40-Year-Old Ah Seng Opened A Durian Pastry Cafe Despite COVID-19

Singaporeans have an undying love for durians despite its reputation for being a “ smelly ” fruit.

Perhaps this is why Ah Seng Durian is confident to open not only a second outlet, but also a durian cafe amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This infamous durian stall just launched its new Durian Lab cafe and a second branch in Bukit Merah last week.

Aside from being a renowned durian seller in Singapore, Ah Seng Durian is also known for a 2019 tax evasion scandal. The brand’s founding brothers have evaded more than $ 160,000 in taxes over the past six years. .

Despite the scandal, it seems the brand is rebounding with the expansion of its business.

The new cafe is heavily Mao Shan Wang (MSW) themed, offering MSW shortbread, durian pies, and even the now trendy burnt cheesecake for prices ranging from $ 5 to $ 12.

The reception at the Patisseries was positive, with over 120 pastries sold at 2 p.m. on the opening day of the cafe. This is quite an achievement in the conditions of Covid-19, as traditional catering businesses struggle to make a profit.

Durian Lab may be jumping on an outdated trend

Durian pastries are not a new trend. Food blogs like DanielFoodDiary have commented on the rise of durian-themed cafes over the past two years.

However, unlike bubble tea or Korean barbecue, the durian coffee trend has slowly subsided amid the allure of new food trends.

Enterprising cafes like Double Durians and Mao Shan Wang Cafe have closed despite the management expertise of established F&B groups like Four Seasons Durian.

However, cafes that strategically target a specific clientele, like Ms. Durian, have been able to ride the ever-changing waves of the restaurant industry.

Mrs. Durian
Ms Durian / Image credit: Daniel Food Diary

This durian cafe targets a predominantly female population with an eclectic menu of durian-themed pudding and crackers.

It’s a safe entry into the often smelly and sticky business of eating the King of Fruits, which has been banned from public transport for its stench.

Durian pastries seem to be the tastiest everyday alternative to raw fruit.

An attempt to modernize a 40-year-old company

Much like other F&B heritage brands such as Four Seasons Durian, 40, and Tong Heng Bakery, 100, the opening of Durian Lab appears to be an attempt to modernize an old-fashioned durian stall.

Four Seasons Durian successfully transformed an atypical fresh fruit stall into an island-wide franchise selling durian-infused products like durian puffs in 2002. The fruit stall was founded in the 1970s.

Likewise, Ah Seng Durian has a long and illustrious history as one of Singapore’s most trusted durian sellers.

Opened in the 1980s, Ah Seng and his younger brother “Ah Chung” began by selling kampung durians at their parents’ grocery store.

ah seng durian
Image Credit: Goody Feed

Following in the footsteps of other heritage companies, second-generation owner of Ah Seng Durian, 29, Leonel Shui, reported that Durian Lab was opened with the aim of improving the brand’s look and feel. .

The brand has already had a facelift over the years.

Ah Seng Durian has built a strong social media presence on Facebook and Instagram, with over 65,000 subscribers. The durian stand even has its own website.

Responding to modern sensibilities, Ah Seng Durian has partnered with popular local cafes such as Flor Patisserie and Keong Saik Bakery to create Durian Lab’s menu, reinventing the taste of fruit for millennial coffee lovers.

The goal is to encourage people who don’t like to eat durians to try more modern durian-themed desserts and to provide event space for businesses. It also helps that Ah Seng’s second outlet is located right next to the cafe.

By capturing a new, younger audience with a coffee, Ah Seng Durian ensures his survival for years to come.

Can Singapore’s love for Durian beat the pandemic?

Ah Seng’s strong brand name among rabid durian fans is a strong draw among local foodies.

However, opening a retail outlet during the Covid-19 period is a major risk for any foodservice player.

Durian Lab Cafe
Interior of the Durian Lab / Image credit: Eatbook

According to a spokesperson for the Restaurant Association of Singapore, 70% of companies in the F&B sector said their sales fell by more than 50% in July.

Many F&B have also turned to food delivery to save sales numbers. More than 10 new delivery players have joined the industry, and the industry is expected to be valued at US $ 464 million (S $ 635 million) by the end of this year.

Unlike other F&B that have jumped aboard the food delivery train, Durian Lab is currently only available for meals and take out. Still, the brand seems to be countering the downward trend in the F&B sector.

Despite a delayed opening that lasted more than eight months, Durian Lab reported that its limited-stock pastries sold out within hours of opening. He even actively recruits baristas despite the poor labor market conditions.

Since it is durian season now, this could explain the high demand for durians and durian products.

As durians are a fruit of the season, it is difficult to say whether Durian Lab will continue to thrive; but if so, it would be an impressive achievement for any catering business in this current climate.

Featured Image Credit: kkelvin blogspot / Seth Lui

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Jothi Venkat

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