[Updated with the outcome of the lawsuit on 23 Dec 2020, 9:30am]
A feud has hit boiling point in the Singapore’s F&B industry as two parties are embroiled in a lawsuit on who owns the wanton mee brand ENG’s.
If you stay in the East or if you love wanton noodles, you may know about the rivalry between the two ENG’s wanton noodle stores at Tanjong Katong Road.
The original ENG’s Wantan Noodle currently sits along Tanjong Katong Road and was opened by its founder Ng Ba Eng in 2012.
It is known for its springy wanton noodles, luscious wanton dumplings, fried pork lard, and their exceptionally spicy chilli sauce.
Opposite ENG’s Wantan Noodle is the similar ENG’s Char Siew Wantan Mee store, opened by Ng’s children after a legal dispute.
This spurred us to find out what happened in the ENG’s versus ENG’s saga that has lasted for years.
How It All Started
Ng Ba Eng started ENG’s from a pushcart business more than 50 years ago.
In the 1970s, he opened his first ENG’s Wantan Noodle stall in Dunman Food Centre.
In 2012, Ng joined hands with an investor, Jason Sim, who pumped in S$150,000 and they shifted their stall to a storefront on 287 Tanjong Katong Road.
Unfortunately, Ng passed away from a heart attack the following year.
The business later rebranded to ENG’s Noodles House, and has since been registered as a company under Ng’s son Desmond Ng, and Sim’s wife Pauline New, as the director and shareholder.
Things Went Downhill From There
However, things didn’t work out between them by March 2016.
They went to court, citing problems such as irregularities in the accounts, disputes regarding shareholdings, and disagreements about customer service.
It was rumoured that there were many customer complaints regarding the quality of service by Ng and his two sisters after they took over the business from their late father.
Ng applied to court to close down ENG’s Noodles House but the court ruled that he could only exit the million-dollar business by selling his shares to the other shareholders, which Ng refused.
The court subsequently rejected his application, and ordered him to pay S$4,000 in legal costs to New.
In the end, the business was taken over by the CEO of soup chain Lao Huo Tang, Thomas Hong, who is a fan of the noodles.
It was renamed Eng’s Wantan Noodle and co-managed with one of the original business partners.
Despite being under a different company now, loyal customers have continued patronising the shop.
After they split, ENG’s Wantan Noodle also retained more their half of the staff and chefs that were previously the late Ng’s proteges.
Going Head-To-Head: Who’s The OG?
The new ENG’s Char Siew Wantan Noodles shop has air-conditioning and more seating space, unlike the original ENG’s Wantan Noodle.
Unsurprisingly, both places have the same main items on the menu.
ENG’s Wantan Noodles has stuck to the same menu focusing on their noodles, wanton and poached vegetables and pride themselves for keeping to the late Ng’s recipe. They also retained the same green plates used to serve the food.
ENG’s Wantan Noodle then went on to open 12 other outlets in Singapore, while ENG’s Char Siew Wantan Mee has two outlets on Tanjong Katong Road and at East Village.
Both of them kept claiming they are the original — ENG’s Char Siew Wantan Mee even marketed themselves as “The One & Only Original Award-Winning Brand” on its social media pages.
Called To The Court Again
Last week, it came out in the news that Ng is being sued by New, over an alleged conspiracy to “injure” their company, Eng’s Noodles House, causing it to suffer losses by running a “competing wantan noodle business” — doors away from where the original eatery was located.
Defending him in the lawsuit are his two sisters and another shareholder, Bill Teng, who owns five per cent of the shares in ENG’s Noodles House.
The trial for the current case began last Monday (July 20), and is expected to end on August 7.
Such acts include attempting to usurp the assets of Eng’s Noodles House, including its intellectual property assets, and deliberately shutting down the business in 2018 even though it was profitable, New claims.
She also claims that Ng and Teng misled into signing documents to dilute her shareholding in Eng’s Noodles House in 2015, thereby allowing them to become majority shareholders of the company.
This eventually caused her removal as director in June 2018 and to stifle any potential legal action by the company against both men, she claims.
Furthermore, Ng and Teng are also accused of breaching their duties as directors of the company.
The Ngs are countersuing New over her alleged involvement in Eng’s Wantan Noodle and deceiving the former customers of Eng’s Noodles House that Eng’s Wantan Noodle is the same business started by the Ng family.
Will It Ever End?
Both parties are clearly “fighting” for the ownership of the brand name, ENG’s.
Ng and his siblings feel that they rightfully own the brand since they are the offspring of the late Ng while the shareholders of ENG’s Wantan Noodle are also doing a good job keeping the heritage and tradition of the original business.
This looks like it will be a long-standing feud between the children of the original founder and the shareholders of the original ENG’s Wantan Noodle.
Based on the lawsuit in 2018, the court ruled in favour of New so there is a high chance that New may win this current case as well.
However, on 23 December 2020, it was reported that New’s lawsuit against the original founder’s children and Teng has been dismissed.
The Justice ruled that the above acts New have accused the defendants of were not carried out due to any agreement between the defendants.
She also found that New had not proven the defendants’ intent to injure the company.
The Justice also dismissed a counterclaim filed by the two Ng sisters alleging that New and her husband had “stolen the family business”.
Does Business Rivalry Breed Unhealthy Competition?
Competition arises whenever at least two parties strive for a common goal which cannot be shared.
Competition causes companies to develop new products, services and technologies, which would give consumers greater selection and better products.
Typically, it will also cause lower prices compared to what the price would be if there was no competition (monopoly) or little competition (oligopoly).
In this case, both wanton mee stores will continue to uphold the quality of their food items at competitive prices.
If one ceases business, it will be a win for the other but for consumers, that may not be the case.
Featured Image Credit: ENG’s Char Siew Wantan Mee / Yue Hern.me