Built in Singapore
The Riverboat was built in Singapore in 1991 as a replica of the Mississippi steam boats of the 1800’s, along with two other identical vessels which were shipped to Australia, leaving the Riverboat the only one of its kind in Southeast Asia. She was named ‘Sentosa Riverboat’ and operated at the North Shore Jetty of Sentosa, a leisure island off mainland Singapore. American fast food chain A&W, which owned the Riverboat, operated on the Main Deck, while a Chinese restaurant took the Upper Deck, and a beer garden the Bridge Deck.
Bought by our Company
As A&W gradually shifted its operations out of Singapore in the mid 1990’s, the Riverboat was left vacant and in disrepair at Sentosa’s North Shore Jetty. That’s when local family businessman Eric Saw decided to buy it. He approached Sentosa Development Corporation, who referred him to A&W, and A&W’s management asked “How did you know we were wanting to sell the boat!”
Santa Fe Tex-Mex Grill
Now the owner of a floating restaurant facility but with no F&B experience whatsoever, Eric, whose background is in HR and training, set up Santa Fe Tex-Mex Grill in Boat Quay under the guidance of some consultants to ‘learn the ropes’ of F&B operations in preparation for running the Riverboat. Santa Fe was among the pioneers of Tex-Mex in Singapore, a cuisine recommended by Eric’s close American friend and mentor. The Boat Quay outlet eventually closed its doors in mid 2002 when lease expired.
Repairs, Retrofit, and Search for a New Home
Back at Sentosa… A Homecoming
From Sentosa to Marina South
Plans were announced to build an integrated resort at Sentosa’s North Shore, and the Riverboat and all her neighbours had to vacate. Once again she was left homeless for a couple of months until one day, the management of Marina South Pier contacted us saying that they wanted a floating restaurant at their new facility. We of course jumped at this opportunity, and very quickly made arrangements for the Riverboat to be berthed at Marina South Pier, which became her home till 2019.
More Than Just A Floating Restaurant
A major rebranding and retrofit exercise sees the Riverboat transformed from a “floating restaurant” into a “floating F&B and lifestyle venue”. Since then, the Riverboat became increasingly popular for weddings, birthdays and corporate functions, as well as numerous public events such as music nights, networking sessions, and even full-fledged thematic wine fairs.
Leaving Marina South Pier… End Of A Chapter
After thirteen good years at Marina South Pier, we were finally required to give up our berthing space in March 2019 to make way for increasing sea traffic. From the time notice was given, we embarked on a long and arduous search for a new berth, making numerous recce trips around Singapore by land and by sea. We discovered three ideal locations, and made good progress with the owners/operators who were all very keen to have us. At the same time, the Riverboat was at Bee Sin Shipyard undergoing an ‘extreme makeover’ to prepare her for her next chapter, and our culinary team was also hard at work developing a new menu for our relaunch. Exciting and promising, or so it seemed.
Goodbye, Thanks For The Memories
Nearly a year had passed since we ceased operations, and we came to understand and accept that the chances of us ever finding a new berth in Singapore were very slim. All three of our potential sites were met with regulatory roadblocks due to zoning issues, boundary lines, commercial GFA quantum, and much more. Of course, we could ‘pay our way through’ to the tune of a million dollars upfront to get back into the game, but that would not make business sense at all! So after much consideration, we decided to sell the boat to an overseas buyer, which on hindsight was a huge relief and perhaps a blessing in disguise as the transaction was completed just weeks before Singapore entered its Covid-19 Circuit Breaker!
Being ‘stewards’ of Stewords Riverboat for nearly two decades has been a tremendous experience for us, and we are deeply thankful for every joy in the journey, every lesson learnt, every friendship formed. Want to hear more stories? Wait for the book!