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’s, Shakey’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
that macca’s photo sure brings back memories. do you remember big rooster (located at the building next to the current H&M)
Hi Jaune, I read that Big Rooster was taken over by Red Rooster (Australia) in 1992. I didn’t have the chance to taste it, but have read the not-so-positive reviews of its roasted chicken 😀
I sure miss the A&W in Bukit Merah!
Love the root beer floats!!!
Found your blog by accident and love it 😉
Thanks! Your photos of Greece are amazing, especially the sunset ones
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.
I visited Singapore while serving in the U.S. Navy. Singapore looked much different then, I remember coming to what I believe is the Collyer Quay. We were hungry, so, to our surprise was the A&W Rootbeer restaurant that you refer to. There was nothing much around it then, as I recall from 47 years ago. We had lunch there, burger and frosty Rootbeer, then took a taxi to the Britannia Club. The taxi driver wanted to increase his fare, so instead of driving directly to it, he drove around the city for about 15-20 minutes and dropped us off at the Britannia Club. I had noticed War Memorial (Chopsticks) to my right when I first stepped foot ashore, and found that when the taxi dropped us off at the Club, we were right accross the street from the War Memorial Park and also from the Raffles Hotel on Beach Road. We could have easily walked. I have many fond memories of Singapore from back in the late 1960’s. I hope to be back. My colleague happens to be there now.
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 😀
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.
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.
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.
As i recall….
The current KFC at Bukit Merah Central WAS Texas Fried Chicken before they closed and KFC took over wasn’t it..?
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…
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.
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.
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 🙂
A & W’s at Siam Square..? hehehe
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 🙂
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.
Looks like most people miss the good ‘old A&W 😀
Hope they can bring it back someday..
does it make you feel old just going down memory lane?? anyway they are happy memories…
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!
I think there’s still a Ponderosa restaurant at Raffles City…
last time we loved to call it “盘大肉少” 😀
hi, Arnold’s is owned by 2 Chinese men, who were featured in TV some time in 2010/2011, though their customers are mostly Malays due to its location near Geylang Serai…
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.
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…
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?
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!
Imperial Theatre. I lived opposite the theatre in Yew Lian Park. The only thing that never changed is Nam Kee Chicken Rice till this day.
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.
Photo with credit to http://www.facebook.com/dannykohpohsoon
I spent a chunk of my childhood weekends at EC MCD, for 5 years! It used to be my family’s bonding session, building on children’s meals!!! I cried at this photo *seriously*
Over at our neighbouring country Malaysia, Mcdonald’s opened its first ever branch at Bukit Bintang in 1982
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*
there was an A&W in Clementi Central too. i used to frequent there in my childhood 20+ years back…
Another old photo of the A&W Restaurant at Bukit Merah central (1980s)
The photo gives me chills in a good way….I loved how simple it was back then, so carefree and nostalgic! Loved every thing about A&W in design 🙂 I recalled hanging out with my then schoolmates in Bedok Central outlet and spending 3-4 hours yakking away…. It was not so crowded at that time.
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!
Root beer float!
Have to order this during my trip to Batam 🙂
Jollibee is back, though.
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
(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.
Bring Danny and AW back to Singapore
YES!!! MUST BRING BACK AW!!!! 😦
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!!
And yeah i too thought i saw jollibee here now?!?
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”)
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.
I Miss A&W…..
Remembered my parent brought me to Clementi outlet.
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”)
Does anyone have a picture of KFC ‘s interior in the nineties ?
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?
Meanwhile in our neighbouring Malaysia…..
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.
Farewell to PJ’s iconic A&W outlet
28 January 2018
The Star Online
The fate of the iconic A&W restaurant along Lorong Sultan, Petaling Jaya has been decided, after years of flipping back and forth over its operations.
A source from Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) said the 0.4ha land had been approved for development during the recent one-stop-centre (OSC) committee meeting. This would mean the demolition of the famous fast food site will take place anytime to make way for the upcoming development.
It was previously reported that its landowner KUB Malaysia Bhd planned to build two office towers and had not decided if the development would be fully commercial, mixed development or serviced apartments.
Bukit Gasing assemblyman R. Rajiv confirmed that KUB received the green light from MBPJ to redevelop the site and its development plans had also been approved.
“I am deeply saddened that this iconic building is going to be torn down and I really wish that they didn’t have to do it.
“However, we also have to respect that this is a private land and the owner is allowed to develop the land in accordance with the guidelines and law,” he said.
