food business for more than 20 years. "I don't really have any plans on what to do next."

Singapore has been tightening restrictions, such as by increasing government levies and minimum wages, on hiring foreign workers after a backlash from voters concerned about overcrowding and competition for jobs.

The restrictions, coupled with runaway rents, have hit food proprietors like Yip hard as many locals, particularly younger workers, prefer white-collar jobs with more stable pay.

Monthly rentals for shophouses in the Tiong Bahru area in central Singapore, where Yip's eatery was located, have more than doubled to S$8.09 ($6.43) per square foot since the first quarter of 2011, according to property consultancy Knight Frank.

The sharp increase is likely driven by the influx of modern cafes and shops, said Alice Tan, head of research for Knight Frank in Singapore. "In view of the high asking rentals in Tiong Bahru, a growing number of independent shop owners have been observed to be venturing out of this area," she said.

In Hong Kong, about 300 people queued at a popular beef stew shop on its last day of business last month, local media reported. The owner of the eight-year-old stall, Tong Kin-yip, was quoted as citing rising labor and food costs for the reason to close down.   Continued...

A man eats a meal at the Hong Kong Jin Tian Eating House in Singapore April 17, 2014.    REUTERS/Edgar Su