Throwback Thursday: The taste of nostalgia lures snaking queues of A&W fans on opening day
SINGAPORE: The last time 66-year-old Jerry Yeo took a bite out of an A&W coney dog and sipped their famous root beer float was decades ago.
So when American fast-food chain A&W reopened its doors in Singapore on Thursday (Apr 11) after a 16-year hiatus, Mr Yeo and his children trooped eagerly down to Jewel Changi Airport.
He was greeted by long, snaking lines of diners - but a 90-minute wait was not about to stop him from getting a taste of nostalgia.
"I am not a very patient man, but I was willing to wait an hour and a half for my coney dog and original root beer float," he said.
Mr Yeo said he decided to brave the first day of A&W's reopening because of the fond memories he has of the fast-food chain.
"I was telling my kids that the very first A&W outlet that we went to was the one in between Bukit Timah Road and Dunearn Road. Basically, we were discussing the history of A&W (while having our meal)," Mr Yeo said.
A&W – which stands for Allen and Wright – made its debut in Singapore in 1966 at Dunearn Road, and the first A&W drive-through opened in 1970 at Bukit Timah Road.
The fast-food joint’s hamburgers, hot dogs and root beer soon became hugely popular among Singaporeans and it is believed its success helped pave the way for other fast-food establishments to set up shop in Singapore, including McDonald’s (1979), Kentucky Fried Chicken (1977) and Burger King (1982).
However, by 2003, A&W faced stiff competition from its competitors and shuttered its remaining outlets.
With the opening of Jewel Changi Airport, however, the well-loved chain is back with an 80-seater outlet, which will be open 24 hours a day.
ABSENCE MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER
The A&W outlet saw a huge turnout on its first day of operations, with multiple lines of diners snaking out of the store.
One such diner was Mdm Beatrix Poh's daughter, who patiently stood in line for her parents' favourite orders while they waited around for a seat.
Mdm Poh and her husband were all smiles despite the wait.
"Way back in 1975, when the children were young, we would take the children to A&W in Kallang. We would have the root beer and hot dog. We would even collect the little root beer glasses," she said, smiling.
What brought her back to A&W on Thursday was the promise of a root beer float.
"The taste is really very different. I told my husband, I must come here (for a) taste of what it was like in the 1970s," she said. Mdm Poh said she had tried to recreate the popular drink at home, to no avail.
"When we heard it's going to open at Jewel, we were so happy. Looking forward (to it)," she said.
The long lines did not deter Mdm Poh either. "You want to eat food that you love ... you must be patient!"
Homemaker Rachel Loh and her 21-year-old daughter Yuxuan Kok made a trip down to A&W on Thursday for Mdm Loh's first root beer float since 1976.
Mdm Loh said that when she was in secondary school, she used to meet her friends at the chain's Bukit Timah branch. On Thursday she waited 30 minutes for one of her favourite drinks.
"I really love root beer float by A&W," said Mdm Loh. "It's the taste - it's different from Coke." When asked if the drink tastes the same to her after all these years, she said decisively: "Yes! The same."
For Mdm Loh's daughter, her first experience at an A&W restaurant was more muted. Ms Kok's verdict? "Not bad", although she said she has yet to try other items on the menu.
The crave for familiar comfort food was a common reason among the diners willing to wait hours in line for a burger or coney dog.
"After so many years, you have a craving for it," said Mdm Irene Tan, who was there with her husband.
The last time Mdm Tan had what her husband billed as "her favourite" in Singapore was about 20 years ago.
After A&W left Singapore, she would sometimes have a meal at its branch in Malaysia.
Mdm Tan's favourite dishes? The coney dog and root beer float, she said.
However, the items at the new outlet looked a little different to her.
Upon opening the box, she said: "Very small."
Mr Jerry Yeo felt the same way.
"My wife was telling me that the size of the hot dog has shrunk a little bit - maybe they need to do something about it," he said with a laugh.