100 AM awakens

FOR 18 years, Nana Fish Head Curry occupied a food stall of less than 150 sq ft in the food court of the former Amara Shopping Centre in Tanjong Pagar. Yet, it managed to build up a thriving business and a massive following. It was only natural that Nana Fish Head Curry would return when Amara Shopping Centre, which closed in late 2010 for a $32 million revamp, reopened last November as the sleek new 100 AM.

It wasn't just 100 AM that underwent an upgrade. The new Nana Fish Head Curry that opened last month is a full-fledged restaurant with a seating capacity of 90 people. At 1,600 sq ft, the restaurant is more than 10 times the size of its former food stall. Yuan Food Holdings, the 20-year-old food company that owns Nana Fish Head Curry, spent more than $100,000 fitting out the new flagship restaurant, says its 41-year-old managing director, Alvin Mok. He plans to roll out a pipeline of new offerings on the menu over the coming months.

To date, the four-level 100 AM shopping mall, which has a total lettable area of 127,000 sq ft, is 96% leased. Anchor tenants at 100 AM include NTUC's Fairprice Finest supermarket, which is the largest tenant occupying 25,000 sq ft, and Koufu food court with 12,000 sq ft. "We want to have a complementary mix of trades," says Albert Teo, group CEO of the listed property and hospitality company, Amara Holdings, which owns 100 AM, the adjoining Amara Hotel and the Amara Corporate Tower office block.

Update, rejuvenate

The new 100 AM sports an edgy façade with coloured glass fins that are illuminated in the evenings. Its interior is designed to create a sense of space, with wide walkways and a soaring central atrium with a skylight. "We wanted to create an ambience that's bright, and very inviting," says Teo.

The 100 AM shopping mall is yet to be officially launched as not all the tenants have moved in. Teo plans to launch the mall when all the tenants are fully operational. To date, about 40% of the space in 100 AM is occupied by F&B outlets, and the rest by retail outlets and services.

Besides established names such as Cedele, Imperial Treasure, Subway and Starbucks, the other F&B offerings include House of Dimpas, designed as an Asian tapas bar and Pagi Sore Indonesian restaurant.

The F&B offerings at the shopping mall also include new-to-market entrants from Japan and South Korea. For example, Tsujiri Tea House is a 150-year-old company from Uji, Kyoto, the birthplace of Japanese green tea or maccha. Tsujiri, which specialises in ice-blended maccha, opened its first outlet in Singapore at 100 AM. Another new entrant is Okada Coffee, which has five coffee shops in Kumamoto, Japan. The 65-year-old company opened its first overseas outlet in Hong Kong three years ago, and its first in Singapore at 100 AM. Meanwhile, there is the Oyster & Crab Restaurant headed by Chef Asai Masashi, where the highlight is the King Crab and Hairy Crab air-flown from Hokkaido.

Hailing from South Korea is the Jeju Korean Restaurant started by Park Dong Choel, who is from Jeju Island — famous for its raw fish and seafood. The speciality of Park's restaurant is the "authentic Korean raw fish concept". The fish will be acupunctured before being air-flown to Singapore. This way, they will still be alive and fresh when they arrive at the restaurant, explains Yun Ul Young, a Korean national who has been in Singapore for 10 years and operates three Korean Charcoal Barbeque Restaurants in the city-state together with his sister and brother-in-law. Yun is working with Park on the Jeju Korean Restaurant in 100 AM, which occupies around 2,900 sq ft. About $800,000 will go towards setting up the restaurant, which will feature nine private rooms instead of a main dining hall.

The 100 AM shopping mall has also turned into a hub for entrepreneurs in the retail, services and F&B business. One such entrepreneur is Singaporean Koh Yong Thye, who started Simply Wrapps and Fruitz Craze last year after a 15-year stint in a multinational telecommunications firm. "Simply Wrapps and Fruitz Craze focus on providing healthy, quick-serve cuisine," says the 40-year-old Koh. While Simply Wrapps is all about wraps, salads and soups, Fruitz Craze specialises in juices, smoothies and cut fresh fruit. Koh pumped in about $200,000 to set up his maiden, 452 sq ft outlet in 100 AM, which opened in November. He intends to open more outlets in the CBD and business parks.

