Portrait Mode: The 3-generation family behind Glory Catering shares memories of a 59-year history
They will be closing their doors on August 31.
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Take a walk down East Coast Road in Katong and you’ll see a wide range of shops that run the gamut of current-day food trends:
Mexican taquerias, gourmet burgers, branch joints, poké bowls, and Açaí smoothies, and don’t forget the interiors designed to tempt you into posting your visit on social media.
Caught in a whirlwind of in-vogue food, it’s easy to breeze past Glory Catering — an old but beloved eatery serving Peranakan food.
It is neither trendy nor Instagrammable, but it is renowned among foodies for dishes like its nyonya kuehs, rendang, and popiah.
Inside, its polished granite walls are plastered with newspaper clippings that harken back to a time gone by.
In fact, Glory Catering itself is a remnant of the Katong of old — when the area was known as being an enclave for Eurasians and Peranakans instead of hipster cafés.
Yet this Saturday (August 31, 2019), Katong is about to lose one more reminder of its past, when Glory Catering closes its East Coast Road restaurant.
For Wendy Chin, 39, the day is set to be a bittersweet one.
The first generation
Speaking to Mothership, Wendy explains that Glory has been a fixture in Katong since the 1940s when her grandparents set up the shop.
But it hadn’t always been a Peranakan restaurant. Instead, it was originally a provision store, before morphing into Shanghai Restaurant in 1957.
As the name suggests, the restaurant served Shanghainese food; Wendy’s grandfather was an immigrant from Shanghai.
That was until 1960, when the Chins realised that the food was not well-received by Peranakans, Eurasians, and Malays who formed the majority of the area’s inhabitants.
So they adapted and started selling nasi padang and nyonya kuehs instead.
“My grandmother was a true matriarch. If you talk to anyone from her generation, she’s known in Katong to be extremely fierce, no-nonsense, and you can hear her voice from afar (laughs). And so my family tends to have stronger women thanks to her. We are all pretty strong females in the family, don’t know whether that’s a good thing or not (laughs).
My grandmother was definitely a force to be reckoned with. But at the same time she had a lot of friends and she was well loved.”
The second generation
When Wendy’s dad, Chin Der Ann, and his three siblings came of age, they took over the running of the family business.
Der Ann, now 73, tells us that he was only three years old when the shop opened, and that he and his siblings grew up with the shop:
“My parents (ran the restaurant) first. After my parents did it, we joined in. I joined when I was about 16 years old, running the company and the business. My sister also. My brothers along with their spouses, and my wife joined us in the late 1970s.
Everything we did, when we were young we did everything!”
Wendy agrees, explaining that through the ages when Glory Catering experimented with different dishes, her dad along with his siblings were often roped in to help:
“You name a dish, I don’t think we’ve not done it before honestly. We’ve done everything before. My dad even used to do handmade yong tau foo! And to this day right, we have customers coming here saying: ‘Mr Chin when are you going to do your yong tau foo again?'”
In case you’re wondering, the answer is probably never.
In 1993, the shop moved a few lots down from its original location at 107 East Coast Road to its current spot, at number 139.
While they were at it, the family changed the restaurant’s name to Glory Catering, in order to build a stronger link with the manufacturing and catering business, Glory Food, they had set up in 1978.
The loyal customers
James Ee, 62, is a loyal customer who has eaten at both locations, having frequented the store since he was 12 years old.
His favourite dishes are the beef rendang and the popiah.
“The popiah I have it at least twice a week. The guy who makes the popiah, Ah Soon, has been here for over 30 years. Only two people can make the popiah for me, either Ah Soon or Mr Chin, nobody else.
I’ll come back again (if neither of them are at the store), it’s okay.”
When we ask him where he plans to eat Peranakan food after Glory closes, Ee’s answer demonstrates the commitment and loyalty that Glory has commanded from its customers:
“I’m just going to give (Peranakan food) up. For me, there’s no substitute. It’s either I eat the best or nothing at all.
I’ve had this all my life, so in a way, I’m thankful that I’ve been eating this. I will miss it for sure.”
Wendy’s 74-year-old aunt, Chin Choon Siang, is working at the cashier today with her husband Tan Hee Liang.
She tells us about the many customers she grew up alongside:
“A lot of them ate here since they were young, and they are mostly old now. Got some ah, they were babies, now they are in their 70s.
It’s a pity for us to close, a lot of them are very heartbroken. This auntie (pointing to a customer), even worse, she said she wanted to cry because we are closing.”
The third generation
It’s no different for Wendy and the rest of the third generation of Chins.
She recalls spending holidays with her cousins in at Glory’s factory making tarts and various other snacks that these days you find packed into boxes and stocked on shelves at supermarkets and petrol kiosk marts.
Another vivid memory she has is of helping out in the store as a schoolgirl during the Zongzi (dumpling) Festival:
“Back then, I remember, people were snatching. You know when we brought the Zongzi here, my uncles and my aunties would have to sneak in from the backdoor, because the minute they reached everyone would snatch, literally snatch the zhangs.
So we had to implement a system where they had to book. Everyone would come to the shop and they would queue and take a number. And without the number, they cannot buy Zongzi.”
“A lot of fond memories. After school, we’d come back to the shop. We’d have our meals here, take our naps here, have tuition here. We do our piano classes around here, we do our ballet classes around here. Our schools are around here. So really the shop was like our home. We played a lot and we fought a lot. That’s us growing up.”
For now, Glory Catering is closing its restaurant, while its catering business will continue. It’s a move intended to give the second generation of Chins a break, allowing them the time to figure out what the future direction of the business will be.
However, Der Ann tells us that he hopes the restaurant will open its doors once again:
“Maybe our third generation will be able to take over… I hope they will.”
Top photo by Rachel Ng