Netting the top spot

To fete Pioneer Seafood restaurant's 35th year, former chicken farmer and septuagenarian restaurateur Lee Choon Huat shares his secret to longevity in the fickle F&B business. By Debbie Yong

Published Fri, Feb 7, 2014 · 10:00 PM
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WILD caught, hormone-free and homemade. Long before these became trendy catchphrases tagged onto restaurant menus, Pioneer Seafood was already well ahead of the pack. That's because Lee Choon Huat, the 75-year-old proprietor of the 35-year-old Chinese restaurant in Tuas has his roots deep in the fish trade. Having lived in the area since its days as a sleepy fisherman's village, he swears by only eating - and serving - the freshest catch daily, because that's what he's used to.

"Ours was the only Chinese family in a Malay kampung of fishermen. My brothers and I helped out with my mother's fish trading business, so we would gather near the jetty at the (now-defunct) Tanjong Kling beach to buy the daily catch from the fishermen and then transport it to the central fish market at Boat Quay for auction," he reminisces.

Subsequently, he helped out with the catching of fish as well, sailing out to Indonesian waters to fish every evening and returning only at daybreak the following day. "My favourite moment was always watching the sky slowly brighten as we were driving back to Singapore. We always drove towards the light - that's how we would find our direction home," he muses. Though the Tuas of today is more dusty industrial enclave than the seaside idyll etched in Mr Lee's childhood memories, the rapid modernisation of the area has not prompted him to up and go.

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