by Chan, Rachel
Killiney Kopitiam is a Hainanese coffee shop formerly known as Kheng Hoe Heng Coffeeshop. It was established in late 1919 by an immigrant from the island of Hainan in China. Located at 67 Killiney Road, it was bought over in 1992 by former broker Woon Tek Seng. The coffee shop is well known for its kaya toast, French toast, coffee and tea.1 Killiney Kopitiam ventured overseas in 2001, and now has outlets in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.2
Killiney Kopitiam is a traditional Hainanese coffee shop franchise in Singapore. It is popular for its bread toast and fresh kaya (a jam made from eggs, coconut milk, sugar and pandan leaves), produced daily in the shop as an assurance of quality and freshness to customers. Kaya toast and French toast are its signature offerings. The menu was expanded in 1998 to include an all-day fare of local dishes like laksa, chicken curry, mee siam and mee rebus, in addition to its breakfast favourites of bread, coffee, tea and soft-boiled eggs.3
The franchise also offers a selection of food pastes for customers to enjoy Killiney dishes at home, such as laksa, curry, mee rebus, mee siam and lontong. The shops also sell Killiney Kaya. Only natural ingredients are used to make this coconut jam, including eggs with larger yolks, freshly squeezed coconut milk, fresh pandan leaves and white sugar.4
The Hainanese Foo family established Kheng Hoe Heng Coffeeshop in late 1919. Back then, it was famous for its traditional charcoal-grilled white bread toast and coffee and tea.5 The coffee shop was renamed Killiney Kopitiam after Woon took ownership in 1992.6
A Hainanese himself, Woon wanted to preserve the Hainanese culture and bought over the coffee shop from a friend for S$800,000 when he was 43 years old. He switched from being a broker to coffee shop owner.7 Three key Hainanese staff from the original shop stayed on and assisted Woon, passing on their skills in producing quality kaya, bread toast, coffee and tea.8
In 1998, Woon opened a second branch in Siglap, mainly to create jobs for his friends and former staff who were unemployed. The first Killiney franchise was opened in March 2001 in Serangoon Gardens. That same year, Woon opened Killiney’s first overseas branch in Kuala Lumpur.9
In 2004, Killiney Kopitiam collaborated with a nonprofit volunteer welfare organisation, Teen Challenge, to open a Killiney Kopitiam franchise run entirely by ex-offenders at the Tampines Changkat Community Centre.10 Woon waived the S$30,000 franchise fee and offered a month of training in cooking and customer service to eight former drug offenders. The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports also supported his efforts by injecting S$100,000 of capital from the ComCare Enterprise Fund. After three years, however, this venture closed as it was making a loss.11
In 2012, the Killiney Kopitiam Bursary was established to provide financial assistance to fulltime undergraduates in any degree programme at the Singapore Management University, and to motivate these students to achieve all-round excellence.12
Killiney Kopitiam has clinched several national distinctions. It was one of 16 small and medium-size enterprises to be awarded the Heritage Brand Award by the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises in November 2006. This accolade recognises local enterprises that have preserved heritage and tradition through their branding, and evolved with the times. In addition, the 67 Killiney Road branch was listed in the Singapore Book of Records 2008 as the “Oldest Existing Hainanese Coffeeshop”. In recognition of his entrepreneurial spirit, Woon, the managing director of Killiney Kopitiam, received the Spirit of Enterprise Award in 2006.13
Coping with crisis
During the bird flu outbreak in 2004, business at Killiney Kopitiam dropped by 40 percent. On 18 August that year, Singapore imposed a six-week ban on Malaysian poultry imports, prompting Killiney Kopitiam’s 14 branches to take soft-boiled eggs off the menu during this period, and to reserve its egg supply for producing kaya. However, it continued to offer French toast, as liquefied eggs from Australia were used instead. For its curry chicken dish, it had to make use of frozen chickens, which cost 10 percent more than fresh ones.14
While Killiney Kopitiam typically used up to 4,000 fresh eggs daily, it received less than half its supply during the bird flu outbreak, when egg prices spiked from 12 to 45 cents. After the import ban was lifted, Killiney Kopitiam absorbed the price hike.15
1. Killiney Kopitiam Singapore. (n.d.). About us: History & today. Retrieved 2017, February 16 from Killiney Kopitiam Singapore website: http://www.killiney-kopitiam.com/about-us/
2. Teo, J. (2012, April 25). Killiney’s key to survival? It owns the shop spaces. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Killiney Kopitiam. (2007, May 20). The Straits Times, p. 56. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Lee, D. (2005, June 28). Flavours of success. The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Lin, H-T. (1982, April18). Breakfast is a meal of contrasts. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Killiney Kopitiam Singapore. (n.d.). About us: History & today. Retrieved 2017, February 16 from Killiney Kopitiam Singapore website: http://www.killiney-kopitiam.com/about-us/
7. Yeo, S. (1993, November 13). Killiney Road shophouses get a new look. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Killiney Kopitiam Singapore. (n.d.). About us: History & today. Retrieved 2017, February 16 from Killiney Kopitiam Singapore website: http://www.killiney-kopitiam.com/about-us/
9. Killiney Kopitiam widening reach. (2002, July 5). The Business Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (2004, October 21). Speech by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports and Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, at the Rotary-Asme Entrepreneur of the Year Award, 22 October 2004, 7.00 pm at Shangri-La Hotel. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
11. Ex-drug addicts run Killiney Kopitiam in Tampines. (2004, July 4). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
12. Singapore Management University. (2017, March 1). Killiney Kopitiam Bursary. Retrieved 2017, February 21 from Singapore Management University website: https://www.smu.edu.sg/about/financial/financial-assistance-schemes/killiney
13. Killiney Kopitiam. (n.d.). Our story. Retrieved 2017, February 21 from Killiney Kopitiam website: http://www.killiney.com.hk/en/our-story/
14. Eateries show their pluck. (2004, September 5). The Straits Times, p. 50. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Eateries show their pluck. (2004, September 5). The Straits Times, p. 50. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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.