Botak Jones brings back popular Western fare to Singaporeans after a decade

At left, the stall at Depot Lane and its founder in a February photo, at right. Photos: The Original Botak Jones/Facebook
At left, the stall at Depot Lane and its founder in a February photo, at right. Photos: The Original Botak Jones/Facebook

Popular Western food eatery Botak Jones is back after a decade of absence, with crowds already swarming its new location yesterday. 

The brains behind the famous brand, Bernard Utchenik, 68, whose bald (or botak in Malay) silhouette make up the eatery’s logo, joked to Coconuts over the phone this morning about being “older and fatter” and ready to serve Singaporeans their favorite spread of burgers, chicken, and fish and chips again. The brand’s revival began at 118 Depot Lane in Bukit Merah, where hundreds arrived yesterday after hearing news of its reopening. 

“I had no idea how entrenched Botak Jones had become in people,” Utchenik said. “A lot of these people, when they first were eating our food, were either kids or in their teens. And now they were coming back as adults with their own children.”

“And in a way it was kind of what I was hoping originally would happen that we would become a mainstay and long after I’d be let’s say dead and buried or gone, you know the brand will live on,” he added. 

In Singapore, so-called Western food outlets at hawker centers and coffee shops usually offer a hodgepodge of British- and American-inspired dishes like fish and chips, grilled meat chops, or fried chicken. Botak Jones elevated this when it opened in 2003, expanding to 14 outlets islandwide. Unfortunately, Utchenik severed ties with his business by selling his shares in 2011.

The Singaporean then opened the Big Bern’s American Grill steakhouse in 2014 but closed its two outlets last month after struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. Utchenik then reached out to old partners to revive Botak Jones.

Despite not being around for a decade, Botak Jones’ catchy name still rings in the minds of many Singaporeans who frequent it during their youth.

About 300 people queued up on reopening day yesterday, with queues stretching to the edge of the coffee shop 15 minutes after the store opened at 11am, according to Utchenik, who arrived on his “Hardly a Davidson” four-wheeled scooter. He did not expect that response at all.

“Actually, the queue was so long that even for people who had placed orders, it was turning into like an hour and a half, two hour wait,” he said. “So a lot of people just left their numbers and they left. Everybody was quite mellow about what was going on, there weren’t any comments like, you guys should have prepared for this or you could do better.”

When asked for food recommendations, Utchenik jokes: “It’s like asking your parents which one they love the most, you know, because they made all of you. Of course, they love all of you, maybe for different reasons, right?”

The stall brought back signatures like the Cajun Chicken (S$7.50), made with char-grilled chicken breast, topped with mozzarella cheese and Cajun sauce; Fish & Chips (S$8), made with basa fish deep-fried and coated in panko crumbs; burgers like the triple stacker U-Crazy-What?! (S$24.50), made with flame-grilled patties, cheddar, onions, tomatoes, and iceberg lettuce. 

Other crowd favorites like mozzarella-stuffed Jalapenos peppers fried with Japanese bread crumbs may be on the menu soon. Utchenik said that due to it being “extremely labor intensive” to make, fans will have to wait once there is enough room and people helping out in the currently “very, very small” kitchen run by three cooking staff.

To avoid trying to “undersell and overdeliver,” fans should not expect the store to serve dinner until Friday, he said. 

Will he expand the revived business? Maybe. 

“It would have been better to have strategically placed outlets in Singapore, lower numbers but able to keep the staff and everybody intrigued with the amount of business that they were doing, and the satisfaction they were getting from the customers’ response,” he said. “It’s a big part of it for people and obviously it’s not the money.”

The Original Botak Jones
118 Depot Lane
Open 11am to 8pm daily

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