By Koh Hui Theng
[Above: The $340,000 stall at Kovan Hougang Market and Food Centre sells herbal soups and ramen. The owner is said to run four of the 66 cooked food stalls at the hawker centre.]
By Koh Hui Theng
Price of a bowl of noodles at a hawker stall: $4.
Price believed to have been paid to take over the hawker stall: A whopping $340,000.
That was the sum reportedly paid for the cooked food stall at Kovan Hougang Market and Food Centre last month, according to the stall's helpers and hawkers there.
It's a record sum, hawkers and property agents said.
The stall in question sells mutton, chicken and herbal soups, and ramen (Japanese-style noodles). It faces the carpark and Kovan MRT station.
The sky-high price tag - enough to buy a four-room HDB flat in a neighbourhood estate - smashed the previous record of $300,000 for a hawker stall, at the same food centre.
And both units at Block 209 Hougang Street 21 are owned by the same man.
The New Paper understands that he runs four of the 66 cooked food stalls at the hawker centre.
But attempts to contact this mystery boss to confirm the amount paid have been unsuccessful.
His workers told TNP that their boss drops by occasionally or sends another person in his stead.
A worker at the $340,000 stall said in Mandarin: "I don't know his name. He comes by only once every few days."
Pay is wired directly to the workers' bank accounts and they have two days off every month.
Another worker at the $300,000 cold beverages-turned-rojak stall said she had been working there since after Chinese New Year. The stall opens at 11am and closes at around 9pm.
She too did not have her boss' contact number. If any emergency cropped up, she would alert her colleagues, she said.
A minced pork noodle hawker, who wanted to be known only as John, said the mystery boss used to sell food at Geylang Lorong 25.
The latter owns stalls in other hawker centres and food courts.
"I don't know why he likes Kovan so much. Maybe he thinks he can make (more) money because the wet market draws traffic and the stalls here open from morning to night," John said.
Kovan food centre's proximity to the MRT station and housing estates like Serangoon, Sengkang and Punggol is a bonus too, said Mr Sim Ye Poh, chairman of the Eunos Crescent Block 4A Market Association Committee.
"Newer estates lack amenities like a wet market and hawker centre, so residents are more likely to travel to nearby Kovan.
"The neighbouring Block 105 Hainanese Village Centre (Lorong Ah Soo Market) closes at around 2pm, so crowds tend to head for Kovan," he added.
Is Kovan turning into the equivalent of property's District 10 for hawker centres? Are future hawker stall prices likely to bust the $340,000 ceiling?
Not quite, said property agent Jason Tan, who has five years' experience handling hawker centre and coffee shop deals.
"Prices depend on many factors (like the location, human traffic and operating hours).
"I don't expect to see such high prices with the new government ruling," Mr Tan said.
He was referring to the rule that bars new stallowners from subletting their hawker and wet market stalls.
It comes into effect next month. Current stallholders have three years to adjust.
Hawkers who rented stalls at market rate from the Government had, before this rule, been able to sublet the stall to another tenant, often at a higher price. The hawker then kept the difference.
The practice is believed to have pushed some hawker stall rents to above $6,000 a month. In some cases, it also caused cooked food prices to rise.
When asked about the $340,000 stall, a Lorong Ah Soo resident, Madam H. Quek, 61, was unperturbed.
"It makes no difference to me whether the hawker paid $340,000 or $3,400 for the stall.
"I will patronise the place as long as the food tastes good and is reasonably priced."
This article was first published in The New Paper.