Polar Café

Polar Puffs & Cakes is a food manufacturer and operator of a chain of cafés best known for their curry puffs. The business was founded in the 1920s by Chan Hinky, an immigrant from Hong Kong. The company's first outlet began operations on High Street in November 1925, and became popular with the expatriate community as well as politicians and lawyers working in the area. Polar was one of the few businesses that remained open during the Japanese Occupation. Today, the company has more than 50 distribution outlets across Singapore, including company-owned and franchised cafés, takeaway stores and counters in service stations.

Corporate background
Chan Hinky, the founder of Polar Puffs & Cakes, arrived in Singapore in the 1920s with only 90 cents to his name. For the first few years of his stay in Singapore, he struggled to save enough money to realise his dreams of opening a café. Finally, in 1925, he was able to put together the funds to take out a lease on 51 High Street. It was then that the first Polar Café began business.

In the years before the war, the café was popular mainly with the expatriate community and wealthy merchants. Chan served only a small variety of food then, including his signature curry puffs, as well as a selection of ice creams and chilled refreshments. Food distributor Cold Storage's house brand ice creams were particularly popular with expatriates, and Polar was one of the few businesses that sold it. Cold Storage took out regular advertisements in the newspapers for their ice-creams, and these advertisements helped promote the café business.

When the Japanese later occupied Singapore, Polar was one of the few businesses that remained in operation. After the war, High Street became known as the most fashionable shopping street in Singapore, especially after departmental store Metro opened its first outlet in the vicinity. Polar's business flourished, with both regular customers and shoppers visiting the store. Their customers included lawyers and politicians who worked in the Supreme Court and Parliament House in the vicinity.

In 1986, the government acquired the café's premises on High Street to work on an expansion of Parliament House, and Chan's family, which had taken over the business, briefly contemplated closing the shop for good. The family decided against the café's closure however and made use of their eviction to begin expansion. The company took up a new lease in Leng Kee Road for the establishment of bigger kitchen facilities, and opened its first takeaway store in OUB Centre at Raffles Place. Business continued to flourish and the company's turnover in 1987 hit S$1.6 million.

Recent activity
Polar undertook rebranding exercises in 2003 and 2009, as part of which they expanded their product line and marketed their traditional products as part of a lifestyle campaign. The product expansion included foods marketed at the health-conscious as well as cartoon-themed cakes for children. These moves helped the company open at least 10 new takeaway outlets between 2003 to 2005, and increased annual revenues. The company also started its own line of ice creams, Wild Hibiscus, and now offers up to a variety of 100 different pastries and cakes, from their signature curry puffs to recent favorites such as the black pepper crab puff.  

Polar was awarded the Heritage Brand Award in 2005 for the longevity of their brand in the local market. The company also picked up the Singapore Promising Brand Award in the same year. In 2006, Polar won the Superbrand awards through a customer vote.

Esther Wang Ying Jie

Announcement: Polar Cafe. (1925, December 1). The Straits Times, p.6.

Chan, F. (2005, September 20). Household brands keep up with the times. The Straits Times, Money, p.H18.

Leong, W. K. (2006, July 30). Eighty years and its no puff. The Sunday Times, Lifestyle, p.L26.

Polar Café. (2006). In T. Koh, et al. (Eds.), Singapore: The encyclopedia (p.416). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])

Polar Puffs & Cakes. (2003). About us. Retrieved February 25, 2009, from http://www.polarpuffs-cakes.com/About%20Us.html

Singapore Heritage Society. (2009). Polar Puffs. Retrieved February 25, 2009, from http://www.singaporeheritage.com/pesh_entries_details.asp?id=25

Toh, S. P. C. (2005, September 9). Branding your way down memory lane. The New Paper. Retrieved February 22, 2009, from Factiva database.

The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources.  It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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