Anyone who has spent time with Paul Ooi, founder of Penang Place, would be no stranger to his warm, hospitable nature. Affable and cheery, his demeanour speaks volumes on his philosophy on life, his work ethic, and the people-first culture at his restaurant, which we had the joy of uncovering during this interview.
Located at Suntec City, Penang Place is an established restaurant that serves authentic Penang street food and Northern Peranakan Food at affordable prices. They’re most known for their affordable buffet (S$32.90), which promises a selection of quality Penang fare that transports you back to the rustic streets of Penang.
Retrenched at 48 with 6 kids
Meeting Paul and seeing Penang Place’s success today, one would never have guessed that the decision to open Penang Place was made during one of Paul’s lowest points in life. At 48 years-old, Paul was retrenched from a huge multinational company in 2002, having served as an employee services manager for over 21 years.
“It was such a scary time,” recalls Paul, who was the sole breadwinner with 6 children, aged 6 to 16, to account for.
Paying homage to his Peranakan upbringing
Born an hour away from Penang, Paul grew up in a traditional Peranakan family, with memories of nyonya feasts and both his grandmothers donning sarong kebayas all their lives.
“I’ve had traditional Penang street food and Northern Peranakan food growing up and I want to share our delicious cuisine with more people”, says Paul. With that childhood dream in mind, Paul turned crisis into opportunity, and started Penang Place.
As a brand new restaurant, it took a long time for Penang Place to attract customers and gain traction.
“When we first opened, it really wasn’t easy…—Paul Ooi, Founder of Penang Place
My father came all the way from Malaysia to distribute flyers together with my 6 children.”
Thankfully, with their persistence and never-say-die spirit, Penang Place steadily took off, and grew in strength over the years. The restaurant relocated from its humble beginnings at International Business Park, to Fusionopolis, and now occupies a 10,000 square foot space in the heart of Suntec City.
“The COVID-19 crisis was probably the lowest point of our business, but it was also a good reminder for us to hold dear to the things that matter the most – our people,” shares Paul.
Based in a central location like Suntec City which depends on footfall from the working crowd, Penang Place definitely saw the impact of work-from-home and circuit breaker measures. Despite losing well over half of its revenue in recent months, Paul has not let any of his staff go.
From 7 Penang chefs who’ve come all the way to Singapore to make a living, with some working with Paul for over 2 decades, to wait and kitchen staff who depend on Penang Place to provide for their families. Paul remains steadfast in his commitment to his 30 staff that make Penang Place what it is. “We need to do right by the people who depend on us for a livelihood, who have families they need to feed.”
If you’d like to support a restaurant with heart for its people and food that’s equally as awesome, have Penang Place delivered to your doorstep today.