As many shoppers in the West might know, the Koufu Foodcourt in Jurong East’s JEM has always been a mainstay in the mall ever since it opened its doors for business nine years ago.
It has solidly occupied the majority of the space of the fifth floor in JEM for many years, next to Cathy Cinema and a few smaller eateries.
However, Koufu just announced that its food court will be closing down at the end of April, thus ending its nine-year-long history in JEM.
The Negotiation That Fell Through
When Shin Min Daily News interviewed Koufu Group, the Food & Beverages company told the Chinese reporters that they had begun re-negotiating their contract with JEM since August of last year, in hopes that they could protect the stallholders’ businesses during these difficult times, but both parties didn’t manage to reach an agreement in the end.
Koufu claimed that it had already informed all of its stall vendors about the imminent expiry of the lease, while making offers for them to shift their stalls to one of its other food courts across the island.
Some of the older stall vendors who have more inside details revealed that Koufu and JEM have been working in partnership for the past nine years, and the lease contract between both parties needs to be renewed once every three years.
The current contract was bound to expire by the end of this June.
They were aware that if Koufu didn’t manage to renew the contract with JEM, it would mean that the stall vendors would have to move out.
According to the accounts of many stall owners, the food court will be taken over by the successful bidder Kopitam in June, and then it will undergo renovations for three months.
Koufu stated that it’s unable to confirm which Food & Beverage Group or restaurant will be establishing their presence in the area.
The Stallholders’ Reactions
Towards this sudden news, old stall vendors were reluctant to part with their current stalls but expressed their understanding, whereas newer stall vendors who just spent a sizeable amount to open their business all said that they had suffered quite a huge blow.
For the Malay Halal Stall “Sedap Wok”, which is being operated by 48-year-old Zhang, he told Shin Min Daily News yesterday (22 Mar) that they had received the notice of closure without any prior warning last Friday (18 Mar).
All stall vendors are expected to clear out their stalls by 30 April and hand it over to the new owner.
Mr Zhang said, “The news arrived too abruptly, and we were all unable to react at that moment. It won’t be easy to find a new location in a short period of time, it’s too rushed. [Business] has been very difficult for the past year or two. The COVID-19 restrictions have just relaxed recently and we’re finally seeing the customers flow back again, leaving now is a genuine pity.”
Sedap Wok has been operating in JEM’s food court for more than two years and it has accumulated a decent number of customers, which is why they are reluctant to part from the current location.
Mr Zhang adds, “Koufu has already inquired if the stall vendors want to move to another branch, but everyone doesn’t seem very interested because they want to stay at the same place. But [we] have to wait until September if we want to sign a contract with Koptiam, so [we] are currently in a dilemma.”
Since the older stall vendors are more aware of the circumstances surrounding JEM and Koufu’s partnership, they accepted the news with more grace, and they claimed that they have already received numerous invitations from many food court chain groups.
On the other hand, newer stalls like Chinese Herbal Soup stall “Hongkong Shenxi” and Fried Fish stall “What The Fish”, which just opened for business in January and March of this year respectively, they had just spent quite a bit of money to renovate the stall and recruit their staff.
When the Chinese reporters did a walk-in interview, the majority of the staff members expressed their shock.
More Responses from Koufu
The Koufu spokesperson confirmed that after its food court closes down at the end of April, it will be undergoing renovations until June, before it is handed over to the new owners.
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, many stall owners have left in succession and inviting new stall owners to rent out the space hasn’t been an easy task.
Koufu has been facing huge losses in its operations, and expressed that it was a pity that they couldn’t reach an agreement with JEM.
When asked about whether it was unfair to the new stall vendors that the food court would be closing down in one month, the Koufu spokesperson said that in order to provide consumers with a variety of food choices, its business model has always been to recruit new stall vendors once a stall is vacant.
“The cost of setting up a new stall in Koufu generally only involves the kitchen equipment and stainless-steel signboards, which can be transferred elsewhere. We have already informed all of the store vendors about the expiring lease, while simultaneously extending an invitation for them to shift to other Koufu branches, to let them consider if they’re willing to move.”
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