Polar Café



Singapore Infopedia

by Wang, Esther Ying Jie

Background

Polar Puffs & Cakes is a food manufacturer and operator of a confectionery chain best known for its curry puffs.1 Originally known as Polar Café, Hong Kong immigrant Chan Hinky began running the business from 1926.2 The first Polar Café, a landmark on High Street, opened in November 1925. It was popular with the expatriate community as well as politicians and lawyers working in the area.3 Polar Café was one of the few businesses that remained open during the Japanese Occupation (1942–45).4 As at 2016, Polar Puffs & Cakes has 29 outlets as well as two manufacturing facilities in Singapore.5

History
Polar Café opened on 30 November 1925 as an annex of Lim Yew Chye & Sons on High Street.6 Chan, who arrived in Singapore in the 1920s, began running the business from 1926.7 Advertisement notices published between October and November 1926 show that the first Polar Café was briefly under the management of Luna Café.8


In the years before the war, Polar Café was popular mainly with the expatriate community and wealthy merchants.9 The establishment was famous for its signature curry puffs as well as a selection of ice-cream and chilled refreshments.10 Chan’s wife, Shum Shui Yu,11 had learnt the curry puff recipe from a friend.12

During the Japanese Occupation, Polar Café was one of the few businesses that remained in operation.13 Chan passed away in 1942 and thereafter his wife left the operations of the café to their two eldest sons.14 After the war, High Street became known as one of the most fashionable shopping streets in Singapore, especially after department store Metro opened its first outlet in the vicinity. Polar’s business flourished, with both regular customers and shoppers visiting the store.15 Their customers included lawyers and politicians who worked in the nearby Supreme Court and Parliament House.16 Seen as a trendy spot, the café was also popular among students and youths.17

In January 1986, Polar Café closed after the government acquired its premises on High Street to expand the Parliament House. However, the company revived in December that same year, unveiling a new takeaway outlet, Polar Puffs & Cakes in OUB Centre at Raffles Place and opened a new factory on Leng Kee Road. Business continued to flourish and the company’s turnover for 1987 hit S$1.6 million.18

Recent activities
Polar undertook rebranding exercises in 2003 and 2009, expanding their product line and marketing their traditional products as part of a lifestyle campaign. The product expansion included foods marketed at the health-conscious as well as cartoon-themed cakes for children. These moves helped the company open at least 10 new takeaway outlets between 2003 to 2005.20 In 2006, Polar Puffs and Cakes was reported to have over 100 varieties of pastries and cakes, from their signature curry puffs to newer additions such as the black pepper crab puff.21


Awards
In 2005, Polar was named a “Heritage Brand” by the Singapore Prestige Brand Award for being in operation for over three decades. The company was also conferred the Singapore Promising Brand Award by the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises that year. In 2006, Polar celebrated its 80th anniversary, and was recognised as one of the strongest local brands, gaining the “Superbrands” title.22



Author

Esther Wang Ying Jie




References
1. Tan Yi Hui, “Polar Has Something to Puff About,” Straits Times, 6 January 2008, 56. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Maylee Chia, “A Grand Old Lady Dons New Clothes,” Straits Times, 20 December 1987, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Tommy Koh et al. eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet and National Heritage Board, 2006), 416 (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Irene Hoe, “Polar Café Closes Shop,” Straits Times, 15 January 1986, 34. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Jenny Tan, ed., Superbrands. Volume IV: An Insight into Many of Singapore’s Strongest Brands (Singapore: SB Asia Pte Ltd, 2009), 72–73. (Call no. RSING 658.827095957 SUP)
5. “Store Locations,” Polar Puffs & Cakes, accessed 29 May 2016; “Our Story,” Polar Puffs & Cakes, accessed 29 May 2016.  
6. “Page 6 Advertisements Column 3,” Straits Times, 1 November 1925, 6; “Page 7 Advertisements Column 4,” Straits Times, 3 October 1925, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Polar Puffs & Cakes, “Our Story.”
8. “Page 7 Advertisements Column 2,” Straits Times, 15 October 1926, 7; “Page 16 Advertisements Column 5,” Straits Times, 23 November 1926, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Tan, Superbrands, 72–73.
10. “Page 5 Advertisements Column 4,” Straits Times, 21 September 1926, 5; “Page 1 Advertisements Column 1,” Straits Times, 23 November 1927, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Page 40 Advertisements Column 1,” Straits Times, 26 November 1993, 40. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Polar Matriarch Dies of Cancer at 90,” Straits Times, 27 November 1993, 27. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 416.
14. “Polar Matriarch Dies of Cancer at 90.”
15. Leong Weng Kam, “Eighty Years and It’s No Puff,” Straits Times, 30 July 2006, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Chia, “Grand Old Lady Dons New Clothes.” 
17. Khoo Kay Chai, oral history interview by Jesley Chua Chee Chuan, 14 May 1996, transcript and MP3 audio, 29:51, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001744 – 5), 73.
18. “A Year Later, the Proof Is in the Puff,” Straits Times, 20 December 1987, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Leong, “Eighty Years and It’s No Puff”; Chia, “Grand Old Lady Dons New Clothes.” 
19. Fiona Chan, “Household Brands Keep Up with the Times,” Straits Times, 20 September 2005, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Eveline Gan, “Flavours Singapore,” Today, 5 August 2006, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Polar Puffs & Cakes, “Our Story.”



