Since it burst on the scene in the early 2000s bringing delicious American fare to Singapore’s suburbia, Botak Jones has been a local icon that many Gen Xers have fond memories of. This National Day, GEN X Singapore talks to its founder American-born Singapore citizen Bernie Utchenik.
AUGUST 17, 2021
“Botak Jones was one of the few places I could bring my girlfriend for a decent Western meal,” remembers Joshua Gan, 40, who is now married to said girlfriend with a 6-year-old son. “I had budget constraints and that was what I could afford back then. I appreciate Botak Jones for offering good food at affordable prices, but more than that, I thank my wife for being willing to have coffee shop hot dates with me. Company is the most important part of ambience.”
Joshua is not alone in having fond memories of Botak Jones. When Bernie Utchenik and his wife Faudziah Mohd Ali (better known as Zee) opened their first outlet at Tuas Industrial Park, introducing Singapore to quality classic American food at kopitiam prices, Botak Jones quickly became the go-to place for Cajun Chicken, steak and truly great burgers. One stall became two, three, five… and at one point, grew to 14.
Bernie, 68, became as iconic as his brand, appearing on radio, TV, in magazine, newspapers, also speaking at entrepreneurship forums. But in 2011, he and Zee sold their stake in Botak Jones to their partners, returning to the scene the same year with Big Bern’s American Grill, which changed locations over the years, starting at Balestier, then at Toa Payoh in 2014, and in 2016, Timbre+ and last year they added on another outlet at Makansutra Gluttons Bay. Both have since closed.
Journalist Judith Tan remembers, “Big Bern’s was next to SPH [in Toa Payoh] and I ate there for dinner whenever I was on late shift. I would usually have the New York strip or the ribeye—after a while, Zee seemed to be able to tell if it was going to be a ribeye or New York night! Then came the jalapeno cheese bombs, which was what we always ordered during tea break. Sometimes we would drink margaritas and eat jalapeños at tea and hope our faces were not red when we went back to the newsroom to continue work.”
This June, Gen Xers got excited all over again because, after an absence of 10 years, The Original Botak Jones opened at the coffee shop at 18 Depot Lane in Telok Blangah. As if they never left, the queues started up again, drawing attention from local media and sending this generation back down memory lane.