A Brief Past of Ridout Tea Garden and its Popular McDonald’s

The popular McDonald’s outlet at Ridout Tea Garden may be closing this end of 2021. Many Singaporeans expressed a pity when the news was released not long ago, as this unique McDonald’s with a picturesque setting has become a prominent landmark in the vicinity since 1989.

The Ridout Tea Garden’s history began even earlier as Queenstown Japanese Garden. It was 1970 when a small Japanese garden was first built at its current location. A typical Japanese-style garden or park was not new in Singapore. Alkaff Lake Gardens was built by the wealthy Alkaff family in the 1920s as the first Japanese garden in Singapore. It lasted until 1949 when it was sold, with the site redeveloped over the years to become Sennett Estate. A larger and better known Japanese Garden was created at Jurong in the late sixties and officially opened in 1973.

Queenstown Japanese Garden became a popular leisure venue for the nearby residents, with occasional events such as photographic competitions organised by the Queenstown Community Centre. It also consisted of 23 shops that sold a wide variety of consumer products such as furniture, sports equipment, clothes, electronic goods as well as food and beverages. One eatery, called Queen’s Garden Restaurant, offered both Western and Chinese cuisines.

The Queenstown Japanese Garden, however, was destroyed in a fire in June 1978. Almost all the shops had gone up in smokes, resulting in an estimated total cost of $1 million in damages. Only the electronic goods shop, stocked with $200,000 worth of equipment at the time of the disaster, was fortunately spared. It, however, could not survive for long as much of the garden was in ruins. With the crowds gone, the shop was the last to move out of the garden.

In 1980, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) decided to rebuild the area with another garden. $500,000 was pumped into the project, which aimed to construct another park with the popular Japanese vibe. The building – formerly occupied by the shop spared from the fire disaster – was reworked and converted into a new single-storey tea house designed with a double-slope roof and installed with wooden and plexiglass sliding doors. A pond with beautifully landscaped gardens, footpaths and bridges was also created.

Unlike the former Queenstown Japanese Garden, there would be no shops for the new garden. Instead it was to be leased out to private operators as two unique eating places that could accommodate about 300 customers.

Named Ridout Tea Garden, after the nearby Ridout Road, the change of name signified the birth of a brand new place of interest as well as to avoid confusion with the Japanese Garden at Jurong. The name origin of Ridout Road came from Major General Sir Dudley Ridout (1866-1941), the British commanding officer of the Malaya Command in the 1910s and 1920s.

When it was opened in 1980, the concept of Ridout Tea Garden was well-received but the crowds commonly seen at the former Queenstown Japanese Garden were absent, likely due to the lack of shopping amenities. There were some snack kiosks but it was a stark contrast compared to its popular past in the seventies.

Hence, in 1981, Kentucky Fried Chicken was invited to set up an outlet at Ridout Tea Garden, where the authority hoped that the popular fast food could attract the crowds to return.

In 1983, Ridout Tea Garden was one of the several filming locations for the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation’s (SBC) six-episode Army Series drama, which told the stories of eight young men enlisted in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

McDonald’s eventually replaced Kentucky Fried Chicken at Ridout Tea Garden in 1989, and, after going strong for 32 years, is currently one of Singapore’s oldest McDonald’s outlets, after the closure of the other decades-old outlets at Marine Cove and King Albert Park in 2012 and 2014 respectively. Today, the oldest McDonald’s restaurant in Singapore is the one at People Park’s Complex, which opened since 1979.

Ridout Tea Garden’s McDonald’s shares the premises with two other tenants – a Thai restaurant named Bobo (but was closed in 2020) and Far East Flora, a plant nursery.

To many, when it eventually closes, this unique McDonald’s will be a place made up of many fond memories. A common place where students spent hours doing their homework. Where early office-goers grabbed their breakfasts. And where friends met for suppers. Also not forgetting the football fans who crowded here to cheer for their teams during the late night live telecast of the World Cup matches in 2010.

