SINGAPORE – I went to ChiChi Dining a few weeks before circuit breaker measures were announced—when life was normal, and people shook hands when they meet. Having launched only in February this year, ChiChi was in the most unfortunate position to be caught in a whirlwind of social distancing measures that forced the restaurant to take to contingency plans of delivery and take-aways immediately.
ChiChi Dining is a project by the same folks behind dessert concept, Nesuto, and takes over the unit formerly occupied by Aloha Poke along Amoy Street. The kitchen is lead by Daniel Yee, former head chef of now-shuttered 52 Sandwich Shack. Daniel’s resume reads like a who’s who of the dining world, having worked with superstars of Singapore’s dining scene - Paul Longworth of Rhubarb Le Restaurant, Rishi Naleendra of MACA on Tanglin Road, Martin Woo and Desmond Goh of Mo’Mor Izakaya, and Chef Goh from The Disgruntled Brasserie.
His is a perspective I am keen to explore, especially now that he’s thrown knee-deep into an unexpected situation that sees many restaurants forced to close. Days after Circuit Breaker measures were introduced, ChiChi was already hard at work doling out a delivery menu that sticks very closely to the dining experience they’ve created in-house. But a bigger question lingers ominously in the air: How would this unprecedented time change the face of dining in Singapore?
What do you remember of your initial reaction when you received official news that everyone is required to WFH?
It was very shocking for me when we first received the news. Amoy Street is known for its vibrancy during lunchtime where a large number of office crowd would be seen as well as during dinner time and happy hour. It is also one of the highly visited tourist attractions. It is very concerning when we start noticing the empty street. We are very new at Amoy, and we were not on any delivery platform then so it was very overwhelming as everything was a rush, and getting on board with delivery takes a lot of processing time which resulted in severe delays.
Aside from sales numbers, what worries you the most about the circuit breaker measures being taken this month?
We’re afraid that it might shift the mentality of dining out. During this period, most people would have gotten used to ordering in and just feasting in their comfortable homes since almost everything is on delivery right now. ChiChi’s concept is not just about fresh and quality ingredients. Still, it also encompasses the union of dining together over conversations with cocktails and wine at our shop. The ambience and food altogether are what we want our customers to enjoy when they are here at ChiChi.
How have April plans in the works been affected by this partial lockdown?
As mentioned, we are still very new at Amoy Street. Therefore, we have a list of timeline which we are looking to execute along the way. Especially in April, we were looking to launch our lunch promotion for the office crowd. However, due to WFH, we would not be able to do so. Also, we have invited influencers to come down to experience what ChiChi is and those had to be postponed or cancelled.
What do you wish the government could do better in absorbing the impact of this situation for F&B businesses such as yours?
As ChiChi is located at a shophouse, I think it is in the very grey area where we are unsure if we would be getting any rental rebates from the landlord. Therefore, we hope that the government would be able to step in and better communicate with shophouses’ landlords on the rental rebates. Because until now, we have yet to hear from our landlord on this matter.
What advice would you give to other F&B owners such as yourself in getting through this tough time?
As much as it is cliché to say, having a positive mindset is still the utmost important factor during this tough time. Planning should always be a must and owners need to make sure to manage all costs properly.
When you look at the current state of dining in Singapore now arising from the COVID-19 situation, what is the one thing that gives you hope?
‘It ain’t over until it is over’. The hope is that we still have tomorrow. Being able to deliver our masterpiece to the customers will one day get them to come back to ChiChi to have the authentic experience that they were supposed to get while having the meals. This is something we are looking forward to, and it is the one thing that keeps us moving.
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