|85-year-old coffeeshop serves its last meal on Thursday|
|Wednesday, 27 February 2013 11:05am|
©The Star (Used by permission)
Story and photos by VINCENT TAN
Popular coffee shop Sin Seng Nam will close shop tomorrow, after 85 years of being in business.
Located along Medan Pasar or the old “Market Square” in Kuala Lumpur, the coffeeshop has been operating from a three-storey pre-war building, which until recently was owned by the descendants of Loke Yew.
Sin Seng Nam is a beautiful example of architecture of the Malaysian pre-war kopitiam, with its high ceilings and swinging wooden windows, which make the place airy.
The building is over 100 years old, having been built in 1906. The Hainanese kopitiam has been very much a part of the building’s history and added to the old world charm that its surrounding area once had.
The nearby shophouses are still standing and in need of a fresh coat of paint.
But it is a far cry from the business and financial district it once was, with the premises now run by foreign workers. In fact, the area near the clock tower has been made into a pedestrian-only area.
Sin Seng Nam serves as the last reminder of Medan Pasar as it once was.
“My father, Choong Yoo Ying and his two brothers started the kopitiam in 1928 when Medan Pasar was still one of the main roads in Kuala Lumpur,” said second-generation owner Choong Ah See, 62.
Adorning the walls of the kopitiam are old prints, which includes photos of Medan Pasar with and without the small clock tower built in 1937 to commemorate George V’s coronation and pre-war vehicles lining the pre-war shophouses.
Choong took over from his father in the mid-1980s after he passed away and his uncles retired. He has been busy running the shop while his business partners manage the kitchen.
Choong’s sister Siew Yong, 70, operates the popular chicken rice stall, which not only sells roasted and steamed chicken during weekdays, but also fish and chicken curries on selected days.
Work starts at 5am, when Choong comes in to start the fires for his charcoal-fuelled grill and boil water for drinks.
Then his brother-in-law Wong Ah Toy, 78, and nephew Tan Loong, 36, come in at 11am to prepare for the lunch crowd.
Back in the old days when the superior courts were located in the Sultan Abdul Samad building, it was a favourite haunt among lawyers.
They used to sit there enjoying cups of coffee and discussing their cases.
Even till now, some lawyers still come to Sin Seng Nam as some law firms are located in the area and the Bar Council building is right opposite the coffeeshop.
“The lawyers used to walk here from the old courthouses in their robes. And during the trial of Mona Fandey and other popular cases, many journalists covering the cases frequent the shop for meals,” said Choong.
The kopitiam was also a regular meeting place for politicians such as Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh, as well as corporate figures such as Tan Sri Francis Yeoh and his brother Datuk Mark Yeoh.
Mark fondly remembers Sin Seng Nam as his favourite lunch place when he was a chambering law student attending court at the Sultan Abdul Samad building.
“I am sad that it is closing as it has been a part of my life for the last 30 years. I liked their fried meehoon for breakfast and chicken rice for lunch, but we had to be there by noon or it was sold out,” said Mark.
He added that Sin Seng Nam was an institution, but hoped it that Choong and his nephew Tan could re-open a similar establishment somewhere else.
Even now, the kopitiam is still a hive of activity, especially during lunch hour.
Staff from nearby banks come here for the chicken rice, Hailam noodles and chicken chop.
Choong said the wooden cash counter was there from his father’s time, as was the wooden cabinet and stool. The cash counter and cabinet will be sold to Heritage House.
“It is not easy running a restaurant. Maybe now I can take a rest and spend more time with my family,” said Choong, who has a son and daughter.
“I was also lucky that the Loke family did not raise the rent too much over the years. Nowadays, the rent in this area can cost five figures,” he said.
In response to whether it will be difficult leaving the business, he said: “I have mixed feelings.”
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