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Penang's Pre-War Kopitiam Closed Due to Eviction by New Singaporean Owners

Kedai Kopi Kong Thai Lai at 6 Hutton Lane is now officially closed for business.

Penang's Pre-War Kopitiam Closed Due to Eviction by New Singaporean Owners
Image: Shirleen Blogalicious
The "billionaires' kopitiam" as it was called, was made famous by Penang-born billionaire Loh Boon Siew, the first sole distributor of Honda motorcycles in Malaysia. Mr. Loh went to Kong Thai Lai for breakfast every day (so they say), probably enjoying their signature coffee and roti kahwin (margerine and kaya on toast bread) with half-boiled eggs.

Image: CQuek
Kedai Kopi Kong Thai Lai has been operating for nearly 100 years in its current location on 6 Hutton Lane in Georgetown. With the recent purchase of the row of pre-war buildings they are on, their new owners have ordered for the kedai to move out. The eatery first received its eviction notice in April this year. They were given until September to move and now, the shop will begin its new life on 38 Leith Street, a five-minute walk away from their original spot. The new kedai kopi will begin its operations on Saturday.

Pre-war buildings in Malaysia are being sold to Singaporean investors rapidly and not much is said about its preservation. It can be said that the gentrification of certain parts of Penang will bring in more money through tourism and new industries but at what cost? When all the pre-war buildings have been snapped up and gentrified – not restored – will we still recognise it as Penang? Will it even be able to retain its UNESCO World Heritage status?

The StraitsTimes reports that Singaporean investors who purchase pre-war buildings in Georgetown have increased the rent from RM1,300 to RM7,000 and RM10,000 a month! We can't blame the foreign investors for the price-hike of course, because they need a return on investment and with the weakening Ringgit, rental will only go higher in these pre-war buildings. With rental rates so high, what kinds of businesses will open here? Certainly not traditional Malaysian eateries.