THE HISTORY OF YUIT CHEONG COFFEE SHOP
Established since 1896 - Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
YUIT CHEONG Coffee Shop is no stranger to the vast majority of Kota Kinabalu older folks and they are even the regular customers. However, very few of them realize that this several decades old coffee shop has been in business for over a century.
Back in the year 1896, Yuit Cheong was one of the few shops on Gaya Island, Sabah. Unfortunately, all of the shops there were reduced to ashes because of fire in 1897.
The gutted shops were originally planned to be moved to Sepanggar Bay. Henry Walker, the director of Lands and Survery Department then told the shop owners to look for an alternative site to rebuild their shops. With the establishment of the North Borneo Company (Administration Unit) the following year, nine shops were build in Jesselton and allocated to the fire victims. The town was named after Charles Jessel, the vice chairman of the company. The town was later renamed to Kota Kinabalu.
Our grand uncle Leong Kah Cheng was then the proprietor of Yuit Cheong. There was no water and electricity supply while the population was small. The shop began with a humble start under a simple and tranquil condition. It engaged in sundry goods as well. As he opted for the other more lucrative trade, another uncle of ours name, Leong Kah Ching took over the shop.
The British warship called at the Kota Kinabalu (Jesselton) Port on the year, 1904. A Shantung Province cook went ashore for sight-seeing. As he was totally absorbed by the local natural scenary that he forgot returning to the town and missed the ship. The dejected cook then turned to our uncle Shang Chau for help and stayed overnight. The following day, the astonishing cook found that our shop assistants were far below par in bakery skill. He decided to teach them the proper way of bakery without reservation. His recipe emphasized on using a well-balanced quantity of flour and yeast, the correct method of mixing and stirring and the timing of baking in the oven. The workers have benefited a lot. Yuit Cheong has thus made itself a name in bakery and became instant famous in and around the town.
The supply of food was still inadequate during the postwar era. Yuit Cheong was quite lucky given the opportunity to bake and supplied the bread to the refugees through the introduction of a local clerk John Voon. The flour was supplied by the Australian troops. A loaf of bread was priced at 50 cents while the market price commanded $2.50. Yuit Cheong was later authorized to sell military daily commodities to the civilians.
The shop has turned into an eye-catching scene whenever the big crowd rushed for the fresh bread. Yuit Cheong stopped supplying the bread to the refugees after the pullout of the Australian troops.
In 1946, Yuit Cheong moved to the atap-roof shop in Middle Street from Jalan Pantai, Kota Kinabalu starting its business. It applied for liquor license from the Custom Department to sell Four Doctor Brand tonic which was imported from Singapore Kan Wen Wine Company. A clock tower was erected at a small hill behind the shop. The first hotel in town – The Rest House, was built at the waistline of the hill. The volleyball court was at the foot of the hill where the Hainanese used to play the game in the evening. The other unique feature was the railway station right in the town.
With a view to expand the existing business, my grand father started to build his own bakery in Australia Square in 1963. The newly acquire modern electrical oven and the two experienced bakers specially recruited from Hong Kong were to give the local residents a new and better taste of bread, cakes and moon cakes. It was also the first mechanized bakery in town.
When the atap house in the Middle Street was gutted down tin 1969, Yuit Cheong moved to its own premises which is opposite Cathay Cinema in Jalan Pantai. My grand father died in 1986 at the age of 93. My dad, took over the shop in 1973.
With a history of a century, Yuit Cheong is considered as the oldest shop in town. Other well established shops such as Teo Sing, Siang On, Eng Long, Tiong Hin, Chun Kee Chan and Kwong Shi Ho but none of them have exceeded a century old as of now. The world has undergone great changes in a span of over 100 years but Yuit Cheong remains intact despite going through the ups and downs all these years.
After wading through hurdles of hardship and bumpy path, Yuit Cheong has now ushered into the year of 2015. It has witnessed the great changes and growth of Sabah over the pass 100 years through the rule of colonial government, Japanese Occupation, Chartered Company and the formation of Malaysia on September 16, 1963.