The Red House at Katong
The Red House at Katong reopened in the second quarter of 2016 after more than a decade of closure. It once housed the defunct Katong Bakery & Confectionery, which operated from 1925 to 2003 and was famous for its curry puffs and Swiss rolls. The shop became known as the Red House Bakery, thanks to its fire-engine-red façade that distinguished it from the long line of shophouses at East Coast Road.
A Jewish man, Jim Baker, established the original Katong Bakery & Confectionery in 1925. In 1931, it was taken over by a Hainanese seaman, Tan Siang Fuan – fuelling the legacy of the early Hainanese community who carved out their coffeeshop business niche in Singapore. The popular bakery was closed in 2003 after the shophouse was deemed structurally unsafe.
It is interesting to note that the Red House sits on wakaf land. Wakaf properties are built on land bequeathed or willed by a Muslim for charitable or religious uses. It was put in trust in 1957 to the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) by Sheriffa Zain Mohamed Alsagoff.
The Alsagoffs were prominent philanthropists who made several key contributions in early Singapore. Sheriffa’s father, Syed Mohamed Alsagoff, founded the Madrasah Alsagoff Al-Arabian at Jalan Sultan in 1912 with his final will in 1906. The school, which was converted to a female-only institution in 1966, still stands on the same site today. The Alsagoffs also helped in the construction of the majestic Raffles Hotel, which was leased and managed by the Sarkies brothers from Armenia.
Sheriffa is also the great granddaughter of another well-known philanthropist, Hajjah Fatimah. The latter made significant donations to the mosque building of Masjid Hajjah Fatimah at Beach Road, a stone’s throw from the madrasah founded by her son-in-law. The mosque was among the first eight buildings in Singapore granted legal protection as national monuments, when it was gazetted by the former Preservation of Monuments Board in 1973.
Following a redevelopment project by Warees Investments, the property arm of Muis, the Red House reopened with Heavenly Wang (a brand under Wang Café). Specifications for an occupant was for a bakery to sell signature delicacies similar to the popular Katong Bakery & Confectionery and to sell halal products accessible to all.
It is fitting to a degree – for a similar business with its own institutional legacy to occupy the premises of the former Katong Bakery & Confectionery. Wang Café traces its history to the early 1950s as Wang Jiao, a local-styled breakfast stall along Bugis Street. With its retro floral tiles, wooden furniture, recycled biscuit tins, and aromatic coffee, the new Heavenly Wang outlet is a toast to the Red House’s past.