How veteran chicken rice hawker Frankie Yeow is putting a new face on a well-loved dish

By Toh Ee Ming February 7, 2024
How veteran chicken rice hawker Frankie Yeow is putting a new face on a well-loved dish
Frankie Yeow and his wife, Jane, of Hwa Kee Lemon Chicken Rice. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/HungryGoWhere

Veteran chicken rice hawker Frankie Yeow, 65, is no stranger to change. He has changed careers to a totally different field, trialled different ways of making chicken rice and set up shops all across the island in the span of some 25 years.

So when the opportunity came to switch things up with his business and embark on a massive rebrand, he thought, “Why not?”

This openness to experimentation has brought him far.

The history

Frankie had been working in the shipping industry when the 1997 financial crisis struck. He was in his 40s at the time and was hit hard.

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Frankie smiles nostalgically as he shares about the history of the business. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/HungryGoWhere

Under the tutelage of Leong Fook Wing, the creator of the famous Sin Kee Chicken Rice, Frankie learnt the art of whipping up this local favourite. 

But the journey wasn’t easy. “My uncle gave me a thumbs up on my rice, but he shook his head when it came to the chicken,” recalls Frankie with a wry grin.

Undeterred, Frankie patiently honed his craft and over time, perfected his own chicken rice recipe.

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Hwa Kee before the rebrand. Photo: Accenture Song

Eventually, he was confident to start his own business at Meridian Hotel, before moving to the campus at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Ever the experimentalist, Frankie was always eagerly trying out chicken rice recipes of all types — black pepper chicken rice, spicy mayo, Thai chilli and lemon chicken rice. He wanted to modernise the traditional chicken rice dish and keep it up to date with the times.

Take the lemon chicken rice dish, for instance.

Instead of settling for run-of-the-mill flour from suppliers, Frankie decided to come up with his own unique flour batter a combination of higher grade flour and some “secret ingredients.”

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Lemon chicken rice Photo: Koh Mui Fong/HungryGoWhere

At first, his wife, Jane, scolded him “like crazy,” Frankie recalls. But he proved her wrong. Liberally coated with this batter, the lemon chicken turned out deliciously fragrant and crispy and proved to be a hit among NUS students.

Eventually, Frankie moved to a canteen at an industrial park in Kallang Place, where he was based for over two decades, from 2001 to 2022.  When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Frankie’s business took a beating again. He closed shop and did nothing for close to seven months.

Just last year, he decided to try again, this time at the first floor of Peninsula Shopping Centre. He had chanced upon the space after making his spectacles there. 

Day after day, Frankie and Jane faithfully showed up to dish out their beloved recipes.

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Frankie hard at work. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/HungryGoWhere

But there was a problem: The stall suffered from low footfall. Barely anyone knew they were there or visited this sleepy shopping mall.

Frankie focused his efforts on selling the staples — roasted chicken rice and white steamed chicken rice. 

Only long-time fans who knew about the lemon chicken rice on his secret menu would order it. 

Rising operating costs, changing consumer preferences and a fast pace of change have proved the trade to be unsustainable in recent years. With business slowing down, Frankie was debating if he should finally quit the trade.

The changes

Enter the team from Accenture Song — professional services firm Accenture’s tech-powered creative arm. On a mission to safeguard Singapore’s beloved hawker culture, the team — comprising creatives, designers, strategists and technologists — put their heads together to dream up new ways for the hawkers to do business.

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Newly redesigned aprons. Photo: Accenture Song

After much convincing from old friends and long-time customers, Frankie took the giant leap of rebranding Hwa Kee from scratch. Only this time, the focus would be to relaunch his famed lemon chicken rice and mark the start of a new chapter for the couple.

Hwa Kee’s branding took on a fresh new look. Its old logo was swapped out and replaced with cute new caricatures of Frankie and Jane, complete with a chirpy and eye-catching red and yellow colour scheme.

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The brand was given a fresh new look. Photo: Accenture Song

The Accenture Song team helped to update their digital payment gateways and get them onboard the GrabFood delivery service platform.

Frankie also introduced the new lemon chicken rice burger (S$6), a great option for the busy office worker to just grab-and-go.

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Frankie’s new lemon burger. Photo: Accenture Song

The Accenture Song team even created a quirky Roblox metaverse, where customers are tasked to find Uncle Frankie in the Lemon Chicken World, for a chance to win a free plate of his signature lemon chicken rice. Picture a world of lemon ferris wheels, giant chickens, lemon mountains, lemon blimps, and clucking white noise.

The refresh took place over a period of 10 months, and after all these changes, the stall enjoyed a new breath of life. Hwa Kee enjoyed a 25% increase in sales. And since the documentary was aired, plenty of new customers have made their way to the stall as well.

“Everything was moving, not just the lemon chicken…We’re very happy,” says Frankie.

The dishes

When HungryGoWhere visited Hwa Kee on a weekday in early January, the place was bustling, with a steady flow of customers thronging the stall.

