Burgers, French Fries and Diet Coke

They are widely criticised as unhealthy junk food, but many of us cannot live without them. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you cannot deny fast food culture is firmly a part of our life now. Here is a brief history of how fast food conquered Singapore.

A&W (Alan and Wright) was the first ever American fast food chain to operate business in Singapore. It was 1966, a year after the independence of our nation, when A&W launched their business at Dunearn Road.

The chain expanded fast, and arguably hit its peak in the early nineties, before declining due to fierce competitions from rival fast food chains which arrived at Singapore at a later time. Its branch at Singapore Zoo was closed in 1999; by 2002, A&W had only 7 outlets here. A year later, its Singapore operation finally ended after it shut down its last outlet at Hougang Heartland Mall.

Curly fries and root beer float in frosted mugs are distant memories now, and so were the once-popular A&W restaurants at Ang Mo Kio and Bukit Merah centrals.

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) arrived at Singapore in 1977 with its very first restaurant at Somerset Road.

Currently operating almost 70 outlets in Singapore, the finger-lickin’ good chicken has charmed many Singaporeans for more than 30 years. 1988 and 1993 marked the important years for KFC Singapore as they launched their signature burgers in Colonel Burger and the popular Zinger.

In the late eighties, KFC restaurants, such as the evergreen branch at Thomson Plaza, served their meals with metal knifes and forks. The drinks were refillable too.

Kentucky Fried Chicken rebranded itself worldwide as KFC in 1991, not because of the rumoured mutated chicken, but rather the word “Fried” did not go well with the increasingly health-conscious consumers.

On 27th October 1979, fast food giant McDonald’s became the third American fast food chain to venture into Singapore. It broke the world record on its very first day of opening at Liat Towers, Orchard Road, when it served the most burgers in a single day (the record was broken by McDonald’s Beijing in the nineties). In May 1984, McDonald’s opened its first HDB neighbourhood outlet at Hougang, and in 1996, it became the first fast food restaurant to operate in a community centre, at Hong Kah CC.

As the most popular and successful fast food chain in Singapore, McDonald’s has over 120 outlets all over the island, with 18 of them going 24-hour operation since 2005.

McDonald’s highly successful marketing strategy has charmed Singaporeans over the decades. Since its introduction of collectable figurines for the promotion of its Happy Meals and Extra Value Meals in 1995, phenomenon sightings started to appear in many parts of the island as Singaporeans rushed to queue for the collectibles.

101 dalmatians, Snoopy, Pooh and Friends were big hits, but the Hello Kitty craze in 2000 truly dominated the headlines, both for the right and wrong reasons. During the 40-day promotion, hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans queued up for the soft toys in the first two days. Fist fights, shattered glass door due to over-congestion and even rioting happened in various outlets, resulting in dozens being arrested. In the end, McDonald’s sold 2.8 million toys, a record remains till this day, and queuing officially became the favourite past-time of Singaporeans.

The crave for pizzas and pastas began when Pizza Hut started operating at Jalan Jelita, Holland Road as early as 1981. Since then, it has grown to become the largest pizza chain restaurant today with 48 outlets. Pizza Hut’s success is also due to its concept of making home deliveries, which began in 1986.

Under franchise agreements, Burger King landed in Singapore in 1982 with its first restaurant at Peninsula Plaza. Singapore was the second stop of Burger King’s expansion into Asia; the first being Hong Kong in the late seventies.

In 1983, fried seafood specialist Long John Silver’s was the next to arrive, eager to share the local market pie which proved to be successful ventures by A&W, McDonald’s and KFC. In the same year, French-styled bakery Délifrance made its debut here, but started with only wholesale catering for hotels, supermarkets and clubs. It was not until 1985 when it launched its first Café bakery at Clifford Centre, Raffles Place, followed by its first Le Bristo at Robinson Towers in 1989.

