Polar Café

Polar Puffs & Cakes is a food manufacturer and operator of a confectionery chain best known for its curry puffs.1 Originally known as Polar Café, Hong Kong immigrant Chan Hinky began running the business from 1926.2 The first Polar Café, a landmark on High Street, opened in November 1925. It was popular with the expatriate community as well as politicians and lawyers working in the area.3 Polar Café was one of the few businesses that remained open during the Japanese Occupation (1942–45).4 As at 2016, Polar Puffs & Cakes has 29 outlets as well as two manufacturing facilities in Singapore.5

Polar Café opened on 30 November 1925 as an annex of Lim Yew Chye & Sons on High Street.6 Chan, who arrived in Singapore in the 1920s, began running the business from 1926.7 Advertisement notices published between October and November 1926 show that the first Polar Café was briefly under the management of Luna Café.8

In the years before the war, Polar Café was popular mainly with the expatriate community and wealthy merchants.9 The establishment was famous for its signature curry puffs as well as a selection of ice-cream and chilled refreshments.10 Chan’s wife, Shum Shui Yu,11 had learnt the curry puff recipe from a friend.12

During the Japanese Occupation, Polar Café was one of the few businesses that remained in operation.13 Chan passed away in 1942 and thereafter his wife left the operations of the café to their two eldest sons.14 After the war, High Street became known as one of the most fashionable shopping streets in Singapore, especially after department store Metro opened its first outlet in the vicinity. Polar’s business flourished, with both regular customers and shoppers visiting the store.15 Their customers included lawyers and politicians who worked in the nearby Supreme Court and Parliament House.16 Seen as a trendy spot, the café was also popular among students and youths.17

In January 1986, Polar Café closed after the government acquired its premises on High Street to expand the Parliament House. However, the company revived in December that same year, unveiling a new takeaway outlet, Polar Puffs & Cakes in OUB Centre at Raffles Place and opened a new factory on Leng Kee Road. Business continued to flourish and the company’s turnover for 1987 hit S$1.6 million.18

Recent activities
Polar undertook rebranding exercises in 2003 and 2009, expanding their product line and marketing 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 2005.20 In 2006, Polar Puffs and Cakes was reported to have over 100 varieties of pastries and cakes, from their signature curry puffs to newer additions such as the black pepper crab puff.21

In 2005, Polar was named a “Heritage Brand” by the Singapore Prestige Brand Award for being in operation for over three decades. The company was also conferred the Singapore Promising Brand Award by the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises that year. In 2006, Polar celebrated its 80th anniversary, and was recognised as one of the strongest local brands, gaining the “Superbrands” title.22


Esther Wang Ying Jie

1. Tan Yi Hui, “Polar Has Something to Puff About,” Straits Times, 6 January 2008, 56. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Maylee Chia, “A Grand Old Lady Dons New Clothes,” Straits Times, 20 December 1987, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Tommy Koh et al. eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet and National Heritage Board, 2006), 416 (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Irene Hoe, “Polar Café Closes Shop,” Straits Times, 15 January 1986, 34. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Jenny Tan, ed., Superbrands. Volume IV: An Insight into Many of Singapore’s Strongest Brands (Singapore: SB Asia Pte Ltd, 2009), 72–73. (Call no. RSING 658.827095957 SUP)
5. “Store Locations,” Polar Puffs & Cakes, accessed 29 May 2016; “Our Story,” Polar Puffs & Cakes, accessed 29 May 2016.  
6. “Page 6 Advertisements Column 3,” Straits Times, 1 November 1925, 6; “Page 7 Advertisements Column 4,” Straits Times, 3 October 1925, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Polar Puffs & Cakes, “Our Story.”
8. “Page 7 Advertisements Column 2,” Straits Times, 15 October 1926, 7; “Page 16 Advertisements Column 5,” Straits Times, 23 November 1926, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Tan, Superbrands, 72–73.
10. “Page 5 Advertisements Column 4,” Straits Times, 21 September 1926, 5; “Page 1 Advertisements Column 1,” Straits Times, 23 November 1927, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Page 40 Advertisements Column 1,” Straits Times, 26 November 1993, 40. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Polar Matriarch Dies of Cancer at 90,” Straits Times, 27 November 1993, 27. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 416.
14. “Polar Matriarch Dies of Cancer at 90.”
15. Leong Weng Kam, “Eighty Years and It’s No Puff,” Straits Times, 30 July 2006, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Chia, “Grand Old Lady Dons New Clothes.” 
17. Khoo Kay Chai, oral history interview by Jesley Chua Chee Chuan, 14 May 1996, transcript and MP3 audio, 29:51, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001744 – 5), 73.
18. “A Year Later, the Proof Is in the Puff,” Straits Times, 20 December 1987, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Leong, “Eighty Years and It’s No Puff”; Chia, “Grand Old Lady Dons New Clothes.” 
19. Fiona Chan, “Household Brands Keep Up with the Times,” Straits Times, 20 September 2005, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Eveline Gan, “Flavours Singapore,” Today, 5 August 2006, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Polar Puffs & Cakes, “Our Story.”

The information in this article is valid as of 2016 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.

Business enterprises