I have often been asked to compare the hawker scene in Johor and Singapore. These are my observations after visiting and speaking with nearly 1,000 hawker bosses in Johor, and living in Singapore for most of my life.
Note that this is a synopsis of my personal observations.
Singapore is represented by the blue pyramid and Johor by the green pyramid. At the top, Singapore has higher end eateries and has more high end eateries. At the lower end, Johor still has many street hawkers whereas in Singapore, almost all have been moved indoors.
There are still mobile street hawkers in Johor, keeping rentals low.
Coffee shop hawker stall rental ranges from RM500 to RM2,000 depending on location.
Many Johor "restaurants" are really street hawkers moving into shop lots. The mobile stall moves into a shop lot space with spacious kitchen, and room inside for tables and chairs. Total build up area is around 1000 to 1500 sq ft and rental ranges from RM2,000 to RM7,000 depending on location. Shop lot rental for top prime areas such as Sutera Utama/ Bukit Indah is around RM7,000.
Labour shortage is also a challenge in Johor though perhaps less acute than in Singapore.
The demand for foreign labour is high in Johor and the wait is long.
On the plus side in Johor, there are still young local people willing to take up apprenticeships with experienced hawkers or with restaurants.
The cost of fresh local produce like meat, vegetables and poultry is lower in Johor than in Singapore. The cost of some basic necessities are also lower in Johor due to government subsidies (2014):
Flour RM1.50 per kilo
Sugar RM2.50 per kilo
Local rice RM1.80 per kilo
Cooking oil RM2.50 per kilo
But, for premium imported ingredients like wagyu beef which have to come via Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, it actually costs more in Johor. So, higher end fine dining may cost more in JB than in Singapore.
Cost is lower in Johor. For example, cooking gas costs RM27 per 14 kg cylinder (2014).
Hawker food is generally sold at a higher price in JB than in Singapore (without currency conversion). Noodles like wantan mee, fried kway teow are usually sold at RM4 to RM6.
Comparison without currency conversion
The different cost structure between Johor and Singapore allows the Johor hawkers flexibility to spend more on ingredients (which also cost less) than their Singapore counterparts. One of the outcomes is often better food served due to better ingredients.
The population in Johor Bahru is dispersed and small compared to Singapore, especially on weekdays as many Johor residents work in Singapore.
On average, most restaurants have slower traffic during weekdays and rely on weekend traffic to survive, and sometimes thrive. On weekends, besides Johoreans, there are additional customers like Malaysians working in Singapore, or day trippers from Singapore.
Only the most popular restaurants or stalls have high customer traffic throughout the week.
Continuity and Culture
Second and third generation stalls are still found in Johor. Occasionally, I come across young professionals returning from years in the corporate world to help expand the family business.
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