Milano’s Pizza, operating by franchisee, opened here in 1984 in a bid to compete with Pizza Hut. It never had considerable success, outmuscled by its rival Pizza Hut in the marketing arena. By mid-nineties, the pizza chain could not survive and some of its outlets were closed down, whereas the remaining were acquired by another rival Domino’s Pizza.

Wendy’s (Old Fashioned Hamburgers), another American burger chain, also established its foothold in Singapore in the eighties, having outlets in Far East Plaza (picture below) and Parkway Parade. It exited the local market years later but the franchise has since been brought back to Singapore by the Kopitiam Group in 2009.

Old school American fast food restaurant-cum-entertainment center Chuck E Cheese was a popular hangout for many at Parkway Parade in the eighties. Children could play various games at the Fantasy Playland after having their fast food treats.

A couple of fast food chains, like Wendy’s, have exited Singapore and are able to make a comeback here, such as Domino’s Pizza, Dunkin’ Donuts and Texas Fried Chicken. But many others did not survive due to the intense competition or franchising issues. Taco Bell, Denny’s, Mary Brown’s (Canadian fast food chain), Wimply’sShakey’s Pizza, Big Rooster (Australian fast food chain), Hardee’s, Jack in the Box, Jollibee (Phillippines fast food chain) and Mr Potato are the examples.

Taco Bell has its operation here for a couple of years, mainly as combination stores with KFC, with its most prominent one at the Funan Digital Life Mall. However, it exited Singapore in 2008, as Mexican food such as nachos and tacos did not make their ways onto Singaporeans’ favourite food list.

American sandwich giant Subway made their venture in Singapore in 1996 with their first outlet at Lau Pa Sat. Having expanded to some 90 stores islandwide, its concept of healthy and customised variation of sandwiches has gained popularity among the locals.

Other minor players in our fast food industry include Spizza, DaPaolo, Carl’s Jr, O’Briens Irish Sandwich Bar (entered Singapore in 1999) and Popeyes (first outlet at Changi Airport in 2001).

Another fast food chain worth mentioning is Singapore-based Komala’s Restaurants, which serves Indian vegetarian food in fast food self-service setting. It was founded by Murugiah Rajoo way back in 1947, and has enjoyed reasonable success for more than 50 years, operating as many as 10 outlets in various parts of Singapore. It also has five overseas branches in Canada, Thailand and India.

Published: 21 October 2011

Updated: 22 November 2011

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48 Responses to Burgers, French Fries and Diet Coke

  1. inajaune says:

    that macca’s photo sure brings back memories. do you remember big rooster (located at the building next to the current H&M)

    jaune

  2. I sure miss the A&W in Bukit Merah!

    Love the root beer floats!!!

    Found your blog by accident and love it ;)

  3. Simon Hui says:

    My dad came home one afternoon, some time in the mid 70s, and said he was bringing me to have american fastfood, a hamburger, to be precise. We drove off from Toa Payoh Blk 124, where we lived to Robinson Road’s A&W. I had my first hamburger and frosty big mug of root beer. I must have been about 4 or 5.

  4. Erwin says:

    I’ve been trying to recall the name of that amusement park cum restaurant in Parkway Parade… thanks for bringing the name up – Chuck E Cheese!

    If I remember, they have those huge animatronics characters right?

    • yep.. and Parkway Parade was such a happening place in the 80s and 90s :D

      • Shanen says:

        I am still a frequent at Parkway Parade! But I do miss Parkway Parade’s older days – when I was younger, in the early 90s.

      • Clarence Yeo says:

        Agreed, Parkway was so happening – I still go down there a bit (still a Katong boy at heart) and I also miss Hardee’s. My 1st Mushroom & Swiss was at Hardee’s and my dad’s favourite was the roast beef sandwich – (slogan: sliced thin piled high). By the way, Wendy’s chilli used to taste much better back then and they provided hot sauce and crackers with it.

  5. ianinozzie says:

    I lived in Telok Blangah (close to Bukit Merah) so I definitely remembered the A&W there! My Dad used to bring me there for coney dogs and root beer floats. Memories…

    Anyone else remember that Kentucky Fried Chicken (before they renamed it to KFC) actually provided you with metal knives and forks to eat?