One of the services that opened at 100 AM on Feb 13 is Alteration Initiative, which has taken up close to 650 sq ft of space on the fourth level. As the name suggests, Alteration Initiative provides alteration for formal and casual wear, ranging from suits to gowns, dresses, pants and shirts to even T-shirts. Alteration Initiative is the brainchild of Josephine Ng. Three years ago, she founded A-Changing Pte Ltd as a social enterprise that helps disadvantaged women to learn garment alteration skills and provide them with a source of income.

The 44-year-old Ng now has three outlets — Haute Alterations in Mandarin Gallery that focuses mainly on alterations to formal wear such as couture gowns and suits; and two Alteration Initiative outlets, one is at Chevron House, which was opened two years ago, and the other, also the latest at in 100 AM. She currently has a staff strength of close to 40, of which half are 50 years and older. At the 100 AM outlet, she will station four seamstresses and a worker for customer ser vice. According to Ng, while the Tanjong Pagar area is still "untested", she's confident that there will be a buzz once the new developments currently under construction are completed. She also finds the rental rates at 100 AM "reasonable" compared with other areas, she adds.

Cynthia Chua, businesswoman and founder of the Spa Esprit Group, is not just bringing in the popular Skinny Pizza pizzeria to 100 AM, but also two other brands, Browhaus (brow and lash grooming services) and Strip (waxing services), which will occupy 2,500 sq ft on the third level of 100 AM. The Browhaus at 100 AM will be the group's 14th outlet, while its adjoining Strip outlet will be its 15th. The Skinny Pizza at 100 AM is the group's fifth in Singapore, and at 1,900 sq ft, will also be one of its largest. It's scheduled to open on March 6, while Strip and Browhaus are expected to open on March 25.

Manpower issues

For most retailers and especially so for F&B operators, the biggest challenge when it comes to expansion is getting manpower. For instance, Simply Wrapps' Koh says his biggest headache initially was finding service staff because of the tightened foreign worker quota. "I had a 100% staff turnover rate in the first two weeks," he laments. However, operations have since stabilised and he now has six service staff members. Nana Fish Head Curry's Mok agrees. He cites difficulty in finding workers as one of the reasons for the delay in the opening of the Nana Fish Head Curry restaurant at 100 AM. Today, he also has six staff members to help out at his restaurant

Manpower issues continue to be a bugbear for the F&B, retail and services sectors, notes Png Poh Soon, head of research at Knight Frank in his Jan 24 report. "While several retailers are keen to set up shop at good quality malls, they are often mindful of the hiring challenges they may face. Hence, they are cautious about committing to a lease and often take a longer period to decide, with some eventually deciding not to expand."

The other challenge for F&B operators at 100 AM is similar to what most F&B outlets in the CBD area face — slow traffic on weeknights and weekends. "Because of the office buildings in the vicinity, it's usually crowded at lunchtime on weekdays," says Nana Fish Head Curry's Mok. However, on weeknights and weekends, the CBD area empties out when people are away from their workplace.

However, Amara's Teo sees this as just a temporary situation. The Tanjong Pagar area will become more vibrant over the next few years as more residential projects are completed, he says. They include Allgreen Properties' 360-unit [email protected] and the neighbouring 280-unit Altez by Far East Organization. 100 AM is also in the vicinity of half a dozen hotels including Orchid Hotel, the new CarltonCity Hotel and the upcoming Oassia Hotel as well as commercial suites at PS100. There's also GuocoLand's $3.2 billion mixed-use project that will sit on top of the Tanjong Pagar MRT station. The development will contain one million sq ft of Grade-A office space, around 80,000 sq ft of retail space, a five-star hotel, as well as residences. The development is expected to be a major catalyst for the rejuvenation of Tanjong Pagar.

For now, 100 AM is the only full-fledged shopping mall in the Tanjong Pagar area, observes Goh Han Peng, analyst at DMG & Partners Securities in an email response. Goh expects business to be good, given the neighbourhood has offices, hotels and residences. "This means [100 AM] can tap a good mix of tourists, shoppers and residents staying in the vicinity," he says.

This story first appeared in The Edge Singapore weekly edition of Feb 18-24, 2013.

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