After a mere 19 months, Pablo Cheese Tart shuttered its doors quietly, closing both its outlets at Wisma Atria and Nex with not so much as a whimper. This follows news that it was withdrawing from Malaysia in July last year. Pablo, a Japanese chain known for its rich and creamy cheese confectionaries, had opened to a fair amount of fanfare and pomp, and anyone on the streets could recall the long lines snaking outside its outlet when it first opened in August 2017.
It goes to show, that while Singapore might be an attractive place for aspiring food and beverage brands to set up shop here, in a cutthroat industry where there’s tough competition, rising rentals, manpower woes or a general lack of market interest, it’s hard for even the best of brands to stay afloat. Market failures are a dime a dozen these days, and even the big boys can succumb sometimes, disappearing without a trace or any official statements.
Here are the food brands that came and left our sunny shores too quickly. We’ll be sure to keep them in our hearts.
1. Costa Coffee
British coffee chain Costa Coffee arrived in Singapore back in 2012, riding on Singapore’s booming coffee culture. However, hit by rising rents, labour woes and the growing popularity of indie cafes which encourage an appreciation of high-quality coffee as a craft beverage, have also exacerbated its failure to survive in the competitive market.
Over three-and-a-half months in 2018, it closed all eight outlets, with the last two bowing out in September.
On the bright side, Singapore is the only country they’ve exited. Its operations in other South-east Asian markets aren’t affected as it has plans to grow the brand in other regions.
Wendy’s made waves in Singapore when it first opened here in the 1980s, serving signature items such as cheeseburgers and milkshakes. Despite having outlets at Far East Plaza and Parkway Parade, it was pushed down to the bottom of the food chain by other popular fast food chains and exited Singapore’s market soon after.
Its second foray into Singapore was in 2009, when Chairman of Kopitiam Group of Companies Lim Bee Huat managed to bring it back. Its first outlet was in Lau Pa Sat Festival Market; by 2012, 12 outlets were opened across the island. But things didn’t get better and it eventually closed down its last outlet at National University of Singapore’s U-Town in April 2015.
3. Taco Bell
Calling all ’90s kids, you should be familiar with Taco Bell. This Tex-Mex fast food chain specialises in Latino American food such as tacos, burritos and nachos — who can forget those crunchy taco shells with minced beef? Despite being a hit in the United States, Taco Bell, which opened in the former Funan DigitaLife Mall in 1999, didn’t fair well with the locals and soon folded for good in 2008.
Remember how the frozen yoghurt trend started? Frolick was one of the OG brands that kickstarted the frozen yoghurt craze in Singapore and was probably best known for spearheading the concept of working as a froyo girl.
It enjoyed immense popularity, until other brands such as Sogurt, llaollao and Yami Yogurt came into the picture. Before we knew it, the outlets had little to no queue and slowly disappeared from the market.
5. Cafe Cartel
Everyone who dined there loved the one perk it offered: Unlimited bread. The casual Western chain was once in its heyday found in several locations including malls such as Plaza Singapura, Marina Square, Junction 8 and IMM Building.
Known for its affordable and good variety of mains, such as its signature ribs and various pastas, customers slowly trickled away, with complaints emerging that service and food quality was not up to the mark.
The most nostalgic brand of all with its famous root beer float and curly fries, A&W was one of the OG fast food chains to arrive in Singapore in 1966, even before McDonald’s and KFC, but left in 2003 due to global losses. Now many Singaporeans make sure to stop by A&W when travelling in Malaysia or Thailand.
In 2017, news emerged that the fast food chain will return to Singapore, with its first store slated to be at Jewel Changi Airport. Its CEO Kevin Bazner said its comeback was largely due to “the daily requests via social media and other channels to bring the brand back to the Singapore market”. Besides signature favourites there will also be menu innovations which cater to local tastes, he added. So now, we wait.
7. Everything With Fries (EwF)
If it’s hard for a foreign chain to stay in the market, it’s even harder for local SMEs. With outlets at Orchard Central, Holland Village and Bugis Junction, Everything With Fries was best known for its affordable burgers, such as the Har Jeong Kai burger, and wide variety of fries.
The casual, budget-friendly spot opened by the folks behind renowned local chocolate brand Awfully Chocolate was a favourite hangout spot among millennials. In 2015, it hit the news when it announced that it was told by its Orchard Central landlord to give up its space for an international retail brand.
They remained at EwF at Bugis Junction but with dwindling business and high rental costs, it eventually ceased operations in 2017.
8. Dairy Queen
We all remember this as the ice cream that is served to you upside down. If it falls off, you get to enjoy it on the house. Diary Queen prides itself on its soft serves and Blizzards, but saw a slow demise in customers and suffered from high rental costs. It returned to Singapore in 2012 at Tampines 1, but disappeared again soon after.
Good news, they still have outlets in the region, such as in Vietnam and Philippines.
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