Rajiv said the development consists of a one-block, 20-storey office tower inclusive of a four-storey carpark. The initial development plan submitted was for a 36-storey building, however, MBPJ brought it down to 20 storeys, inclusive of the carpark space. When contacted, KUB said there were no comments for now and that an announcement will be made soon.
News of the closing of the A&W building has been circulating since mid-2014, where customers flocked over to the eatery immediately after news broke that it would be shutting down. Fans of the outlet, especially those who grew up visiting the iconic building, even took to social media to express their sadness over the impending closure.
However, not long after, plans to tear it down was then called off. Then in 2016, plans to redevelop the land resurfaced again and development plans had been ongoing ever since and is now finally confirmed.
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..
Wendy’s Singapore Closes Last Outlets, Pulls Out of Singapore Again
Fri, May 1, 2015
Wendy’s Singapore died a quiet death after closing their last outlet in National University of Singapore (NUS) UTown’s Town Plaza today.
The fast food chain restaurant sold burgers, and was well known for its shakes, as well as sides such as chilli and baked potatoes. It originated from the United States (US) in 1969, and was first brought into Singapore in the 1980s.
Despite its popularity among the people for its square patties, with outlets in Far East Plaza and Parkway Parade, the fast food chain inevitably exited the market not long after. In 2008, however, Lim Bee Huat, Chairman of Kopitiam Group of Companies, managed to bring Wendy’s back to Singapore.
Back then, in a Channel NewsAsia report, the company declared plans to open a total of 35 Wendy’s outlets in Singapore over the next decade. It started out by opening its first outlet in Lau Pa Sat Festival Market in December 2009, and steadily increasing it to a total of 11 outlets in 2012.
However, the fast-food burger chain had been closing one outlet after another in recent years. Despite its ambitious claims, and extended opening hours over at various outlets, trouble seemed to start brewing last year in August, when it first announced that its Century Square outlet of four years had to close due to a lease expiry.
This was then followed by a series of successive closures which started this year — many were blamed on lease expiry — such as their Holland Village store (of five years) in January and their Liat Towers branch (of five years) just a few weeks later in February. Other branches were closed too without any explanation given, such as their Lavender V Hotel (of four years) last month on March 15 and their Jurong Point branch just a day later on March 16.
From then on, it seemed as though Wendy’s Singapore social media team gave up engaging their customers. This is compared to previously, when the team would at the very least give replies to their users. Queries of late went unanswered, and many people, both on the fast-food chain’s Facebook page, as well as on forums were left confused by the sudden closures of their favourite outlets.
According to various reports, Wendy’s closure is not unique to Singapore. In the US, media companies such as Heartland Connection reported that the Kirksville outlet had closed without any warning “for remodeling”, with no response from Wendy’s officials as well.
Popspoken reached out to both the Kopitiam Group of Companies as well as The Wendy’s Company, with the former having no comment or statement available on the matter, and the latter giving no reply to us by press time.
With no comments forthcoming from the company, speculation has been rife on the Internet, with people blaming the company’s pullout from our shores once again on manpower issues, increase in rental prices and a failure to compete with other prominent brands in the competitive local fast food market.
Help needed! Who knows which McDonald’s outlet was this?
A reader named Dean had his birthday celebration there when he was a kid in the 80s
This picture look like the outlet at United Square, Novena.
I sat beside the Director of A&W in Malaysia when on a flight to KL.
He told me that A&W would come back to Singapore and ‘make it big’ again.
It has been more than 10 years since that flight. With such a director (talk big only), no wonder A&W cannot make it back.
A&W is well and alive in the USA. Missing the iconic root beer float writing about A&W now. Good times.
I remember the A&W on Bukit Timah. We moved to Singapore from the States in 1975 and we ate lots of local foods but once in a while you want a little taste of home and a hot dog and root beer hit the spot. I remember when McDonald’s opened in 1979. Before the grand opening they had a test run where the employees could invite their families. There was a young man at our church who was working there and his family wasn’t interested in going so he invited our pastor and his wife and they were happy to go. The next Sunday,after the dry run but before the grand opening, everyone at church wanted to know what it was like. It was open a few weeks before we were even able to get a seat inside it was so busy, we just got our food to go and walked down Orchard Road a little and found a bench to sit and eat. By the time I left in 1987, McDonald’s were everywhere and one even had an indoor playground.
My first memory of A&W was at the Singapore Zoo, early 1980s. Had the long fish sandwich. I still remember its distinct tangy-sweet salad dressing and lettuce, quite different from the tartar sauce on McDonald’s Filet o’Fish.
