Paul Ooi_COVID-19 business_130220

"Our human responsibility in such times is to pray with fasting, think carefully and act decisively as God's Spirit and Word leads us," says Paul Ooi from Penang Place. Photo from Penang Place Facebook.

With restaurants hard hit by the effects of COVID-19, the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) is reported to have written to 24 major shopping mall landlords on February 13, requesting a rent reprieve in the hope of seeing a 50% rebate for three months.

One veteran restauranteur, Paul Ooi, told Salt&Light he has already started to see the impact on his previously packed restaurant, Penang Place, in Suntec City.

“Business has dipped by at least 50%,” he says candidly. 

Yet Ooi is strangely unfazed. This is because, in his personal experience, God has been faithful many times over and He will see us through again.

Waiting in faith

The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak was only just winding down when, in obedience to a clear call from God, Ooi faced the risks head-on and started Penang Place in August 2003.

His staff waited with him and, in faith, he continued to pay them their salaries.

The restaurant did so well that, when it had to move from its first home in the Jurong East International Business Park to Fusionopolis in the Dover Road area, it thrived even further, burgeoning in popularity.

That pole position among Penang buffet restaurants was put on the line when it was given notice to move, due to the redevelopment of Fusionopolis. No suitable location was available even after a year-long search, and Ooi had to close his restaurant for three months.

But he wasn’t short on company. His staff waited with him and, in faith, he continued to pay them their salaries.

Penang Place head chef, Alvin Chan and Paul Ooi.

Head chef Alvin Goh was among the 30 staff who stayed with Paul Ooi as he looked for new premises for Penang Place. Photo by Glen Goh.

Retirement was a fleeting consideration, but never a viable option for him and his wife, Hannah.

“We had a responsibility to the 30 permanent staff,” he told Salt&Light. “Many were with us from the start and have families to support. 

“We felt it was the will of God to carry on.”

When he finally moved into Suntec City, Ooi took over a 10,000 square foot venue that had seen two previous restaurants fail. That was not to be his lot: Penang Place became a $4.5 million business and launched a catering arm.

No fear

In terms of uncertainty, these COVID-19 days could well feel like déjà vu, but Ooi has no fear.

“Our back was against the wall. But we had Jesus.”

“We ventured into business for the first time (in 2003) because God had given direction” – even though his circumstances were “dire”, he recalls. He had been retrenched the year before at the age of 48 while being the sole breadwinner for a family with six children between seven and 16 years old.

“Our back was against the wall. But we had Jesus,” he says.

Fast forward to 2020, and Ooi has continued to move with the Spirit in these times. Penang Place has written to its customers, many of whom are pastors, missionaries, priests and nuns, “to stand alongside us in prayer”, Ooi says of the initiatives he has recently put in place.

“We communicate with our staff and customers that we are a safe, clean and hygienic restaurant. We have been graded A by NEA (National Environment Agency) since our beginning in 2003.”

Penang Place assures its customers it is taking all the necessary precautions against COVID-19. Screengrab from Penang Place’s Facebook.

Additionally, “we give customers what they value in this current situation”, which includes discounted set lunches for the office staff around Suntec, takeaway dinners for them and their families at 20% off, and delivery services.

“The Lord spoke to me: The situation may be scary, but you must not be scared. God is with us.”

He shares: “The Lord spoke to me: The situation may be scary, but you must not be scared. Obey God at all costs, and be strong and courageous. God is with us (Joshua 1:8-9).”

His go-to Word for these times comes from Psalm 91 (which he calls “God’s atomic bomb shelter”) and Psalm 37:5. “Commit this whole situation to God, trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass.”

His advice for restauranteurs and other business owners who might be running scared is, firstly: “God is faithful. He has already sorted everything out. Just follow Him, one day at a time.”

Secondly, “as stewards of God’s enterprises, we must demonstrate the confidence and hope that we have in God, especially in such a time as this”.

“God has always been faithful. His love for us never fails.”

Drawing from personal experience, he adds: “All of us have had many challenges in our journeys with God. Our human responsibility in such times is to pray with fasting, think carefully and act decisively as God’s Spirit and Word leads us.

“And leave the rest to God who will surely fulfil His part as our business Partner.”

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About the author

Emilyn Tan

After years of spending morning, noon and night in newsrooms, Emilyn gave it up to spend morning, noon and night at home, in the hope that someday she’d have an epiphany of God with His hands in the suds, washing the dishes too.