Amid the dark clouds hanging over the food-and-beverage industry the past few weeks, a ray of light broke through for at least one restaurateur last weekend.
Chef Anthony Yeoh, who owns Summer Hill bistro in Sunset Way, was so overwhelmed by regular diners who turned up to support him that he posted a 61/2-minute video of himself talking about the experience.
Last Saturday was his restaurant’s Fried Chicken Day, which happens once a month, when he replaces the regular menu with a smaller one featuring the dish as the highlight. And it had always been a hit, with business hitting a high of 120 covers.
The tiny eatery has only eight indoor and 30 alfresco seats.
Because of the drop in restaurant traffic due to the coronavirus outbreak, he had expected business to be slower. So he extended the special to two days to cover Sunday as well.
But on Saturday morning, the phone started ringing off the hook with orders streaming in. In the end, he rang up the same amount of business each day.
The only difference was that about one-third were takeaway orders when, previously, it was mostly dine-in.
But what moved Yeoh, 38, was when some customers told him they came to “check if you guys are okay”. Others said: “We don’t want you to close down.”
Yeoh said: “For a whole month, there had been a lot of stress over how I was going to survive. And then to have people come up to me and say that.”
“It was a shot of humanity,” he added, saying that he was close to tearing up at one point. “But it was emotional in a good way.”
Ms Rachel Richards, 49, a New Zealand expatriate, was there with her husband on Sunday night.
They patronise Summer Hill regularly and she was there for her favourites of chicken pie, steak and tomato salad while her husband ordered the fried chicken.
She said they have continued to dine at the restaurant because the alfresco seating made it feel safer and the food was good.
She added: “I think it’s important to support local businesses, otherwise we will have nothing to return to. And we think continuing to go out is important for mental health – even though we do it a lot less.”
Yeoh said he had been lucky as business for him was not much affected because the restaurant is located in a residential area and has benefited from more people working from home.
He is also pushing his DIY Eats option, where ready-cooked meals such as prime rib roast and kurobuta roast pork are sold chilled and sealed, and just need to be heated up at home.
Previously, they had to be ordered five working days ahead, but will be readily available from tomorrow. Prices range from $45 for a roast chicken with sides to $288 for a prime rib roast enough for five persons.
Yeoh posted his video to “remind other chefs and business owners how they can support customers”.
He added: “The reason customers wanted to come out was that they needed this kind of comfort food, just to restore themselves. There is power to a meal.
“We can provide a safe place for people to escape to. They will return the favour.”