Bonding Over Chendol
In a flood of dripped coffees, fruit infused teas and ‘unicorn tears’ these days, it is a wonder what a neighbourhood beverage store needs to offer in order to stand out and survive the competition. And when its specialty is a traditional find, is it even possible in this innovative age of modernized tastes and preferences? According to Mrs Jacqueline Yeo, co-owner of A1 Penang Chendol – an independent store that has been churning out icy cold chendol for almost 20 years in Tampines – it takes more than just the thirst quenchers to make a difference.
“We always ask our customers for feedback so we know where we stand with our products.” said Mrs Yeo, who runs the humble business with her husband, Mr Kenny Yeo.
The idea for a chendol venture came about after their trip to Penang, at which they had “the best chendol” that was so good, they decided Singaporeans needed to taste it too. Unfortunately, their start was not as ideal as they had planned.
When the couple first operated in Tampines, the store that they took over was a 6-month old bubble tea shop. It was among 17 other bubble tea shops in the neighbourhood.
“Since the beginning, we’ve wanted to sell only chendol and its variation. However, our business partners at the time had advised otherwise due to the demographic of the location,” shared Mrs Yeo. “And sometimes, you must listen to people.”
Chendol and ice kacang were the two main items on the menu back in the day, hence their products naturally catered to the mature audience. With Mr Yeo manning the front of the store, Mrs Yeo was able to experiment with different fruit combinations and flavours in the kitchen, coming up with unique recipes that gave the brand an edge over other run-of-the-mill offerings from their competitors. This helped them to stay relevant in the bubble tea fad.
They began with a range of fruit smoothies, starting with fresh mangoes, which eventually grew into one of their bestsellers. Today, the store sees another hot favourite among Tampines residents – the Durian smoothie – aside from the signature chendol and ice kacang that remained as all-time favourites.
“I would say Tampines residents are quite adventurous. They dare to try new drinks; that’s also how we came up with our limited edition seasonal drink, the Cempedak smoothie.”
While new creations keep the customers in anticipation, Mrs Yeo attributed the success of the store to the quality of the drinks and good customer relationship that drove the power of ‘word-of-mouth’. She recalled an occasion where a student from the nearby polytechnic bought 10 cups of Durian smoothie. Later that day, an older customer who happened to be the said student’s lecturer, dropped by to check out the store.
“One of the students burped in the lecture theatre, and this kind of fruit you can’t escape from the smell!”
Mrs Yeo continued, “The lecturer then ordered one for himself and before we know it, more lecturers who then brought their families, started coming.”
Food and beverage trends are always changing. What remains constant is the relationship between people, and that is the reason why A1 Penang Chendol will always be at the heart of Tampines residents. This is evident through the warm camaraderie with residents from all walks of life, as they would greet the lovely couple whenever they walk by the store – like old friends.
“Even if they end up not buying anything, at least I know I have created an awareness about our business.” she said matter-of-factly.