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She serves dimsum, builds prayer room

HER OWN RECIPES: Madam Sylvia Ler (above) serves halal dimsum at Tang Tea House in Bedok Road.

Tang Tea House

She wanted to break into the halal market with dimsum.

An unusual choice since dimsum is usually made with copious amounts of pork.

"I thought it was an untapped market and there are delicious alternatives," says Tang Tea House's boss Sylvia Ler, 58.

That was eight years ago and that astute gamble paid off. Today, hundreds of baskets of salted-egg custard buns fly off her shelves.

Nine in 10 of the customers of the restaurant in Bedok Road are Muslims, and they flock to the place on weekends for a dimsum treat. In fact; they have expanded from a corner coffee shop, to taking on three more units. Madam Ler says: "I wanted to introduce good Chinese food to the Malay community and what better way than the traditional dimsum fare."

The restaurant now serves more than 300 Chinese dishes, and her staff churn out the dishes that come from her own recipes.

"It is usually by word-of-mouth," says Madam Ler.

"My Malay customers come for lunch. Then they bring their families here for dinner. Their family members tell their friends and so on."

To cope with the demand, she expanded across the next three shops and even built a prayer room for her Muslim patrons and staff.

"This way, they do not have to gulp down their meals and rush to pray. They can pray here and have a leisurely lunch before going back to work," she adds.

Going halal means her expenses also go up by 10 to 20 per cent, yet she manages to keep prices at Tang Tea House "affordable for HDB heartlanders".

"For instance, our seafood hor fun, which is an all-time favourite, remains at only $4.80," Madam Ler says.

She continues to "absorb the goods and services tax and we don't charge for service either" to ensure that her restaurant remains popular in the long run.