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Jekyll & Hyde closure and reopening: Interview with owner Chua Ee Chien

01 September 2020

By: Adibah Isa

In just one month, this cocktail bar in Singapore shut and reopened in the midst of landlord struggles and dwindling revenue as a result of COVID-19. Owner Chua Ee Chien shares his story on growth, new beginnings, and the makings of a good partnership.

If resilience had a face, it would take the form of Jekyll & Hyde’s. What started as a bar in Singapore with split personalities —  nails by day, cocktails by night — in 2013 has now evolved into more than just a place to eat, drink, and be merry. It’s now a brand, according to owner Chua Ee Chien in our email interview. Chua, who bought over the bar in 2018, splits his time between running Jekyll & Hyde and working at a tech company, where he launches financial products.

“I would never have had the vision of Jekyll & Hyde as a brand, and would also never have had the chance to expand and build this business out if not for COVID-19,” elaborated Chua on Jekyll & Hyde’s closure and eventual reopening. “We would not have a bigger space, the team we have, and the resources to build beyond the old bar, which had its own limitations.”

During the Circuit Breaker period, where restaurants and bars in Singapore were not allowed to operate dine-in services, Jekyll & Hyde hustled to keep business going. On top of bottling cocktails for delivery, the bar even held online cocktail classes hosted on Airbnb. Unfortunately, everything came to a halt when they had to shut operations in June due to issues with their landlord. The closure of the well-loved bar with unique, locally-inspired cocktails caught the attention of the press and threw the impact of COVID-19 on restaurants into the limelight.

Chua Ee Chien of Jekyll & Hyde

However, to the surprise of many, the bar resurrected that same month after a partnership opportunity opened up with a cafe at Neil Road. A few streets away from its former home on Tras Street, the reinvented Jekyll & Hyde expanded its food menu to include brunch, and small and large plates. Notable additions from chef Alvin Tan include pimped up toasts, which are indulgent takes on the local Singapore breakfast. A nod to their Mod-Sin roots, the brand now wants to be known for more than just cocktails. A step in the right direction, they’re already planning their first Cocktail Dates, where they’ll play Tinder and pair participants on 1-on-1 dates at their premises. Chua tells us more.

Let’s go back to the beginning a little bit. Jekyll & Hyde was one of the early entrants that rejuvenated Tras Street back in 2013, as well as one of the pioneer speakeasy cocktail bars in Singapore. How would you position the bar now in the context of Singapore’s F&B scene, seven years on?

Jekyll & Hyde is not just a bar, it’s a brand. That is the direction and pivot we’re taking, to build out a whole new experience. With more products — not just as additional revenue streams, but as a way to give customers a whole new experience. With moving, we have the chance to reinvent the space, and also create something new as we move close to a decade in operations.

Bottled cocktails from Jekyll & Hyde

Jekyll & Hyde has had many successful and on-the-pulse partnerships with Jeremy Nguee, Zander Ng of MasterChef, and even burger pop-ups with lesser-known names like Shiok Shack. What do you look for in a partner?

What we look for in partners are those who are willing to think out of the box, who see the strengths that we can both bring in terms of product and following, and create an experience and collaboration where people enjoy themselves. The Shiok Shack one was really crazy! The number of people that went in and out that day… with Jeremy and Zander, it was a great pairing experience.

What was the thought process like in re-engineering the menu for this new concept?

We’ve always been known for fun and innovative cocktails with a local twist. We are taking local dishes and elevating them, reimagining the dishes so that they are recognisable, but presented in a new way and with some additional ingredients! We have dishes like Kurobuta Carrot Cake, Chili Crab Nachos, and soon, Orh Luak and Wagyu Hor Fun.

Jekyll & Hyde’s Kurobuta Carrot Cake

Jekyll & Hyde has always been a place where local talents shine, from the days of Jeff Ho and now Michael Foong, who won Diageo World Class’ Rising Star Award in 2019. As a restaurateur, how do you continue to cultivate such a platform for creativity and innovation?

One of the things I learned early on was that as a restaurateur, you can and should give general direction, but creativity is something you need to let the team handle. They are passionate about what they create, and you want them to own that. If you want a yes person, then stick to a simple dish or concept. But with a concept and restaurant like Jekyll & Hyde, the team needs to not be stifled.

I do give ideas from time to time! In terms of talent shining, it’s about those guest shifts. After the renovation, we are going to be highlighting them out the wazoo as we launch the new space.

Michael Foong, head bartender at Jekyll & Hyde

What’s next on Jekyll & Hyde’s trajectory?

Events. We want to be your one-stop shop for everything! Our trajectory is all-day dining and drinking, so watch out for us in the coffee space too. We’re making headway into each of the segments we want to break into. We are working with some local brands, museums, and celebrities to do their own bottled cocktails. We’re excited to get that launched, and get the creative juices flowing. We’re pushing hard into the corporate space with food and drinks for socially distanced teams!

Lastly, despite COVID-19 robbing the F&B industry of revenue, what positives has the pandemic given you?

As crazy as it sounds, COVID-19 almost destroyed us, but could be what makes us truly successful if we can stay the course. That intense struggle for survival put us through the fire, and has strengthened our resolve to do what it takes. More than that, it’s helped us see just how much people love our bar and drinks, and that is all we can ask for — that support and encouragement.

Book a table at Jekyll & Hyde.

Want to hear more from restaurateurs in Singapore? Check out interviews with Beppe de Vito of il Lido and Pang Su Yi of Bao Makers.


Adibah Isa

A digital and print journalist turned content manager for brands that believe in the power of storytelling.


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