Swatow Lane Ais Kacang closes stall to open its own cafe

Swatow Lane Ice Kacang will open its new cafe on September 1, 2017. From left, Lee Wah Chai, Lee Eng Lai and Lee Wah Kooi. —Picture by KE Ooi
Swatow Lane Ice Kacang will open its new cafe on September 1, 2017. From left, Lee Wah Chai, Lee Eng Lai and Lee Wah Kooi. —Picture by KE Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, Aug 10 — The 94-year-old Swatow Lane Ice Kacang is closing its stall at the New World Park Hawker Centre and opening a new cafe within the same premises next month.

The stall, also known as the Lee Brothers Ais Kacang or New World Park Ais Kacang, will continue to operate until August 31 before it shifts to its new premises, a cafe lot on the other side of New World Park.

“My sons wanted to do this, I’m old, I can only help so I let them manage it their way,” said Lee Eng Lai, 67.

Eng Lai is the third generation to take over the stall from his grandfather Lee Kar Tee who started it back in 1923.

His sons, Wah Chai and Wah Kooi, have rebranded the business and officially named it “Swatow Lane Ice Kacang” because it is commonly known by regular customers.

A picture of Eng Lai holding out a bowl of ice kacang aptly became the new logo for Swatow Lane Ice Kacang.

“Our eldest brother, Wan Onn, is tired. He’s been running the stall at the hawker centre for 10 years and he wanted to rest so we decided to close the stall and take up this lot to start a different concept instead,” said Wah Kooi, who is the youngest of the three brothers.

The Lee brothers were grateful to the New World Park management for letting them giving up the stall in the hawker centre and shift to a cafe lot which faces the main road Burmah Road.

“They offered us a good rental rate for the lot and we are really grateful that they kept this lot vacant for us even as we were negotiating about renting it in the last few months,”  the brothers said.

Eng Lai’s sons had previously wanted to close down the stall in the hawker centre due to rising costs back in April this year.

After negotiating the rental rates with the New World Park management, they decided to stay on and a few months later, worked out this new deal instead.

“We wanted to move to another place even then but my father didn’t want to leave this area, after all, this was where the stall was started by our great grandfather,” Wah Kooi said.

The Cafe

The Lee brothers plan to open the new cafe on September 1.

“We will also be selling local fare like char koay teow and laksa but we are still searching for an experienced chef who can make these dishes,” they said.

In the beginning, they plan to take supplies from local hawkers because Eng Lai has many hawker friends who are willing to supply to them.

The famous Swatow Lane Ais Kacang with fruits August 8, 2017. —Picture by KE Ooi
The famous Swatow Lane Ais Kacang with fruits August 8, 2017. —Picture by KE Ooi

The concept of the cafe will be one that will suit both old and new customers, they said.

“We don’t want our regular customers, all are our father’s friends, to come and feel uncomfortable because they have been supporting us for so many years,” Wah Kooi said.

They will be decorating the ground floor with a heritage feel to it while on the mezzanine floor upstairs, it will be modern decor for the younger crowd.

“It will be like an old style kopitiam on the ground floor so that our regular customers will feel comfortable while upstairs, it will be air conditioned with modern seating for the younger crowd,” he said.

They are also finalising the pricing of the items on the menu but one thing is for sure, there will not be any drastic price increases.

“We will not set too high a price for our ice kacang, it will not be fair to our loyal customers, all of whom are around my father’s age,” he said.

They are thinking of increasing between 20 sen to 50 sen for some of the drinks and the ice kacang.

“We want to keep it affordable for our customers,” he added.

The Swatow Lane Ice Kacang started out as a small roadside stall selling ice balls in syrup by Lee Kar Tee in 1923.

Kar Tee’s sons, Soo Eng and Soo Khan, took over the stall in the 1950s, and the ice balls have already evolved into ice kacang which is shaved ice topped with cooked sweetened kidney beans and two different types of syrup, red and Sarsi-flavoured syrup.

Eng Lai, his brother, Eng Huat, and two sisters took over the stall in 1963 but the sisters soon stopped.

The stall, under Eng Lai, was shifted into New World Park in 2007 and Eng Lai’s sons, Wah Onn and Wah Chai, helped managed the stall as the anchor tenant for the hawker centre

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