Johor Bahru: A&W | Jusco Bukit Indah

Of course, no trip to Malaysia or Indonesia is complete without…

A&W, of course.

Although the last restaurant closed in Singapore in 2001, many Singaporeans, particularly the Gen-Y still have fond memories of the brand. The hunger for A&W has in part, comes from the nostalgia of their childhood days when the city-state was a little…quieter. Since then, it has inspired weekend trips to Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia where the franchise still remains, if only for a sample of its fried chicken, coney dogs, root beer float and waffles.

Absorbed into Yum! Brands, Pepsi’s spun-off fast-food division, A&W (and Long John’s Silvers) didn’t stand a chance against the A-list lineup which included KFC and Pizza Hut. A&W regularly suffered from poor sales, and its root beer, which was licensed to Dr. Pepper-Snapple Group instead of Pepsi, only siphoned off much needed figures to keep the business afloat. In addition, A&W’s mains, namely its burgers, were not well received as compared to what were essentially its “sides”. Moreover, compared to the fashion lifestyle branding and cross-country appeal of the likes of McDonald’s and KFC, A&W’s was eternally tied to America, which didn’t necessarily help its image overseas. Simply put, A&W was struggling with globalization.

The loss-making division was sold in 2011, and in 2013, unveiled its new image and name (A&W Burgers Chicken Floats) in its new hometown of Lexington, Kentucky. With a contemporary-vintage vibe, the revitalized concept focuses on gourmet burgers, chicken, hotdogs, and floats – basically, everything that everybody loved about A&W in the first place. But don’t expect this new concept to be unveiled across the globe just yet. The sale from Yum! to A Great American Brand LLC was in haste, which means franchises that don’t come under control of the new parent company, are virtually on autopilot. I suppose, the good thing about Singapore is that A&W isn’t here yet, which means the franchise is up for the taking. So, we might see A&W Burgers Chicken Floats perhaps in the coming years before we get it in Bangkok or Johor Bahru?

But for now, let’s focus on the old A&W.

This particular outlet we visited is located at Taman Bukit Indah Jusco. This district is, according to a colleague who visits often, less known among Singaporeans mainly because Bukit Indah’s former seedy reputation precedes it. In reality, the area is becoming quite a dynamic district, with many well-known seafood restaurants in the area. There’s also Country Gardens, a condominium development overlooking the Straits of Johor which has been heavily promoted in Singapore, nearby. In addition, the area is now strategically located at the edge of Kota Iskandar, a pseudo expansion of the Johor Bahru sprawl, and a new city which is designed to prey on Singaporeans’ appetite for cheap and quality food, housing and amenities. Besides the Aeon Jusco complex, there is a Tesco and Giant complex within decent walking distance.

Now, I may like A&W as much as the next Generation Y, but the aged brand and the fact that it gets far less diners than restaurants along Jusco Bukit Indah’s well-traveled Restaurant Street is telling. Still, it’s A&W, am I right? My colleagues and I naturally go a little crazy. But, I’m sure you can tell by the pictures that it’s just not it. I felt it too, actually. In general, there was just something off about the coney dog and the waffle?

I’d say, the one at Nagoya, Batam, is still the “best in Singapore”. Visit that one instead.

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