Ponggol Seafood shutters after more than 50 years, Latest Makan News - The New Paper

Ponggol Seafood shutters after more than 50 years

Iconic seafood restaurant Ponggol Seafood, once famous for its chilli crab and mee goreng, shuttered its premises at The Punggol Settlement without fanfare on May 2, after more than five decades. May 1 was its last day of operations.

The restaurant changed hands in 2023. Its new owners, who took over and rebranded it to Ponggol, decided to throw in the towel after battling losses for a year.

Started by Mr Ting Choon Teng in 1969, the restaurant – originally called Hock Kee – was located at the end of Punggol Road, near Punggol Jetty. Its rustic charm and fresh seafood cooked in unique sauces used to draw hordes of locals and tourists to its zinc-roofed premises in the 1970s and 1980s.

The restaurant had to move out in 1994 when the government acquired the land. After operating at a few other locations over the next two decades, it returned to The Punggol Settlement in 2014.

The family-run restaurant’s second-generation owners sold the business in 2023.

Mr Fabian Lim, 38, who had been running a wine bistro next door to Ponggol Seafood, roped in his father Joseph Lim, 65, and nephew Edward Ho, 34, as investors to take over the restaurant.

But the trio decided not to pay a separate fee to continue using the original restaurant name to keep costs manageable. They officially took over restaurant operations on May 1, 2023, retaining the kitchen crew, with Mr Lim as the general manager.

They changed the company’s registered business name from Ponggol Seafood Holdings to New Punggol Seafood last April, but made changes to the restaurant’s signboard only this April when they shortened its name to Ponggol.

Mr Fabian Lim says: “I thought it was a waste to let a restaurant with more than 50 years of history close. I saw potential in the business and wanted to revive its former glory.”

He closed his wine bistro in September 2023 to focus on the restaurant. But the high rental, coupled with increasing operating costs and manpower woes, made it difficult to sustain the restaurant.

Mr Lim says there are no immediate plans to reopen the restaurant, although the lease is not up for another year. He is currently in talks with the landlord to end the lease.

The situation was a far cry from the restaurant’s heyday in the 1980s, when it even provided valet parking for customers who drove. 

In an interview with The Straits Times in 2010, Mr Ting’s son, Mr Ting Cheng Ping, said his father made his chilli crab using a concoction of soya, garlic, chilli, tomato and other ingredients which he kept secret.

The elder Ting also came up with his own version of mee goreng, using squid, prawns, fishcake and a chilli-paste combination in response to competition from the Indian stalls next to his restaurant.

When the restaurant had to relocate due to government acquisition of the land, the family opened outlets at World Trade Centre and East Coast Park. The outlets did well for 10 years, but had to move again due to redevelopment after a decade.

The restaurant found its way back to Punggol, at the Marina Country Club, in 2006. But its new digs at Punggol Marina, though a stone’s throw away from its original location, failed to draw the crowds.

In June 2014, the restaurant moved to its final location, about 100m from where the original Hock Kee was located, at The Punggol Settlement.

In 2016, the elder Ting died of lung cancer. 

The pandemic dealt the restaurant another blow in 2020, when it struggled to stay afloat. 

One of his sons, Mr Anthony Ting, who was a director of Ponggol Seafood Holdings, died in November 2022. He was 62. Ponggol Seafood’s Facebook page posted an obituary on Nov 24, 2022.

When Mr Lim took over the restaurant, he thought he could turn things around.

But running a Chinese restaurant has not been easy, despite having a decade’s worth of experience in the food and beverage business. He says: “I am more familiar with Western fare with a local twist which I served at my previous bistros.”

Since closing the restaurant last week, Mr Lim has been busy clearing out the premises. He has yet to tabulate the losses, but estimates the final sum could be as much as $1 million.

He says: “It is definitely a painful loss. The brand and seafood restaurant concept is one based on nostalgia, but it does not appeal to younger diners.”