The Coney Dog makes a return?

4 07 2017

So, there is will no longer be a need to make a trip across the Causeway (or the Second Link) to satisfy one’s craving for root beer and Coney Dogs come 2018 if this report on Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore on the return of A&W is to be believed. The first fast food restaurant to set up shop here – a little more than a decade before McDonald’s took Singapore by storm, it made an exit after 35 years in 2003. Its first outlet, modelled after a Wild, Wild West style salon, opened at MSA (later SIA) Building in 1968. That was followed by its somewhat iconic drive-in over the canal and along what became known as the “Floral Mile” at Dunearn Road in 1970.

We miss A&W Root Beers served in chilled mugs here in Singapore.

It was through a visit to the drive-in in the early 1970s that I got my introduction to American style fast food, served in typical American drive-in style at the Dunearn Road outlet. That was a treat. A meal of burgers, fries and root beer was relatively expensive in days when one could get a hawker meal for a little more than a dollar. I wouldn’t become a regular visitor to A&W until I was in Secondary school. That was only because Tuesdays, days on which technical lessons at McNair Road in the mornings required me to have lunch out, were also Coney Days when Coney Dogs went for a steal. This made the visits a lot more affaordable.

The A&W Restaurant I frequented during my schooldays at Dhoby Ghaut (Alison Emery on Facebook).

A&W first appeared in the region way back in 1963 with an outlet at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur. That was followed by a drive-in – the first in the region at Taman Jaya in Petaling Jaya in 1967 (which is still in operation, albeit no longer as a drive-in). The drive-in in Singapore closed in 1986, when it made way for a canal widening exercise. The chain in Singapore, despite an expansion exercise in the 1980s, was not able to compete with the big names in fast-food and in 2001, closed seven of its twelve outlets when the last franchise holder in Singapore, KUB Holdings of Malaysia, took over. Huge losses, estimated at 1.5 million dollars, saw to the complete pullout of A&W in 2003. Its last outlet was the one at the airport. More on A&W and its first drive-in can be found at The first drive-in in Malaysia and Singapore.

The drive-in at Dunearn Road.

The first drive-in in the region at Taman Jaya in Petaling Jaya.

The  Taman Jaya outlet in more recent times.

 

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The first drive-in in Malaysia and Singapore

22 06 2013

For many of my generation, the very first encounters with American style fast-food would have probably consisted of root beers, hamburgers, fries and hotdogs at one of two A&W restaurants present in Singapore – at least mine was. That was at the drive-in at Dunearn Road, straddling the Bukit Timah canal close to the University of Singapore, which my parents brought my sister and me to for a treat (fast-food was relatively expensive in those days). It was also my one and only drive-in dining experience for which I remember the ice-cream that came at the end of the treat more than anything else.

A&W would have given the first American fast-food experience to many of my generation.

A&W would have given the first American fast-food experience to many of my generation.

Drive-in restaurants, or drive-ins were huge in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. The arrival of Singapore’s first – the A&W at Dunearn Road in 1970, two years after the first A&W outlet opened at the MSA Building (later SIA Building) in 1968, came at the end of a decade when we were to receive much greater exposure to American popular culture, of which both fast-food and drive-ins were very much a representation of, through the introduction of television (introduced to Singapore in 1963).

For some of us, nothing comes close to having a root beer at A&W in a mug chilled in a freezer.

For some of us, nothing comes close to having a root beer at A&W in a mug chilled in a freezer.

While the A&W outlet was the first drive-in in Singapore, it wasn’t the first drive-in to come to this part of the world. That distinction lies with the A&W drive-in that opened in Petaling Jaya, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur in neighbouring Malaysia, in 1967 – four years after the first A&W outlet opened its doors at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in the Malaysian capital. The drive-in, which incidentally is still operating (although not as a drive-in), is one I have long familiar with. I would probably have developed an impression of it from one of the many driving trips I made in the back of my father’s car to the “Federation” – as my father often referred to Malaysia, as it was close to Shah’s Hotel – another long time landmark in the Taman Jaya area where the drive-in is located.

The first drive-in restaurant in Malaysia and Singapore - the A&W at Taman Jaya in Petaling Jaya, which is still operating (albeit not as a drive-in).

The first drive-in restaurant in Malaysia and Singapore – the A&W at Taman Jaya in Petaling Jaya, which is still operating (albeit not as a drive-in).

The hot and humid climate we do get in Malaysia and Singapore was possibly a reason that the popularity of the drive-in, a feature of life of American suburbia, did not really take-off. A few more drive-ins did appear on both sides of the Causeway over the years, including one that opened at Kallang near the stadium (where the cluster of fast-food restaurants is today) in 1978 – around the time I was chasing Coney Dogs, Root Beers and A&W straws at their outlet in Dhoby Ghaut close to Cathay. Sadly for us in Singapore who do have memories of drive-ins and first fast-food experiences at A&W restaurants, both have disappeared. The drive-in at Kallang was converted not long after it opened to a sit-in only restaurant. The original A&W drive-in closed in 1986, making way for a canal widening exercise. The restaurant itself, despite its ambitious expansion in the 1980s, could not compete with the big names in fast-food, who by the 1980s, had established themselves in Singapore. In 2001, it closed seven of its twelve outlets, when the last franchise holder in Singapore, KUB Holdings of Malaysia, took over. With losses amounting to an estimated 1.5 million dollars, KUB decided to shut A&W’s operations on the island in 2003, with the last outlet to be shut being the one at the airport. With that, the only way we in Singapore could get that root beer fix was across the Causeway. Looking at the state of the outlets in Malaysia, it doesn’t look that there is much time left for us to do that – and with it, the days of the Root Beer and Coney Dog (now in its 50th year) and more recently introduced A&W offerings such as the waffle and curly fries, will soon be days which have passed.