Hawker Stories: How a third-generation hawker keeps traditions alive but also takes steps to revamp the business


Just like old times, Faye Sai makes coffee as her grandfather did. However, armed with a passion for hiring and retaining talent, she has made tweaks that circumvent manpower issues. Here’s her story.

Black sesame toast, sea salt caramel latte, non-dairy options – these are some of the trendy offerings at Coffee Break, not a cafe but a hawker stall. 

"I won’t open a cafe,” declared Faye Sai, who runs the outlet. “What makes you think it’s an upgrade? The overheads such as rental are higher, and here at the hawker centre, I have the luxury of all the seating space I need.”

You also won’t find any shiny espresso machine or fancy V60 pour over within the 3m x 3m unit. Instead, Faye, a third-generation hawker, makes her brew the traditional way. Just like her grandfather, a new immigrant from Hainan, her tools of the trade are a coffee sock and a long-spouted metal pot. And like old times, the beans are roasted Nanyang style, in butter, sugar and salt.

Beginning as a small stall in Keppel in 1935, alongside other Hainanese hawkers selling curry rice and beef noodles, Coffee Break moved to Telok Blangah Drive where it was passed from father to son in the 1970s. They had to move again in the 1990s when the kopitiam went en bloc, with a brief stint at Boon Tat Street before its current location at Amoy from 1999. 

Faye, 37, is one of three siblings who manage the family brand’s outlets. She helms Coffee Break at Amoy Street Food Centre (the OG). Her older brother Jack, 40, is at Market Street, while her fraternal twin Anna runs the outlet at Hong Lim. The siblings gradually took over from 2009, with their father, 72, as their occasional consultant.

Hiring and retaining talent is one of Faye’s passions. The RMIT business management graduate ensures her employees have competitive pay and attractive working conditions – they work a maximum of nine-hour shifts and rest on weekends and public holidays, compared to the typical 12-hour shifts and weekend work that F&B positions call for. They also have opportunities for job rotation and progression. Faye’s employees, who have an average age of 28, include university graduates spanning various backgrounds: philosophy, accounting, supply chain management and even music!

As a result of her efforts to hire and retain, she can roster up to six people working at a time, especially on Friday mornings, when there is an extra-long queue of customers keen to enjoy up to SGD 3 subsidy on their order when they pay via PayLah!. 

Still, there’s the occasional 6.30am message where someone calls in sick and she must quickly rush down to cover the shift – even during her pregnancy. That’s just part and parcel of the job, said the outgoing hawker, who has always wanted to be in the food service sector and enjoys interacting with her customers. 

“Being a hawker is hard work, but you can be smart about it,” she shared, adding that being a hawker is a viable career where one can raise a family while achieving the fundamental “Singapore dream” (getting married, buying an HDB flat, having children...).

She added, “I’ve learnt from my hawker dad the importance of integrity, sincerity and quality. Don’t cut corners – ensure that what you serve to customers is what you will drink yourself.” 


DBS has extended our SGD 3 subsidy on hawker meals every Friday for the first 100,000 diners who pay with DBS PayLah! till 26 July 2024. DBS is committed to helping our customers reduce their rising expenses, against the backdrop of ongoing economic uncertainties and inflation. Visit go.dbs.com/sub3 to learn more. 

Faye Sai runs Coffee Break at Amoy Street Food Centre, 7 Maxwell Rd, #02-78. Opening hours: 7.30am-2.30pm, closed on weekends and public holidays. 

Jack Sai runs Coffee Break at Market Street Hawker Centre, 50 Market St, #03-03. Opening hours: 7.30am-2.30pm, closed on weekends and public holidays. 

Anna Sai runs Coffee Break at Hong Lim Market & Food Centre, 531A Upper Cross St, #02-41. Opening hours: 7.30am-2.30pm, closed on weekends and public holidays.

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