Frankie served me a hearty plate of fragrant chicken rice set for two (S$20), complete with their new star dish of delightfully crispy and flavourful lemon chicken, melt-in-your-mouth steamed chicken and a dollop of fresh achar (pickled vegetables).

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Frankie prepares his signa\ture lemon chicken rice. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/HungryGoWhere

Accompanying it was a bowl of hearty soup. Thanks to Jane’s Cantonese roots, you’ll be treated to a variety of soups, which rotate on a daily basis. 

Based on the day, you could be treated to comforting soups such as chicken feet with peanut, winter melon, watercress and black and white fungus.

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The soups at Hwa Kee are not your usual variety. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/HungryGoWhere

Reserved by nature, Frankie prefers to let his food take centre-stage. But as we spend more time together, he warms up a little more.

We learn that he makes the long journey from his Jurong West home to the city centre each morning, getting to his stall by 6.30am.

It’s clear that Frankie takes great pride in his craft.

He points out that most chicken rice is too “strong, full of ginger and lemongrass”, while his version has the “old taste”. And Frankie remains coy about what goes into his lemon chicken rice batter, which still remains top secret today. 

He reveals that he spends an hour every week preparing 10kg — a week’s worth — of flour batter at home, away from prying eyes.

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The stall. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/HungryGoWhere

While most people might baulk at the thought of eating chicken rice every day, Frankie has been doing so for the last 20 years. In his free time, he and his family enjoy travelling across the border to Johor Bahru in search of good food.

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Frankie prepares the customer’s orders. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/HungryGoWhere

Beyond the reticent exterior lies a hidden warmth. Frankie knows most of the customers’ faces and orders by heart. In fact, he even picked up certain phrases from the international students he has interacted with in the past, from Filipino to French.

“They are happy that we know what they want… It shows that we treasure them,” he muses.

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Customer digs into the lemon chicken rice. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/HungryGoWhere

That passion for food and work ethic has clearly rubbed off on his children. His eldest son works in an advertising agency, which handles several food accounts, while his daughter Irin recently graduated from the Culinary Institute of America.

Growing up, Irin had seen how hard her father had quietly laboured and she’s happy to see him getting well-deserved time in the spotlight. She urges more people to try the soy sauce chicken rice ($5), because of the amount of skill it takes. “It’s not something someone will master in one or two years,” she says.

As for Frankie, he’s happy to have achieved his dream of transforming Hwa Kee into a modern brand. “We now feel empowered to bring our lemon chicken rice to more Singaporeans and we’re looking forward to making new loyal customers,” he adds.

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Frankie Yeow and Jane of Hwa Kee Lemon Chicken Rice. Photo: Accenture Song

True to his love for innovation, Frankie has some final parting words for us, “Why don’t we arrange for a food competition among the chicken rice hawkers and let customers do blind taste-tests? It’ll be fun.”

Watch the transformation

Frankie and Jane of Hwa Kee Lemon Chicken Rice are one of the three hawkers featured in the “Second Servings” documentary by Accenture Song.

Directed by Reshma Ailmchandani, the 46-minute unscripted documentary follows the hawkers’ journeys, struggles and successes as they teamed up with Accenture Song for new ways to preserve their heritage dishes through digital marketing and product innovation strategies.

The film shines a spotlight on two other Singapore hawker veterans — Gina Rajan of Gina’s Vadai and char kway teow master Tan Boon Kiat of Armenian Street Char Kway Teow — and their stories of reinvention through creativity and digital technologies.

“Second Servings” was co-produced with award-winning Singapore-based production house, IFA Media. It premiered in Singapore on Mediacorp’s free-to-air television, Channel 5, on Dec 13 last year.

It’s available for on-demand viewing on MeWatch.

For more hawker stories, check out Pui Pui Heng Hot & Cold Dessert and Bege Rack.

Alternatively, read up on our favourite spots for claypot rice and chocolate cake.

Hwa Kee Lemon Chicken Rice is on the GrabFood delivery service and offers free delivery (up to S$3 off) with GrabUnlimited. 

You can also book a ride to Hwa Kee at Peninsula Shopping Centre to try Frankie’s signature lemon chicken rice.

Do explore the GrabFood Dine-in service for awesome deals.

Hwa Kee Chicken Rice

Peninsula Shopping Centre, 01-12, 3 Coleman Street
Nearest MRT station: City Hall
Opens: Mondays to Saturday (10.30am to 5pm). Do note that Frankie will be on break from Feb 9 to 19.

Peninsula Shopping Centre, 01-12, 3 Coleman Street
Nearest MRT station: City Hall
Opens: Mondays to Saturday (10.30am to 5pm). Do note that Frankie will be on break from Feb 9 to 19.

Toh Ee Ming-HungryGoWhere

Toh Ee Ming


Ee Ming is a storyteller with a love of photography, insightful reads, films, and offbeat and obscure places. Her work has appeared in outlets such as the Associated Press, South China Morning Post, National Geographic, CNBC and Southeast Asia Globe.

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