Restaurant franchises brought back from the dead

Restaurant franchises brought back from the dead

Just when you thought the economic downturn had limited your eating options, some of the world's biggest chains return to Singapore

Having shut up shop and left Singapore in previous years, several food franchises have recently returned. Here's a list of brands that are back, and a news about what's changed in their post-recession incarnations. 

Chili's  SingaporeChili's Grill & Bar 

After more than a decade away, the Chili's American chain returned to Singapore in 2009, opening two outlets, at Tanglin Mall and Resorts World Sentosa. Seems more than a few locals missed the franchise's famous ribs. 

“Chili’s Grill & Bar marked its return to Singapore last June with the first outlet opening at Tanglin Mall,” says Maam Argos, business development manager, Grandko Restaurants. “Grandko Restaurants took the initiative of bringing back this famous brand as it was well loved and missed by many customers looking for great Southwest American cuisine.” 

The restaurant closed “like several other American chain restaurants due to the Asian financial crisis,” according to Argos. She also says that its return “has had a steady response for both our restaurants and getting busier with our rib promotion.” The menu hasn’t changed much since it was last here.

Chili’s signature favorites include Big Mouth Bites, Wings Over Buffalo, Grilled Baby Back Ribs, Molten Chocolate Cake and Presidente Margarita. Argos says a new Guiltless Grill section was created for those looking for healthier alternatives.

#02-23 Tanglin Mall, 163 Tanglin Road; #01-072/073/074, 26 Sentosa Gateway.

Dunkin' Donuts SingaporeDunkin' Donuts 

No donut was more popular in the 1980s, and its branch at Far East Plaza was a must-stop when you ventured downtown. The brand made its comeback last year, but this time isn't relying solely on its fried dough to bring in customers.

“We opened our first store in June 2009,” says Benedict Tee, director of operations, Golden Donuts. “Peter Yu, owns the master franchise for Malaysia and when he decided to renew his franchise agreement with Dunkin Brands in the U.S., he was offered the master franchise for Singapore, which he gladly accepted.”

The new Dunkin' Donuts is a little different from the one we’ve seen in the past.

“In the past, Dunkin' Donuts were just small takeaway kiosk outlets,” says Tee. “We have come in with a casual dining concept and besides donuts, we carry a variety of cut sandwiches and also a wide selection of hot and cold beverages like latte, smoothies, ice-blended drinks.”

The brand currently has five outlets, at ION Orchard, The Esplanade Xchange and at the departure lounge of Changi Airpott Terminal 1, 2 and 3. Response has been “favorable” so far and “customers and sales are gradually getting better as the economy picks up.”

The company plans to open a total of 20 stores in a span of between three to five years.

#B2-17 ION Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn; #B2-02 Esplanade Xchange, 90 Bras Basah Road; Changi Airport Terminals 1, 2 & 3.

Texas Fried Chicken SingaporeTexas Fried Chicken 

You might remember this brand under the moniker Church’s Texas Fried Chicken in the late 1980s. Well, it’s back now and although there hasn’t been much fanfare about its return, the quality of its chicken speaks for itself. 

“Since late 2009, we have been in discussion with the U.S. franchiser regarding bringing in the franchise to Singapore,” says Ng Yi Han, management trainee, Select Group. “Our group was looking to expand our brand portfolio and was interested in taking on a fast-food brand, and the opportunity came when the brand was also looking for a suitable franchisee to operate it in Singapore. The much-anticipated first outlet finally opened in Singapore Expo on 9 June 2010.”

The brand was last seen in Singapore in the early 1990s.

“It was rather well-received but unfortunately the demand for fast food in those days was much smaller and less developed than what it is now. While the bigger players were able to survive given their high economies of scale, the rest were easily overwhelmed by high food and operational costs. Luckily, the market now is much more conducive, hence the influx of new players in recent years.”

A second outlet at United Square was opened at the end of July and response has been “great so far,” according to Ng. There have also been some changes to the menu. 

“The biggest change would be that we now have a dedicated breakfast menu, specially created for this market,” says Ng. “The menu also now includes more unique dessert items to give consumers more choices when they dine with us. For instance, our biscuit helado, made up of our signature honey-butter biscuit topped off with sweet warm chocolate sauce, and served with two scoops of ice cream, was an instant hit with our customers.”

The brand has plans to expand to a few more locations within the year, in both heartland and more upscale tourist locations.

Singapore Expo, Outside Hall 4, 1 Expo Drive, #01-42; #01-02/03 United Square, 101 Thomson Road

T.G.I Friday's SingaporeT.G.I. Friday's 

Who can forget the big T.G.I. Friday's restaurant at the Glass House, next to Park Mall? Well, the restaurant is back, up the road at The Heeren this time. 

“T.G.I. Friday’s came back to Singapore in December 2009,” says Ivy Ho, senior marketing manager, ChasWood Resources. “We are the new franchise developer for T.G.I. Friday’s Singapore. Over the years, Singapore has become a more cosmopolitan city with more Singaporeans increasingly becoming exposed to different cultures and foods from around the world. And that's why now is the time to make a re-entry into the Singapore market.”

Ho reveals that the response has been encouraging so far and the menu has changed since the chain was last in Singapore in the late 1990s.

“The menu has changed but the core signature items remain, like our Jack Daniel’s ribs,” says Ho. “The brand has evolved globally over the years.”

The company has expansion plans in Singapore and is looking at at least three more outlets in the next five years.

#01-K5 The Heeren, 260 Orchard Road. Tel: +65 6737 4223

Wendy's SingaporeWendy’s 

This fast-food joint has been absent in Singapore for more than 10 years but reopened in December 2009 with the franchise in Singapore held by food service management company Kopitiam Group.

The chain was popular in the 1980s, particularly famous for its square patties, with outlets in Far East Plaza and Parkway Parade. This time round their first outlet opened at Lau Pa Sat in the CBD. The second one followed in April this year at Jurong Point, then a third at Liat Towers, which was famously destroyed by the Orchard Road floods in mid-June after being in operation for just three days. The outlet reopened at the end of the July, after a reported S$500,000 was spent on an overhaul.

Kopitiam declined to be interviewed for this story, but according to a Channel NewsAsia report last December, they had revealed plans to open another 35 Wendy’s branches in Singapore over the next decade.

Unit #46 Lau Pa Sat Festival Market, 18 Raffles Quay; #01-94/95/96/97, Jurong Point Shopping Centre, I Jurong West Central 2; #01-01 Liat Towers541 Orchard Road.

Balvinder Sandhu has been working in the Singapore media scene for more than 13 years, as both a writer and editor, for various lifestyle publications.
Read more about Balvinder Sandhu
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