    And there was also another short-lived fast food outlet: Texas Fried Chicken. I actually preferred Texas Fried Chicken to KFC because the chicken was fried in a crispy way…this was when KFC only had original recipe chicken before they switched to hot and spicy/crispy chicken. There was a Texas Fried Chicken outlet at Bukit Merah…loved it.

    • Alvin says:

      As i recall….
      The current KFC at Bukit Merah Central WAS Texas Fried Chicken before they closed and KFC took over wasn’t it..?

    • mf says:

      Oh yes, I had KFC with fork and knife! I still remember I was then with my uncle’s family at the KFC Toa Payoh central…

    • Leslie says:

      Yes i remember. I joined Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1981 as a waiter (starting at Malayan Credit House at Somerset Road, but worked in many other branches too) and we served the food using melamine plates and metal cutlery. The uniform for male waiters was all white shirt with a black bow tie, white pants and white shoes and a paper hat. We sometimes carried 4 – 5 plates of chicken with our left hands. Plain water was free and we would top up the customers’ glasses as needed. Sometimes we had “runaway bill”, when patrons left without paying. But sometimes customers also left tips on the wooden bill tray. One of the things we faced was that crumbs would accumulate in the groove of the wooden chairs and we would use brushes to clean them out. Also, the tables had numbers on the sides (we used spray paint for this) and metal bases and we would sometimes use metal polishers to shine them. The Arnold’s restaurant at City Plaza was started by a person who was my restaurant manager at Somerset. At least that was the impression I got when I talked to him after checking out the restaurant soon after it opened.

      • Stephen says:

        Leslie, Thanks for the interesting post. Yes, I remembered eating at Kentucky with metal cutlery too. Now, if I am at a food court that uses plastic cutlery, I wont patronise the chicken rice stalls or roti prata stall as I dont enjoy eating those food without metal cutlery.

  6. petrina says:

    I miss A&W & Denny’s.. Used to go Denny’s for breakfast after working at Regent Hotel night shift when I was a teen.
    Whenever I go BKK now, I’ll be sure to visit A&W and eat their curly fries and the big mug of Rootbeer Float :)

  7. karen says:

    thank u for the memories! i remember my fav hangouts with great fondness: wendy’s at far east, n hardee’s at parkway. n top of the list fastfood was always coney dog n rootbeer floats fm a&w :)

  8. Stephanie says:

    Does anyone remember the A&W that was along Dunearn Road/Bukit Timah Road? Beside the huge storm drains? I remember my first trip there. The root beer float in an actual frosty mug, of course and those waffles! All with actual cutlery and plates, none of the disposable stuff.

  9. Looks like most people miss the good ‘old A&W :D
    Hope they can bring it back someday..

  10. Amyng says:

    does it make you feel old just going down memory lane?? anyway they are happy memories…

  11. Aurorin says:

    I miss A&W too… I also liked Orange Julius (and their hotdogs) that was at the old Cathay cinema back when I was studying at mt Sophia. What about Ponderosa and it’s salad buffet? I remember that’s the only thing I can afford on the menu in my student days and good value (since buffet mah)… Guess now there’s sizzlers but ponderosa had much better selection IMO.. There’s also Arnold’s in city plaza, pays lebar, a Malay-run fried chicken fast food. Always loved the fried spring chicken. And Waffletown in Bt Timah shopping centre… Best mashed potatos!

    Thanks for all these great articles that brings back tons of wonderful memories!

  12. Shal says:

    Thanks for bringing back fun-filled memories of so many fast food places I enjoyed visiting when I was a kid – I had forgotten about places like Hardee’s, Shakey’s, Chuck E Cheese and Big Rooster but once you listed them, the happy memories came back :-)

    I remember A&W at Dunearn Road in the 1970s was a real drive-in (not a drive-thru). My dad would park his car outside the restaurant and a waitress would fit a tray on the window so we could enjoy our Baby burgers, Mama burgers, Papa burgers, Coney dogs and Root Beers sitting in the car. We enjoyed the whole novelty of it (though it would probably have been more comfortable eating inside the restaurant!)

