The mamak shop - a convenience store found in the void deck of many Housing Board flats - has gone high tech.
A cluster of vending machines called The Ma2 Shop has replaced a mamak shop in Block 143 Tampines Street 12. The 150 sq ft space opened on Thursday (April 27).
It houses six vending machines that sell ready-to-eat meals including canned Japanese oden, snacks, medical supplies, drinks, household provisions and knick-knacks such as hair accessories and powerbanks. It operates round the clock.
However, the machine which dishes out hot meals such as chicken rice and chilli crab spaghetti will start operating only on May 27.
All the machines accept cashless payment methods such as using credit cards, EZ-link cards and e-wallet services such as Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.
The Ma2 Shop is by the No Signboard Seafood restaurant chain. Five other outlets will be opened by May 27, all located in void decks of HDB flats. An outlet in Block 8 Holland Drive will open on May 5, while another outlet in Block 7 Lorong Lew Lian in Serangoon will start on May 15.
The other locations are Block 21 St George's Road and Block 693 Hougang Street 61.
Mr Sam Lim, 40, chairman of No Signboard Seafood, says the vending machine business is "more scalable" than operating restaurants.
He says: "The vending machines occupy spaces with stable rent and can run without manpower. The cost prices of the products are more stable than ingredients used in restaurants. We also plan to export the vending machines to countries such as Japan."
No Signboard Seafood operates four restaurants including in Geylang Road and Vivo City. It is known for its chilli crab dish.
Mr Lim's partner in the venture, Mr Lam Zhi Loong, 33, approached him to set up The Ma2 Shop last year, after seeing the popularity of vending machine shops in Tokyo, where he frequently travels to. "Like Tokyo, Singapore is also facing increasing property prices and it is difficult to find workers in the food sector," he says. "Besides, Singaporeans are interested in trying out new types of Japanese food."
They invested about $1 million to set up the six outlets and plan to add machines that dispense ramen, onsen eggs and fruit jellies.
Also coming up is the Asian Food Box by No Signboard Seafood that dispenses five halal-certified meals including fried Hokkien mee and rice or spaghetti served with the restaurant's popular chilli crabs that have been de-shelled. Customers can also purchase frozen pre-cooked food packs and heat them up in a microwave oven. Prices range from $5.80 to $11.90.
Mr Lim says it took six months for the restaurant to tweak its chilli crab recipe so that its taste can be retained after being blast-frozen and re-heated for about two minutes in the machine's in-built microwave oven.
Vending machine clusters in void decks are not a new concept here.
Last August, catering company JR Food Group opened VendCafe in Sengkang, which serves hot dishes such as seafood hor fun and curry chicken rice, drinks and snacks. It will open two more outlets in Ang Mo Kio and Lakeside MRT stations early next month, and two outlets in Pasir Ris and Rivervale estates in June.
But The Ma2 Shop also stocks about 40 pharmacy products such as antiseptic cream, plasters and Panadol, and household items such as rice and cooking oil.
Mr Lim points out: "These machines are convenient after the pharmacies and most supermarkets have closed for the day."
Most residents near The Ma2 Shop whom The Straits Times spoke to gave the thumbs up for the convenience though some say they will miss the personal touch of chatting with a shop owner.
Tuition teacher Jayne Leong, 28, says: "It is a good start to modernise the mamak shop, but this is a mature estate and the elderly may find it difficult to use these vending machines. I am sceptical about the freshness of the ready-to-eat meals as I am not sure how often they are replenished."
Retired sales manager Joe Lim, 60, says: "I prefer this to a mamak shop as I can still get a hot meal when the coffee shops have closed and can buy medical supplies if I need them urgently."