My first McDonald’s burger? Filet o’Fish, early 1980s. Ate on the upper deck on a double decker bus, just outside the pre-renovated Plaza Singapura mall (DBS bank, McDonald’s at the entrance of the mall, mermaid sculptures inside the mall). Back in the day there weren’t so many suburb malls, getting to a mall would be a special family outing downtown planned for the weekend: notably Plaza Singapura and Parkway Parade.
A&W to return to Singapore in 2018
04 July 2017
American fast-food chain A&W will set up shop in Singapore again, after exiting the market more than 10 years ago.
According to a Yahoo report on Tuesday (Jul 4), A&W CEO Kevin Bazner said that A&W has an office in Singapore since 2016, and that the company is looking to open 30 to 40 new restaurants a year across Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
The company is currently looking for a retail space for its flagship in Singapore, which is scheduled to open next year. This flagship will also serve as a training store for other Southeast Asia outlets, Yahoo reported.
A&W – which stands for “Allen and Wright” – made its debut in Singapore in 1966 at Dunearn Road, and the first A&W drive-through opened in 1970 at Bukit Timah Road.
The fast-food joint’s hamburgers, hot dogs and root beer soon became hugely popular among Singaporeans and it is believed its success helped pave the way for other fast-food establishments to set up shop in Singapore, including McDonald’s (1979), Kentucky Fried Chicken (1977) and Burger King (1982).
However, by 2003, A&W faced stiff competition from its competitors and shuttered its remaining outlets in the same year.
A&W are making a comeback to Singapore next year on 2018, let hope that this time they use glass cup instead of plastic one on their root beer, lastly can’t wait to eat the pancakes
Oh I heard of the comeback too, but in 2019 at Changi Jewel.
Heard that in the 1950s and ’60s, mixing 7-Up and light soy sauce created a nice drink… anyone tried before? 😀
In the early 1980s, there was a Denny’s fast food restaurant at Blk 505 West Coast Drive. Now it’s a ‘Teh Tarik Eating House’ kopitiam, next to Domino’s Pizza. Previously from 2011-2015 it was some north Indian restaurant.
I remember back in the early-mid 1980s KFC served fried chicken with forks and knives, very formal and high class for a fast food joint. I think that changed when PepsiCo decided to acquire KFC (back then ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’, no acronym) some time in 1986.
Memory Makers: The secret behind Singapore’s Ronald McDonald
18 August 2021
For many years during his younger days, Andrew Kong, 64, was committed to keep a secret known only to a select few.
The reason? Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Kong played the role of Singapore’s Ronald McDonald, the ubiquitous mascot of global fast food franchise McDonald’s. Keeping his identity behind the paint mask a secret was key to him conjuring the magic of the Golden Arches.
Only top McDonald’s executives, alongside his family, knew his identity. For a time, he even had the privilege of being driven to events by managing director Robert Kwan, the man who brought the franchise to Singapore.
“If everybody knows who Santa Claus is, Santa Claus loses his magic. But the mystery – ‘Who is he? Where is he from?’ – helps to keep the magic of Ronald,” said Kong.
From 1979 to 2000, bar the occasional stand in and some part-time stints, Kong was Singapore’s full-time Ronald, gracing store openings, children’s events, hospital visits, and even had his own television programme.
Kong vividly remembers the first time he turned up at a store opening as Ronald McDonald. It was November 1979, and McDonald’s was opening only its second-ever store in the country, located at People’s Park Complex.
Like all grand openings of McDonald’s stores back then, it was a big occasion with a lion dance and a school band playing, alongside Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. Ronald was always accompanied by chaperones, one of whom would carry a mobile cassette player playing lively marching band music.
Kong was treated like a rock star, with his fans getting a little out of hand.
“The kids were crazy. They were chasing after Ronald and we had to run with the crew and all that. (We hid in a) store room, and the kids were out there banging the door. I think they cracked the door,” recalled Kong. “So that was quite scary.”
Kong would always introduce himself with his catch phase, “Hello kids, I’m Ronald McDonald, the world famous magical clown.”
And what was the children’s response like? “Magical,” declared Kong. “When a child sees a clown, they smile. Even old people will smile. They always say, in the first five minutes, you have already won their hearts.”
It all began when an acquaintance asked Kong, who was studying for his second degree and moonlighting as a magician, if he might be interested in the job. Intrigued, the then 22-year-old went for an audition where he put on the full make up and costume, and sufficiently wowed the McDonald’s management to land the gig.
