Retrenched at 48 with 6 kids: How Paul Ooi of Penang Place turned his life around

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. During this interview, we had the joy of uncovering his outlook on life, his work ethic, and the people-first culture at his restaurant.

Located at Suntec City, Penang Place serves authentic Penang street food and Northern Peranakan Food at affordable prices. They’re most known for their affordable buffet, which promises a selection of quality Penang fare that transports you back to the rustic streets of the sunny island.

Retrenched at 48 with 6 kids

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. He 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. His childhood memories consisted 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… My father came all the way from Malaysia to distribute flyers together with my 6 children.

—Paul Ooi, Founder of Penang Place

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. Now, it occupies a 10,000 square foot space in the heart of Suntec City. 

Penang Place’s people-first culture

“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. 

A few of the 7 Penang chefs, who’ve come all the way to Singapore to make a living, have been working with Paul for over 2 decades. They are amongst the many wait and kitchen staff who depend on Penang Place to provide for their families and make Penang Place what it is. With this, Paul remains steadfast in his commitment to his 30-strong staff.

“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.