There’s something about an old, family-run kopitiam that personifies good, homey food, and one such establishment is Soong Kee Beef Ball Noodle.
Known for its beef meatballs and briskets, the restaurant has received plenty of praise from online bloggers and commenters.
People seem to love the shop’s signature wheat noodles, topped with minced beef and pork, flavoured with fermented soybean paste, fish sauce, and the restaurant’s secret blend of herbs and spices. That, and its meatballs, of course.
Yet, even though many patrons may know that it’s been around for a long time, there aren’t many accounts of just how the business has sustained itself for a whopping 78 years.
So, off I went on a mission to uncover the story behind Soong Kee Beef Ball Noodle (Soong Kee).
Started with not quite a bang
Soong Kee had started as a push cart stall, opened all the way back in 1945 at Jalan Tun Tan Siew Tin by one Mr Siew Koy Soong.
Hailing from Tai Po, Hong Kong, Mr Siew’s beef noodle recipe was said to have been developed from Tai Po Hakka noodles.
While nowadays, we may look back and think that there’s a romanticised story behind the founding of the business, Soong Kee’s current owner and the founder’s son, Siew Wei Hann, shared that the business was born out of necessity.
“My grandfather died in a swimming accident in 1943, and my father had to support the family,” Wei Hann shared in an article with 8days. “It was hard to find a job after the war and he was helpless, so he turned to selling food.”
Yet, when it first started, the business did not do that well. According to a poster in the store, it was merely the old customers that supported the Hakka chef.
Over the years, however, Mr Siew persevered and continued to refine the family recipe. He must have done something right because today, the 78-year-old business has multiple locations, including one located right in front of where the push cart stall originally was.
Involving the family
Like many hawker stalls, Mr Siew turned to his own children, Wei Hoe and Wei Hann, to support the business.
The younger son, Wei Hann, took on the mantle and began running the beef noodle stall in the 1980s. According to 8days, he’s running the business now with another brother, Wai Seong, who is also the head chef.
The older brother Wei Hoe has now expanded the family business and expanded Soong Kee with a second branch in SS2.
In 2017, Wei Hoe’s daughter, Siew Lee Min, also joined in and opened up a store at Bandar Sunway. Soong Kee also has an outlet in Setapak, Seapark, Kota Damansara, and inside Lot10.
The Siews are keeping it within the family, with Wei Hann having tapped his son Chin Phui to take over the business someday.
It’s taken 78 years, but Soong Kee Beef Ball Noodle is now expanding to Singapore. The noodle shop is set to open a stall in a new food court in Orchard Road called EatAlley.
A 140-seat eatery under a S$1.2 million renovation, the business is founded by Sebastian Low, who is also the CEO of PappaRich.
The food court is set to open in June this year.
One issue when expanding a family business, especially one as old as Soong Kee, is that the flavours don’t always translate well.
Many such stores even fail after a while, with loyal customers claiming that the food doesn’t taste the same, or that the new generation simply doesn’t know how to make it like they used to.
To prevent this issue, the family is actually transferring one of their cooks to Singapore permanently to take charge of their EatAlley stall. Meanwhile, Wai Seong plans to visit every few months for quality control.
As Wei Hann puts it, “We must preserve our taste as much as possible.”
Will customers in the upcoming Orchard Road food court be able to really taste the flavours concocted by Mr Siew all those years ago? Only time will tell. And if history is bound to repeat itself, time seems to be on Soong Kee’s side.
“A long, long time ago we were just selling beef noodles in an old stall in this lorong,” someone on the Soong Kee team wrote in a Facebook Post. “The lorong was stuffy and hot, and the environment wasn’t great, yet we’ve sustained it until today.”
They then continued, “No matter how bad the environment is, if you put your heart, effort, and perseverance, you will definitely have a bright future.”
- Learn more about Soong Kee Beef Ball Noodle here.
- Read other articles we’ve written about F&B businesses here.
Featured Image Credit: Soong Kee Beef Ball Noodle / Vulcan Post