By Yong Hui Ting
Additional reporting by Bernice Yong
Updated: 12:00 PM, Aug 26
The North Spine Food Court has reopened since the start of the 2020/2021 academic year, under the Office of Housing and Auxiliary Services (HAS).
The North Spine Food Court has been closed until further notice, according to a flyer from the Office of Housing and Auxiliary Services (HAS) seen at the venue’s entrance.
NTU is calling for a tender to appoint a new operator for the canteen, as food service provider Select Group’s lease is due to end on Aug 9, said an NTU spokesperson responding to Soapbox queries.
HAS will run the North Spine Food Court located on the second level of North Spine Plaza in the meantime until a new operator is appointed, the spokesperson added.
Customers can claim refunds from their stored value cards, which were used to purchase meal items, at the food court from August 17 to 21, he said. Notices by HAS around the vicinity of the canteen stated the refund period was on Aug 3 to 7, but the university clarified that it has been revised.
Year 1 aerospace engineering student Lucas Yip, who used to dine regularly at the North Spine Food Court, said that the recent closure means there will be fewer low-priced meal options at North Spine Plaza for staff and students.
“I used to buy from the mixed rice stall, or ban mian, which costs $3 to $4. But now I have to settle for fast food, which costs more,” he said.
Alternatively, the engineering student said he would order food online, but food is often more expensive with fewer choices available on the app.
A former employee who worked at the food court’s duck rice stall, Mr Henry Chai, 42, said in Mandarin: “It was all very sudden. My boss told me that they didn’t want to renew the contract anymore. So the business folded and everyone, including myself, was fired.”
Staff of other food establishments in North Spine Plaza said they heard that business at the food court was poor even before NTU ceased non-essential academic and research activities on April 6 due to the pandemic.
Ms Xiao Qiu, manager of The House Steamboat Restaurant at the North Spine Food Plaza, said: “One of the managers of the North Spine Food Court used to come over to our shop. He complained about bad business and said they were losing money.”
Canteen B in South Spine, which reopened in June during Phase 2 under operator Fine Food, was mostly empty when Soapbox visited its premises on Thursday, July 9.
Outlet manager John Koo said that business at Canteen B fell by 70 per cent during the pandemic.
This was partially because many of the summer exchange students who were expected to dine at the canteen during the school break have been recalled to their home countries, he added.
“Even though we were not open during the circuit breaker period, we still had to pay rent,” Mr Koo said.
“I’m more worried for the tenants and how they are going to survive. I don’t think a lot of stalls can sustain themselves for more than 3 months without any income.”
NTU understands and acknowledges the challenges that tenants face due to the impact of Covid-19, said the NTU spokesperson.
He said: “Earlier in April, we had informed tenants of our plans, including reducing rentals for the circuit breaker period and passing on tax rebates where applicable.
“We hope our goodwill gestures, which are in addition to the governments’ assistance provided directly to our operators and tenants, as laid out in the Unity, Resilience and Solidarity Budgets, will alleviate the challenges brought on by the pandemic.”