Businesses preparing for worst following end of shisha sales
At their peak, former S-League player Esad Sedjic would see bustling crowds at his three restaurants - which had a shisha menu for patrons - well past midnight.
But things have become so bad that he will now be trying to wrap things up, sell the businesses and leave the country after the grace period for shisha sales ends on Sunday.
Mr Esad owns four eateries. Three of the restaurants, one of which sells only kebabs, are around Arab Street and one is in Boat Quay.
He said: "When people come (to my restaurants) to smoke shisha, they will eat and drink, too. But after the ban, the restaurants will be empty.
"From next week onwards, I am finished."
Mr Esad Sedjic.TNP PHOTO: ISKANDAR ROSSALI
Mr Esad, 46, watched two of his restaurants, Nasrin and Sufi's Corner, flounder after the expiry of their shisha retail licences early last year. Business in both restaurants dropped by 80 per cent.
The only one left selling shisha is his Sahara restaurant in Boat Quay, but that will have to cease on Sunday night.
He said that Sahara makes "good money" from shisha, and added that the restaurant pays over $30,000 in goods and services tax to the Government every three months.
His kebab shop, House of Kebab, is breaking even.
He tried to change the business models of Nasrin and Sufi's Corner to focus on food instead of shisha.
He said: "I thought I would concentrate on the food, so I spent $250,000 on renovations to make it nice. But nobody came."
He added that both restaurants posted losses of $10,000 each last month.
And from having 20 employees in its heyday in 2014, Nasrin now has only one full-timer and two part-timers.
The losses are currently covered by revenue from Sahara, but Mr Esad is expecting it to face an immediate decline following the ban.
He is cutting his staff at Sahara from 10 full-timers and three part-timers to just four full-timers.
Arab Street, once the centre of a bustling cafe scene, with shisha smokers lining the streets until the wee hours of the morning, bore the brunt of the ban.
Mr Esad said: "There are fewer people now - it is like a ghost street."
When The New Paper visited Arab Street on Monday evening, there were just a few curious tourists there.
Mr Ashraf Mohamed, 50, owner of Amirah's Grill Restaurant & Cafe in the area, said his business experienced a 90 per cent drop after he stopped selling shisha when the licence expired last September.
It is now posting losses of $5,000 to $15,000 every month.
He has been trying to sell his business, without success so far.
Store owners TNP spoke to said crowds in the area have thinned.
Even retailers who do not deal with shisha said they are experiencing losses.
A textile seller in Arab Street, who wanted to be known only as Anan, said the crowd was 20 per cent of what it was in 2014, with the number of Arab customers falling by half.
"When there was shisha, a lot of Arab tourists used to come to my shop, but now, business from them has fallen by half," he said.
"If not for my main income from export and wholesale, the business would have become unsustainable."
Mr Mustafa Nergiz, 37, owner of Turkish restaurant Istanblue Meze & Grill House, said business fell by 40 per cent after the shisha restaurant opposite his restaurant closed last month.
"I used to keep the restaurant open until 2am last time, but now I close at 11pm every day because there are not many people."
One shisha smoker at the last few shisha joints in the area said he has been frequenting Kampong Glam with five friends for a daily shisha fix after work for more a decade.
The executive in his 30s, who declined to be named, said: "The streets used to be crowded every day, but now that there has been a drastic decrease in people, we are the leftovers.
"The whole atmosphere has changed."