    My earliest memory of Pizza Hut was in 1981 at People’s Park Centre. At that time, it was a fast-food concept – order at the counter and they had small (single serve) pizzas in white styra-foam boxes (the kind that McDonald’s used to have for its burgers). The small serving and affordable price (<$3) was perfect for us so my family used to go quite often. Some months later, Pizza Hut opened a new concept at Jelita as a sit down restaurant, with bigger sized pizzas for sharing and more flavours. By that time, we were big fans of Pizza Hut so continued visiting them at their new location.

    • ken says:

      i was in bali over the weekend and we all hired a van and took a 45 min ride to the town just so we could have an A&W’s root beer float, coney dog and waffle. brought tears to my eyes…

  13. Nick says:

    I remember the A and W at thompson…..Now taken over by S eleven if I am not wrong……..I remember there was a cinema opposite it…..Always wanted to explore it when I was young but did not……..Wat a waste….Anyone remember it?

    • LisaMK says:

      OH my gosh! YES YES YES! I am a Thomson girl, and you just reminded me of the A&W there!! It was there as early as 1990!!! I was in school back then, and used to meet my sister at the A&W!! I really miss A&W, and i always had the coney dog, coke, and an ice cup – which was a scoop of vanilla ice cream with choc sauce!! And yes the cinema opposite – i remember that too, but that closed down years before to make way for Sin Ming Plaza – it’s beside the Thomson CC. Singapore changes too much!

  14. Grande75 says:

    Anyone remembered the playground by MacDonald’s at East Coast ? Its next to MacDonald’s. They have the MacDonald’s characters in the playground. Each time, after a meal there, we will go to the playground.

  15. Over at our neighbouring country Malaysia, Mcdonald’s opened its first ever branch at Bukit Bintang in 1982

  16. Nanan says:

    Gosh what sweet memories! I remember my parents would not allow me to eat at BK or Pizza Hut when it first came to SG, cos they weren’t certified Halal yet. Can’t recall when most of these restaurants became Halal-certified; so growing up during the 90s and missing out on all those yummy food was MISERABLE haha. Thankfully, children nowadays won’t “suffer” the same extent I did (at least for those with this dietary regulations).. But then again, they probably never get to taste coney dogs and curly fries.. *packs bags for Batam weekend to A&W*

  17. adam72 says:

    there was an A&W in Clementi Central too. i used to frequent there in my childhood 20+ years back…

  18. Another old photo of the A&W Restaurant at Bukit Merah central (1980s)

  19. Lee Huey Ching says:

    Very happy to see mentions of Wimpy and especially Hardee’s :)) I love Hardee’s at Parkway Parade! It was the most “restaurant” of all the fast food restaurants if you know what I mean:) Would be great if can find photos of it!! Loved the big cookie and the southern fried chicken n biscuits!

  20. Root beer float!


    Have to order this during my trip to Batam :)

  21. After more than a decade, the McDonald’s Hello Kitty craze is back in Singapore… Apparently other than long queues at the various outlets, there are reported quarrels and fights for the limited edition “The Singing Bone” Hello Kitty 8-O


    (Source: The Straits Times)

    Hundreds across Singapore queue for limited edition Hello Kitty

    Long queues were spotted outside McDonald’s outlets islandwide as customers jostled for the special edition black Hello Kitty launched at midnight.

    Queues for the Singing Bone Kitty started as early as 8pm at some outlets and reached almost 300 by 11pm at an Ang Mo Kio branch. Each customer was limited to four toys per transaction.

  22. BEVINN says:

    Bring Danny and AW back to Singapore

  23. LisaMK says:

    I LOVE YOUR BLOG! I miss A&W, was just reminded that there was one on Upper Thomson Rd – how I wish I could see a photo of it! Sigh…….. i went there many times as a school girl, to wait for my sister. Sigh.

    i had no idea that Chuck E Cheese was in SG!! I wonder why it didn’t last cos in US it’s MEGA HUGE!!!!! And I didn’t know we had Big Rooster or that it’s Red Rooster – I lived in Perth and LOVE Red Rooster!!

