After nearly 100 years, Kong Thai Lai Coffeeshop forced from original home

Calling it a day after 100 years...Gary Tan closing the Kong Thai Lai coffeeshop for the last time at Hutton Lane in George Town, Penang, September 26, 2016. — Picture by KE Ooi
Calling it a day after 100 years...Gary Tan closing the Kong Thai Lai coffeeshop for the last time at Hutton Lane in George Town, Penang, September 26, 2016. — Picture by KE Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, Sept 26 — Today is Kong Thai Lai Coffeeshop’s final day of operations at its home for the past century in Hutton Lane here, but onlookers would never be able to tell.

Its wooden tables are packed to the brim with customers who have been streaming in for the past several weeks to enjoy their final cup of coffee and toast before the coffeeshop is forced to move to a new location about 300m away.

The coffeeshop — best known locally as the late magnate, Tan Sri Loh Boon Siew’s favourite coffeeshop — was evicted by its new landlord and will close its doors for the final time here around 4pm today.

The last day... Kong Thai Lai Coffeeshop is packed with customers on its final day before it closes for good in this location where it has been in business for almost 100 years. — Picture by Opalyn Mok
The last day... Kong Thai Lai Coffeeshop is packed with customers on its final day before it closes for good in this location where it has been in business for almost 100 years. — Picture by Opalyn Mok

Normally bustling, there was an added poignancy today as customers posed for keepsake pictures and scribbled short messages on its tiled walls that ranged from “I love their toast and kopi” to “I will miss this place”.

Its third generation owner, Tan Jeng Seow, was saddened by the relocation, but is resigned to the fact that he must move since he is only a tenant.

Tan, whose grandfather started the coffee shop back in 1920, grew up in the living quarters above with his parents and siblings.

Regular customers having their last cup of coffee at Kong Thai Lai coffeeshop during its last day of business at Hutton Lane, George Town, September 26, 2016. — Picture by KE Ooi
Regular customers having their last cup of coffee at Kong Thai Lai coffeeshop during its last day of business at Hutton Lane, George Town, September 26, 2016. — Picture by KE Ooi

“All my memories will be lost after this,” he said with melancholy as he prepared what will be the last cups of coffee for his customers here.

When the shutters are lowered this evening, Tan will start packing up in preparation for the move to 38, Leith Street.

While the new location is also a heritage building, the history is not be that of Kong Thai Lai Coffeeshop, known for its kopi-O, or black coffee made with Robusta beans roasted in their own inimitable manner, and crunchy toasts slathered in kaya and butter.

Regular customer Phoon Kok Cheong helping to pack and move some of the items at the Kong Thai Lai Coffeeshop that will be closing down, September 26, 2016, George Town, Penang. — Picture by Opalyn Mok
Regular customer Phoon Kok Cheong helping to pack and move some of the items at the Kong Thai Lai Coffeeshop that will be closing down, September 26, 2016, George Town, Penang. — Picture by Opalyn Mok

One regular, Phoon Kok Cheong, 73, said he has been frequenting the shop since he was a child.

“I grew up across the street from the coffee shop and used to come here with my koleh to buy kopi-o,” he said as he reminisced.

He even remembered the day Tan was born and how he thought the latter had “such a huge head”.

“We all grew up here, I watch the Tan family grew up here, even remember seeing Boon Siew coming here for his coffee,” he said.

The bonds that went beyond shopkeeper and customer were apparent as Phoon helped Tan to pack for the coming move.

“This is the place where my group of friends would come for breakfast, maybe we will go to the new place but it’s not as convenient any more,” Phoon said.

The last cup of coffee being prepared at the 100-year-old Kong Thai Lai coffeeshop, September 26, 2016. — Picture by KE Ooi
The last cup of coffee being prepared at the 100-year-old Kong Thai Lai coffeeshop, September 26, 2016. — Picture by KE Ooi

The coffeeshop along with four others in the row were served eviction notices back in March.

They were ordered to vacate the premises by June, but were given an extension until end of this month after appealing to the new building owner, a Singapore-based company.

The tycoon affectionately called Boon Siew ate his breakfast here every day until the final years before his death in 1995.

Loh was the first sole distributor of Honda motorcycles in Malaysia and was known in Penang for his rags to riches story.

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