The information in this article is valid as of 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.






Rights Statement

The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

More to Explore

Central Provident Fund

ARTICLE

The Central Provident Fund (CPF) is a key component of Singapore’s social security structure. It is a compulsory save-as-you-earn scheme that enables working Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents to set aside a percentage of their monthly gross salary for retirement. Introduced on 1 July 1955, CPF is administered by the...

Singapore Trades Union Congress

ARTICLE

When the Emergency was declared in 1948, the communist-linked Singapore Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) went underground. The Singapore Trades Union Congress (STUC), with the support of the colonial government, was formed in 1951 as a federation of trade unions to replace the SFTU. However, the STUC was short-lived because...

Tan Eng Joo

ARTICLE

Tan Eng Joo (b. 30 October 1919, Singapore–d. 29 October 2011, Singapore), a Chinese community leader and businessman, was a leading advocate of the Singapore rubber industry during the 1960s and ’70s. In 1964, he and his uncle Tan Lark Sye, together with rubber magnate Lee Kong Chian, formed the...

Goh Keng Swee

ARTICLE

Goh Keng Swee (Dr) (b. 6 October 1918, Malacca–d. 14 May 2010, Singapore) has often been called the “economic architect” of Singapore for his great contributions to the development of Singapore into a prosperous nation during his terms as minister for finance and defence. He held several other key appointments,...

Tan Keong Choon

ARTICLE

Tan Keong Choon (b. 29 October 1918, Amoy, Fukien, China–d. 27 October 2015, Singapore ), nephew of the late Tan Kah Kee, was a prominent Chinese businessman who made his wealth from rubber trading between the 1950s and 70s. Among his many contributions to the local rubber industry, he was...

Ong Pang Boon

ARTICLE

Ong Pang Boon (b. 28 March 1929, Kuala Lumpur, Malaya–) was a politician and a prominent member of the People’s Action Party (PAP). He was appointed the minister for home affairs in the first cabinet of Singapore following the party’s victory in the 1959 Legislative Assembly general election. Ong went...

S. Dhanabalan

ARTICLE

Suppiah Dhanabalan (b. 8 August 1937, Singapore–), also known as S. Dhanabalan or just Dhana, is a banker and former politician who served in various ministries, notably foreign affairs and national development. Since his retirement from politics, he has held chairmanships for large corporations including Temasek Holdings and DBS Group...

Devan Nair

ARTICLE

Chengara Veetil Devan Nair (b. 5 August 1923, Jasin, near Malacca, Malaysia –d. 7 December 2005, Canada ), better known as just Devan Nair, was Singapore’s third president and first Indian president. ...

Jek Yeun Thong

ARTICLE

Jek Yeun Thong (b. 1930, Singapore–d. 2018, Singapore) was a former politician who held the ministerial portfolios of labour, culture as well as science and technology. He was one of the first-generation leaders of the People’s Action Party (PAP)....

Tony Tan Keng Yam

ARTICLE

Tony Tan Keng Yam (Dr) (b. 7 February 1940, Singapore–) was the seventh president of Singapore (2011–17). After a career in banking, he entered into politics in 1979 and served as a minister in the cabinet, holding at various times the portfolios of education, defence, finance, health, and trade and...