Sunday 19 May 2024
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This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on November 6, 2023 - November 12, 2023

Located in the older part of Kuala Lumpur city centre, Jalan Kamunting is quite a crowd-puller for its restaurant and cafe offerings. Outside of Restoran Yut Kee’s premises, stools are provided for customers waiting for seats. The queue starts early in the morning on weekends. Meanwhile, over at Tapestry, the crowd starts building up at about 10.30am, just in time for brunch.

While the food offerings here are not that different from many other places in the Klang Valley, there is a sense of history, particularly the architecture.

“Jalan Kamunting is one of the roads situated in an area that holds significant culture and historical value. It offers a diverse array of architectural styles, ranging from colonial-era buildings and traditional shophouses to contemporary structures,” says PPC International Sdn Bhd managing director Datuk Siders Sittampalam.

Developed between the 1920s and 1930s, Jalan Kamunting originally housed two rows of double-storey pre-war shophouses comprising 17 and 24 units per row. Some of these shophouses were abolished and redeveloped while the remaining units have undergone various transformations over the years.

Along this stretch, there are several F&B outlets offering a wide variety of food, ranging from local delights to Western cuisine. They include eateries such as Tapestry, Bricks & Bread KL and Wagyu Master Malaysia as well as the three-generation Yut Kee Restaurant that serves Hainanese cuisine. Just outside of Yut Kee is Madam Choo’s makeshift stall selling an assortment of Peranakan kuih and bak chang (rice dumplings).

Mervyn Lee, the third-generation owner of Yut Kee, is one of the few to have seen the transformation of Jalan Kamunting, having been involved in the business from a very young age.

There were a lot of legacy businesses back then, he recalls. “There was an optical shop, a sundry shop, hardware shops, motorcycle shops and a coffee shop around the corner.

“Jalan Kamunting itself was mostly residential lots. There were houses that people used to live in for the longest time. They all [started] vacating around the mid-1990s.”

Having been in business since 1928, Yut Kee is a household name in the area. The restaurant, previously a short walk away on Jalan Dang Wangi, relocated to its current premises in Jalan Kamunting in August 2014. 

“We acquired the [current unit] in the mid to late 1990s. Sometime around 2010, the landlord gave us notice that he wanted to take back the [Jalan Dang Wangi] unit. So, we started making plans to move, [into the Jalan Kamunting unit]” says Lee.

The restaurant has been operating here since, serving crowd favourites like Hainanese chicken chop, pork chop, Hainanese noodles, lam mee and kaya butter toast.

“The demographics have changed over the years. In those days, Jalan Kamunting was mostly visited by those who lived in the vicinity or went to school nearby like St John’s Institution. There were a lot of offices back then as well. On weekends, you would have families frequenting the area,” Lee recalls.

“In recent times, we have been getting a lot more tourists and the younger crowd as well. We see a change in the generations [who come here]. But we still see a few of our old-time customers as well.”

Spillover effect from surrounding area

Jalan Kamunting is surrounded by an abundance of commercial developments in Jalan Doraisamy, Jalan Yap Ah Shak, Jalan Raja Abdullah and the neighbouring Kampung Baru to the east.

The activities in Jalan Doraisamy have had a spillover effect on Jalan Kamunting, according to Siders. Jalan Doraisamy has been transformed in recent years into a popular commercial street made up of predominantly F&B outlets.

The street underwent a complete makeover but still maintained its heritage elements, and is now called The Row (formerly known as the Asian Heritage Row), he explains.

“The transformation of Jalan Doraisamy has created spillover demand for F&B outlets in Jalan Kamunting, [thereby] changing its landscape entirely and making it a vibrant and bustling commercial enclave. Today, [Jalan Kamunting] is known for its mix of old and new buildings [while] maintaining the heritage and cultural elements in their design,” says Siders.

For example, Hotel Stripes Kuala Lumpur, which opened its doors in 2017, is a redevelopment of the pre-war shophouses whose facade has been retained.

Hotel Stripes Kuala Lumpur is owned by YTL Hospitality Real Estate Investment Trust. It was formerly an office building known as Bangunan Yeoh Tiong Lay.

“Some of the pre-war shophouses were refurbished to accommodate F&B outlets,” Siders adds.

According to him, there have been only eight transactions in the area in the last 10 years. “A notable transaction was a 2-storey shop with a land area of 1,600 sq ft that was sold in 2012 at RM1.4 million. It was sold again in 2020 for RM2.16 million, recording an increase of 55%,” he says.

“Another interesting sale perhaps would be the five units of adjoining 2-storey shophouses, comprising a land area of 4,454 sq ft, that were sold for RM7 million in 2011. Subsequently, all five units were sold individually to various purchasers at between RM1.98 million and RM2.06 million per unit, which totals RM10 million for all five shophouses, in the following year.”

Siders notes that the average asking rent in Jalan Kamunting is about RM4.60 psf for units on the ground floor and RM2.40 to RM2.70 psf for units on the upper floors. Most of the businesses along this stretch are occupied by tenants, he adds.

He credits the strategic location of Jalan Kamunting for its positive outlook. “Its proximity to amenities, major road networks and highways such as Jalan Sultan Ismail, Jalan Ampang, Jalan Kinabalu, Jalan Kuching and the Ampang-Kuala Lumpur Elevated Highway (Akleh) and public transport networks such as the light rail transit and monorail train indicate that it has the attributes for capital value appreciation and rental yields. This is further evidenced by the presence of shop units that are currently enjoying reasonable returns with a low vacancy rate,” he says.

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