If you’re a fan of prawning, you would definitely have heard of Hai Bin, which is one of the more popular prawning spots in Singapore.
For those unacquainted with this activity, prawning is very much like fishing — except that you catch prawns instead of fishes.
It is also much easier to bag a catch, since the prawns are confined in a pond instead of the open sea — and you also have a staff ‘topping up’ the prawns every few hours or so.
According to Hai Bin, prawning serves as both a solo or group activity, and has garnered a strong following since its introduction to Singapore more than 20 years ago.
Grew To Four Outlets In 13 Years
On Hai Bin’s website, it stated that the business “started with a man who had a passion for fishing and a dream to revive the ‘kampung’ spirit and lifestyle in the heart of Singaporeans.”
This man in question is the late founder of Hai Bin, Alex Phay, who decided that he would make it his dream to create a “space of rest and relaxation that might revive the passion of fishing in the midst of our hectic urban lives.”
He went on to build a prawn fishing pond in Sin Ming Avenue, Bishan in 2007.
In a span of 13 years, Hai Bin expanded to four outlets in Singapore as it opened up in Jurong, Punggol and Sembawang.
Fast forward to today, the business is now helmed by his 24-year-old daughter Chloe Phay.
“My father has always been an avid fisherman and (he) really felt a connection to the kampung spirit from his younger days. He wanted to create a space for this spirit to live on in modern Singapore,” said Chloe.
“Prawning was (his) solution to the space constraint in Singapore, but also offered a bit of the respite he had hoped would resonate with other Singaporeans.”
Chloe described Hai Bin as a “modern kampung”, adding that it’s a place that people can “go home to”, which is why they have strived to keep their doors open come rain or shine for 24 hours a day.
Taking Over The Family Business At 24
When her father passed away unexpectedly late last year due to cancer, Chloe had to step up and take over the business.
She didn’t have any prior business experience, but that’s fine to her because she “learnt the most on the job”.
While she admitted to facing doubt and criticism, she is also very grateful that people around her lent a helping hand in running the business.
She needs all the help she can get because after all, “everyone is in the same ocean trying to make their way across to their destination.”
“You never know who might save you when you get into a shipwreck.”
Running a 24-hour business is particularly challenging, especially when it comes down to managing the manpower.
However, she is lucky that most of the groundwork and businesses processes have already been put in place by her late father before she came along.
“It’s easy to fall into despair if you focus on the negative, so I prefer to adopt a positive mindset about “problems” as challenges or opportunities instead.”
COVID-19 Lost The Business S$500K
COVID-19 in particular, was a huge business challenge. Moreover, it happened not long after she took over the business — “about less than three months” since she joined, she recalled.
Due to the pandemic, Hai Bin was forced to shut down even beyond the circuit breaker period as it was deemed a non-essential business.
“It was easily at least half a million (dollars) loss of income for the three months and the closure of our Sembawang outlet, as well as safety measures that we had to hold in place, which diminished our crowd.”
However, it’s fortunate that besides prawning, Hai Bin can rely on its F&B arm — Banyan Beer Garden, which is an al-fresco style bar and cafe — to supplement its revenue.
Hai Bin only reopened at the start of the second phase of reopening in mid-June.
“The plan right now is to make sure we uphold a sanitary and safe environment for our customers,” stressed Chloe.
Currently, the additional safety measures that’s implemented at Hai Bin is that customers cannot share a rod and no grilling of prawns are allowed to prevent communal cooking.
She added that sales have more or less “stabilised” now, and it’s unfortunate that they are down to only one outlet in Punggol now.
Largest Prawning Place In S’pore
Despite the closure of its three other outlets, Hai Bin still remains the largest prawning facility in Singapore, according to Chloe.
When asked why it closed down the other outlets, Chloe simply said that Hai Bin has had an “unfortunate history of renting spaces that subsequently had to be returned to the government”.
This was also the case for its Sembawang outlet, which closed down in March 2020.
For its first outlet in Bishan, Hai Bin had to shut it down in 2013 after six years of operation due to a “sharp increase in rental“.
It faced a rental hike of a “staggering 300 per cent”, which made it “impossible” for them to continue. According to The New Paper, the monthly rental increased from S$26,000 to S$65,000.
Despite these closures, Chloe remains optimistic for the future.
“Prawning as a pastime has definitely seen a revival (now) that other new prawning businesses have popped (up).”
“Our staff has (also) grown eight-fold since we first started in Bishan from three workers,” she added.
While she declined to comment on future business plans, Chloe shared her hopes for the business to “pick up again” once the global COVID-19 and traveling situation improves.
Featured Image Credit: Vulcan Post / Hai Bin