    BTW, is that photo of Milano Pizza from Serangoon Gardens? Opposite Chomp Chomp? That’s the one i remember going to – and the one in Thomson Plaza – as a schoolgirl, long time ago.

    I had no idea Denny’s closed – after clubbing as a teenager, we used to go there for supper! And I also had no idea Taco Bell left SG shores! I LOVE mexican food but they were a bit pricey but always so stingy with their fillings – i think that’s why they didn’t last.

    Thanks again for this walk down memory lane!!! It’s wonderful to remember these things, makes my heart ache a bit, but it’s good to remember!!

  24. LisaMK says:

    And yeah i too thought i saw jollibee here now?!?

  25. Another view of the McDonald’s at Liat Towers 1980s

    A&W Family Restaurant 1980s… Anyone knows where this was located?


    (Photo credit: Alison Emery of Facebook Group “Nostalgic Singapore”)

  26. toddrone says:

    Wow, great pix of A&W, looks familiar. If I’m not mistaken this outlet is along Dhoby Ghaut . the row of shophouses next to MacDonald House, towards Cathay cinema. As u can see Selegie Shopping Centre building in the background.

  27. Ashrinayu says:

    I Miss A&W…..
    Remembered my parent brought me to Clementi outlet.

  28. When KFC was known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, served with forks and knives, and had a slogan called “We do chicken right”


    (Photo credit: Facebook group “if you were born in the 70′s in Singapore”)

  29. Qi Han says:

    Does anyone have a picture of KFC ‘s interior in the nineties ?

  30. Vincent says:

    I can always fondly remember going to Jelita Caltex Mcdonald when I was a kid. Before Jelita Caltex was renovated, it was also a mini shopping mall within the petrol kiosk. Does anyone still have any photos of it?

  31. Meanwhile in our neighbouring Malaysia…..

    http://hype.my/newsdesk/the-iconic-aw-drive-in-to-close-down-by-december/

    The A&W franchise was brought into Malaysia in 1963 by Mr and Mrs Lie Boff from USA. The Lie Boff family opened their first outlet in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman making it the first fast food outlet in Malaysia. This was followed in 1965 with the first drive-in restaurant in Petaling Jaya. In 2001, A&W Malaysia was bought over by KUB Malaysia Sdn Bhd and in 2008, embarked on an aggressive expansion drive to revamp and expand its reach.

    However, this year, the company reported that they will close 34 A&W outlets (24 in Malaysia and 10 in Thailand) to reposition its business and operations to achieve sustainable growth. Any outlet that is not making money will be shut down or relocated

    Yes, apparently this includes the iconic 24-hour A&W drive-in restaurant in Petaling Jaya.

    Here’s a brief walk down memory lane for those of you who feel as nostalgic as we do about A&W:

    - The company name was taken from the last name initials of partners, Roy Allenand and Frank Wright.
    - The most famous A&W outlet is the first drive-in restaurant in Petaling Jaya, which opened in 1965 and quickly became a favourite gathering place for students, especially from the nearby Assunta and La Salle Secondary Schools.
    - The unique A&W root beer mug was often “collected” by these young customers back then. “Collected” cough cough.
    - It was THE filming location for Malaysian movies during the 70s and early 80s.
    - Other than its signature draft rootbeer and rootbear float, A&W also serves typical fast food menu burgers, French fries as well as hot dogs.

  32. Alvin says:

    I miss A&W. When I was in KL in 2010 and saw that A&W in PJ (pictured above), I was so excited and my Malaysian wife cannot understand why. Another thing I do miss after being away from Singapore for over a decade is the Hot & Spicy KFC, something that is unique to Singapore and Malaysia (I think). As a general rule, I do not eat fastfood when I visit Singapore these days, except Hot and Spicy KFC..

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