Published: 5 May 2021

Updated: 28 June 2021

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5 Responses to A Brief Past of Ridout Tea Garden and its Popular McDonald’s

  1. Greg Tan Hock Lee says:

    Even before it became ridout tea garden, it was the Queensway Japanese Garden in the 1960s
    and there was a toy / hobby shop run by a Indian proprietor who amongst other things kept a decent stock range of “Airfix” scale model kits which I as a primary schoolboy then from St. Michael’s School and living within walking distance ( Margaret Drive ) the SIT (HDB?) block behind Queenstown Branch Library, visited the shop regularly just to ogle at the scale model kits and finally saving up enough pocket money to purchase the a few treasured Airfix model kits from the shop including the 1/72 scale Hawker Hunter F6 as the then SADC ( predecessor of todays RASF ) were operating with RAF Tengah Airbase handovers after the British Forces withdrawal in 1971.
    The other kit which I prurchased from this same shop in the Japanese Garden was the large Series 5 Boeing B17G Flying Fortress ( A bit O’Lace ) which building the kit to the huge famous WW2 four engined bomber was simply sheer delight for me at the time when I was 11 years old

  2. Stephen says:

    It is Mcdonald’s not Macdonald’s

  3. billy gan says:

    Was wondering do u have glen eagle hawker centre and coleman hawker centre photo

  4. The icon will stay on after all 🙂

    McDonald’s to continue running Ridout Tea Garden outlet in Queensway after winning tender

    19 September 2021
    The Straits Times

    Happy meals will still be a treat for fans of McDonald’s outlet in Ridout Tea Garden in Queensway, with the 32-year-old branch reversing a previous announcement of closure in December.

    A check on the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) website showed that the tender for the 57,453.9 sq ft site was awarded to Hanbaobao, Singapore licensee of McDonald’s. Its bid of $40,000 per month in rent was the second highest.

    Thirteen other food and beverage or retail companies also bid for an initial three-year tenancy, which can be renewed for two further periods of three years each.

    The Oddle Company, which runs food delivery platform Oddle Eats, placed the highest bid of $55,000.

    An SLA spokesman previously told The Straits Times that bids will be evaluated with half the overall score assessing the concept quality and the other half the bid price.

    The site – which has two units, one of which is occupied by McDonald’s – has been tenanted to real estate developer Hayman through an open tender since April 1, 2016. Its tenancy will be expiring on Dec 31, 2021.

    McDonald’s told ST in April that it would cease operations there in December upon the expiry of its tenancy agreement.

    In response to queries from ST, a spokesman for the American fast-food chain said on Friday (Sept 17) that it is excited to be able to continue serving regular and new customers in Ridout Tea Garden.

    “It’s a privilege to have been part of many customer memories here at this iconic restaurant over the last 32 years.”

    The spokesman did not elaborate on the company’s change in decision to stay on.

    The Ridout Tea Garden outlet is among the oldest operational McDonald’s branches here, having opened in 1989. The single-storey eating house pavilion, built next to a much-loved pond, initially housed a KFC outlet from 1981.

    It is unclear whether McDonald’s will be occupying both units.

    ST visited the Ridout Tea Garden on Saturday and found that the other unit was occupied by a Japanese buffet restaurant that just opened on Thursday.

    Queenstown resident Ethan Ong, 24, a student, is relieved that McDonald’s “will still be there because there is no other place like it”. He is glad that “kids can still experience running around the pond”.

    “It’s still a place I swing by on the way home, or if my family is craving supper on weekends, it’s our go-to.”

    A housewife, who wanted to be known only as Madam Kwek, 73, said she frequented the outlet when it opened in 1989, as she used to live in the area.

    “I’m glad that iconic place gets an extension of life. It’s a signal of hope that the greenery along that short stretch of Queensway can stay a little longer,” she added.


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