But it was not simply a matter of putting on the outfit and getting dolled up: there was an entire philosophy to the character, which was part of a carefully mapped out marketing strategy. “If the kids love Ronald, they will also love McDonald’s,” explained Kong, who noted that there was a “very thick manual” and training videos on how to be Ronald.
“His status is the ringmaster. He’s supposed to be on top of everything and bring cheer and laughter to kids.” Above all else, it was expressly forbidden for Ronald to sell burgers or to mention product names, as it was considered distasteful.
Senior director of operations for McDonald’s Singapore, Jeffrey Tan, who spoke to Yahoo News Singapore in March about its first outlet in the country at Liat Towers, recalled being one of Kong’s escorts. “The action, the movement, what to say, what not to say, how to deal with kids: he has to follow protocol.
“When you see Ronald in functions, dinners, he eats nuggets. His plate is very different. The rest can eat whatever, he must eat nuggets, he must eat McDonald’s.”
Ronald McDonald University
The character of Ronald was taken very seriously by the corporation. From 1981, Kong was sent to Ronald McDonald training conventions in Chicago, where the company is based, every few years.
Up to a hundred Ronalds from all over the world would sit in a hotel ballroom in costume for three to four days, taking lessons from the top-ranking Ronald in the US and one another. And it was all kept very hush-hush. “As far as the hotel is concerned, there’s no poster saying anywhere this is a Ronald McDonald convention. We have a code word: TOM, or top of mind,” said Kong, who fondly recalled the “super, superb experience”.
He added that his peers were “very talented people”: ventriloquists, magicians, jugglers, dancers and singers who would bring their talent into their act. Kong even attended Ronald McDonald University – he has the graduation certificates to prove it – with professional magicians and clowns giving lectures.
“There’s a magic in clowning in itself. It’s a really nice feeling that you brought a smile to somebody’s face,” said Kong.
“Sometimes, you’re traveling in (a car) and then you’re all in your full make up at the traffic light, and you look at somebody else across the road or another driver. They look at you, they would smile. They become childlike themselves and it brings out the children in them.”
The magic of Ronald McDonald
Cynthia Tang, a partner at Tang Thomas LLC, can still remember her McDonald’s birthday party at United Square at the age of nine. It was a reward from her parents for doing well in school. “It was a big thing for kids back then, as big birthday parties for kids were not common,” recalled the mother of two.
There were games with party hats decorated with different McDonald’s characters such as the Hamburglar and Grimace, and a Ronald McDonald birthday cake: sponge cake with chocolate, white icing and rainbow colour sprinkles.
And then the star of the show appeared, out of the blue. “Everyone screamed when Ronald came,” said Tang, 40.
Ronald was usually not allowed to do birthday party appearances, so it was likely that Kong or one of his stand-ins happened to pass by during Tang’s bash. But for Kong, hospital visits were “particularly moving” because it was an opportunity to cheer up the sick especially younger patients. Ronald would often entertain “rainbow kids”, or children with cancer.
“Once you put on the make up, you become anonymous, we become less inhibited. It brings the goodness out of you.”
All things must end
In 2000, Kong decided to hang up his yellow, red and white outfit for good. Then, McDonald’s asked Kong to go full-time again, with expansion plans and a possible role for him as a sort of supervisor to other Ronalds. But he was doing another degree – Kong holds a Bachelor of Science, an external law degree and a licentiate in canon law.
He was also doing sexuality education and pro-life talks in schools and wanted to use his degrees in meaningful ways. So he bowed out.
One of Kong’s treasured mementoes: a Ronald ‘boot’ on a plaque that was presented to him upon 20 years of service, bestowing the title of Master Clown upon him. The engraving on the plaque says, “You have fulfilled a dream and we salute you, Master Clown, for 20 years of being a Merchant of Mirth.”
Even long after Kong had stopped playing the role of Ronald, he still believes in the mascot’s core values. “I bought into the philosophy that people enjoyed Ronald, they didn’t enjoy Andrew Kong.”
Having lived through what he considers a privileged experience, Kong is particularly proud of McDonald’s being a pioneer in corporate social responsibility, long before the term was invented. For example, aside from store openings, Ronald would only attend events organised for charities, and there was no fee involved.
Kong acknowledged, however, that consumer trends have changed considerably over the decades. He said, “During our time, it’s a big craze. But kids of today, they wouldn’t know who Ronald is.”