Chicken rice founder’s house worth $16 million

From ‘Sons of Swee Kee founder in tussle over $16M home’, 2 Jan 2016, article by Selena Lum, ST

Three sons of the man who founded the famous Swee Kee chicken rice shop are embroiled in a court fight over the family home in Tanjong Katong, which was recently sold for $16.3 million.

One of them, Mr Moh Tai Siang, 58, denies selling his one-quarter share in the house for $200,000 while suffering financial difficulties in 1985, and claims his two brothers are holding it in trust for him.

In a High Court suit filed in November last year against his brothers Tai Tong, 59, and Tai Suan, 56, he contends that he is entitled to his portion of the single-storey Branksome Road bungalow. It sits on 13,844 sq ft of freehold land, which went under the hammer on Sept 30 for $16.3 million – the highest auction price of last year.

…The property was bought by the brothers’ father, the late Mr Moh Lee Twee, in 1957. Mr Moh was the founder of the now-defunct Swee Kee, which operated from a Middle Road shophouse from 1949 to 1997. The shop was often considered to be the pioneer of Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore.

It comes as no surprise that one can make a fortune selling hawker food. Tan Kue Kim, the ‘Hokkien Mee Master’ is known for frying his signature noodles in a long sleeved shirt wearing a gold ROLEX WATCH.  Looi Saan Cheng, Tip Top Curry Puff owner, earned a net profit of $200K in 2006, before being jailed 2 weeks for tax evasion. Beach Road Prawn Mee founder Lee Chee Wee reportedly earned up to almost $140K a month. Former entrepeuneur of the year and zhi char hawker Eldwin Chua now owns the ‘Paradise’ empire. So don’t underestimate the uncle in the straw hat and towel around his neck sweating over a hot wok of char quay teow. He could be driving a Peugeot for all you know.

The list of ‘rags to riches’ success stories involving humble hawker fare goes on, but despite us hearing about hawkers who ‘live on landed property’ and ‘drive Mercedes‘, millionaire hawkers are the exception rather than the norm. In the late eighties, when hawkers were reportedly robbed of $18,000 worth of gold jewellery and watch, the first thing that people were concerned about was not so much the crime itself, but how a hawker could afford such luxuries without dodging the taxman. In the seventies it was ‘common knowledge’ that hawkers don’t pay taxes even if they earn up to $3000 a month.

These days, the dream of making a decent living from selling fishballs may be shattered by cold hard bureaucracy, no matter how young and hungry you are to make a splash in the hawker scene. You could slog more than 12 hours a day to make ends meet, but have the misfortune of encountering shitty customers who threaten to complain to NEA about your imaginary cockroaches. For all your hard work, your kids may not even continue the family line, not to mention fight over your expensive house when you’re dead.

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