harrianns singapore
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Singapore is known to be an epicentre for local delights and cuisines. Even in this day and age, we still have many restaurants and cafes that offer tastes from the past. 

HarriAnns Nonya Table is one such cafe chain that has grown together with Singapore over the years. It is a family-run business that sells traditional nonya kueh and other authentic Peranakan one-dish meals.

HarriAnns has very humble beginnings as a pushcart stall in the 1940s. It eventually opened its flagship outlet in the 1950s, in the form of a market stall located at the Tiong Bahru Food Centre.

Over the years, they decided to further expand the business by opening their very first Peranakan-themed cafe in Bugis back in July 2014.

alan tan ceo HarriAnns Nonya Table
Alan Tan at HarriAnns Nonya Table at Bugis Junction / Image credit: HarriAnn’s Pte Ltd

“We wanted to revolutionise the perception of nonya kueh and elevate it from an item found in a market and looked upon as very traditional to something more exclusive and modern,” said Alan Tan Thuan Yong, CEO of HarriAnns. 

Being the first in Singapore to pair local kopi and kueh as a retail concept, HarriAnns has managed to stay relevant amidst changing times, while keeping its F&B heritage alive. 

Today, they have since expanded to become a mini chain of cafes in Singapore, with outlets in Suntec City, Ocean Financial Centre as well as the Keppel Bay Tower.

A mother’s love in the form of a pushcart stall

HarriAnns’ origins dates back to the time when Madam Chia Nga Eng lost her husband to a freak accident in the 1940s. 

To make ends meet and to raise her two children, she relied on her cooking skills. Peddling her own sticky glutinous rice and some varieties of nonya kueh in a pushcart, one could always find Madam Chia selling these local delights in the Tiong Bahru area, no matter rain or shine.  

Madam Chia Nga Eng pushcart stall
Madam Chia Nga Eng running the family business / Image credit: HarriAnn’s Pte Ltd

Eventually, she managed to save up enough money to rent a stall in the Tiong Bahru Market at Seng Poh Road, which was a necessary step since hawkering on the streets became illegal. 

Madam Chia, who has contributed to the local food scene in Singapore through HarriAnns and whose love kept her family going over the years passed away in 2019, leaving the business to her son and daughter-in-law Harry and Annie, hence the name ‘HarriAnns’.

Challenges over the years

Taking the reins was no easy task, for running a pushcart business can be very different from running a physical store.

Alan points out that a pushcart business mainly depends on one person, while a physical store depends a lot on the footfall of the mall the store is located in. 

“Lots of other factors also come [into] play in a physical store like rental, manpower issues etc”, he adds.

However, reconceptualising a traditional market item and promoting out of the market into a mall setting was the main challenge for HarriAnns. 

Alan, who previously served as the CEO of Certis Cisco Malaysia, highlights that he and his wife Sharon had to adjust to rigorous hours of a hawker. Making nonya kueh and manning the Tiong Bahru Market stall while also building a team was a long and tiresome process. 

Ultimately, all these hardships they went through to continue the family’s legacy and a dying trade in Singapore were all worth it. The originally empty space along Victoria Street was transformed into a bustling walkway with the establishment of HarriAnns there.

HarriAnns Nonya Table Ondeh Ondeh
HarriAnns Nonya Table Ondeh Ondeh / Image credit: HarriAnn’s Pte Ltd

Being a one-stop cafe offering all things Peranakan handmade from scratch, their food menu which offers savoury meals such as Curry Chicken, Nonya Laksa and Fish Soup, to local cakes and pastries such as Ondeh Ondeh Cake, Pandan Kaya Fudge and Pandan Chiffon.

These gained popular acclaim among consumers, with tourists from all over the world also coming down to try what they had to offer.  

Besides their best-selling Ondeh Ondeh, Kueh Salat and Kueh Rainbow Lapis, their signature artisanal Nonya Kueh remains the key attraction.

“We still, to this day, serve Grandma’s sticky white glutinous rice, and we are one of the last few food shops in Singapore to cook the glutinous rice the way we do”, shares Alan.

Adapting comes naturally 

Having a menu symbolic of the Peranakan culture, Alan emphasises that HarriAnns helps to keep the local Peranakan culture alive in a “fast-moving world”.

HarriAnns and Singapore have grown and evolved together. We have amassed a following since the 1940s of people who are discerning connoisseurs of local cuisine, customers who appreciate the handmade artisanal quality of our Nonya Kueh as well as the value-for-money Nonya meals.

– Alan Tan Thuan Yong, CEO of HarriAnns

Having adapted to changing times, HarriAnns managed to do the same during the pandemic when lockdowns were imposed.

Even though their sales plummeted since they were not allowed to operate their dine-in stores, HarriAnns was quick on their feet to pivot to online strategies such as advertising on Facebook’s “Hawker United” pages or having livestreams to reach out to a wider audience. 

Image Credit: HarriAnns

Alan recalls that they also took orders via WhatsApp even in the wee hours of the night and made use of group buy platforms to push their sales. Moreover, they also produced ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook items to cater to people who worked from home during the pandemic. 

Since then, operations have stabilised, allowing HarriAnns to pursue further goals and plans.

Alan shares that besides developing a new range of ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook authentic Peranakan products for local and overseas exports, HarriAnns is looking to expand their production space and move into a new central kitchen in Bedok Food City. 

“We will continue to bring our good Peranakan food to the heartlands by engaging in more pop-up kiosks as well as have plans to open more Peranakan cafes in the heartlands”, he adds.

In addition, to contribute to the family’s legacy, Ethan Tan, Madam Chia’s great-grandson and Alan’s son, published a book titled “Happiness is Handmade – a Peranakan Food Legacy in Singapore” that highlights the heartwarming snippets of the four generations of the Tan family that have kept HarriAnns booming over the years.

Featured Image credit: HarriAnn’s Pte Ltd

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)