70 years old and still hustling.
It starts with a car chase.
As a young man, Jimmy spent a year working “under the table” in the US as a chef learning to cook western food. He was almost thrown out when a car chase by immigration authorities ended in a several hours long interrogation to ensure he wasn’t working illegally. The smooth talker convinced them he was a hapless tourist.
On his return, he worked at the old Tropicana and the Royal Hotel (both big names) before setting up Prince Coffee House when he was 34.
36 years and still going strong.
They started at Shaw Brothers outside the Prince cinema and were there for 13 years before moving to Coronation Plaza for 22 years. When the lease was terminated, Jimmy figured it was time to call it a day, but an investor came in asking them to continue.
So now they’re back home on Beach Road near the corner of Haji Lane.
“My sound is very big”
Jimmy stands in the middle of the restaurant. From his vantage point he can shout orders to the kitchen and also shout out to people walking by on the street.
He spots some Caucasian tourists walking by and is on his feet in a flash.
His voice booms: “Cheap Tiger Beer! Chinese food!” he shouts.
The lure works. Later he explains, “They usually like the sweet and sour pork.”
Weekdays no tourists are to be seen. Lunchtimes are packed with locals. Prince is an old Hainanese coffee house with classic western & asian dishes. The beef hor fun is famous: super wet and tasty.
It’s cheap and good and service is excellent. If Jimmy doesn’t serve you himself, then chances are you will get one of the staff that has been there since the beginning.
Old pictures adorn the walls. In one is a very young Lin Ching Hsia (“she had the pork chops”). The waitress who approaches looks vaguely like a girl in another photo.
“Yes that’s me. I was 16 then. That was 34 years ago.”
Despite his age (70) and success, Jimmy keeps moving and hustling to bring in business. Passersby get lured in for a meal or the freshly baked goods: Apple Pie, Yam Cake, Chicken Pie. And for holidays, Prince does roasts with trimmings.
A small queue forms on a Sunday afternoon because stocks of cakes have run out quickly. Some customers sit around having a drink while they wait for the next batch to emerge from the kitchen.
It’s off peak and a chance to rest. But he’s still the consummate host and takes the time to entertain the waiting customers with his stories.
He’s at it every day and the days are long.
But the man keeps going.
Prince Coffee House
249 Beach Road (near Haji Lane)