It seems like every other week there’s a new cafe opening its doors, be it in the heart of town or in suburban neighbourhoods. With cafe-hopping now considered a national pastime in Singapore, its no wonder why many people are tempted by the idea of opening their own cafe.
Are you a young aspiring entrepreneur with a hot passion for specialty coffee and delicious bites? Here’s what you should know before becoming your own boss.
The wonderful people behind Common Man Coffee Roasters, and niche cafe The Pourover Bar together with the world’s fastest growing cafe chain Wheelys dished out their most valuable advice for anyone considering joining the already saturated industry.
Sarah Rouse from Common Man Coffee Roasters, which is a specialty coffee roaster, wholesaler, cafe and academy operating in Singapore and throughout Asia, tells us the key things to take note of when opening your own business.
“One of the biggest challenges and the first major milestone that is so often overlooked or misunderstood is this question – What story are you trying to tell?
This is not a Hansel & Gretel type story, but rather the tale you create through weaving together all the different elements that form the concept of a place; like your branding, your café’s name, your décor, your menu, your beverage list, your style of service, the music you play, the way your staff are dressed, your lighting design – the list goes on and on! All of these elements, no matter how subtle, are important to reinforcing the answer you gave (or will give) to the question above.
Don’t dismiss the small stuff! In a market as competitive as Singapore’s cafe scene, your customers will almost subconsciously ‘feel’ when things don’t quite come together. And they know when they find something that just works.”
She also emphasises on the importance of keeping it simple in the beginning and to always invest in quality.
“This is not the part where I recommend that you go out and get all the top of the line equipment, the best sound-system, the most amazing POS software and all of the copper fittings you can get your hands on.
No, this where I tell you that it’s ok to be careful where you spend your money and how much you spend, but I think that it’s equally important to consider the quality in your investments, because that quality almost always means that the product will last, either due to its inherent durability or by remaining relevant in the future.
By investing in quality, you aim to gain the greater long-term value over the short-term saving of buying something inferior. But this means that you should consider only what you can handle financially and that you must be realistic with your finances in order to achieve it.”
Now that we’ve heard from a big name, what about small, niche cafes? How did a professional in the banking industry have the guts to leave his well-paying job to open his own cafe? We spoke to Raphael, owner of The Pourover Bar, which carries a wide selection of coffee, ranging from $3.50 to $45.00 a cup.
“I found my passion in coffee when I was studying in Melbourne, Australia. Starting with the unassuming cup of 'Flat White', I soon found myself down the rabbit hole of filter coffees, sustainable micro-climate coffee beans, cherry varieties and tasting notes that brought flavour complexities I never imagined possible.
Ever since returning to Singapore in 2013, that yearn for that unique experience and a calling to share that amazing discovery of good coffee with others became stronger. I decided to source beans from Melbourne, Australia, and conduct private sessions with friends and anyone who is interested in a premium coffee experience made with rich layers and sophistication. Over time, allowing passion to be my guide, The Pourover Bar was established in 2016 with the objective of producing the best cup by serving only incredible coffee that is dictated from seed to harvest to roast to brew, every time.”
When we asked about how he was so daring as to charge $45.00 for a cup of coffee (Panama Lotus Solkiln H2 and the Panama Sillvia Solkiln) when we can get a cup of kopi-o-kosong for $1.50 from our neighbourhood kopitiam, this is what he had to say:
“I don't see why koptiam coffee and artisanal specialty coffee cannot co-exist. It all depends on our taste buds and needs for the day. Some days I want a quick coffee done the local way and on other days, I want to savour flavours from a well-crafted cup, hand brewed with intent.
Even though our coffees are micro-roasted in Australia then air-freighted fresh to Singapore (just in time to be served at its’ peak), our prices start from $3.50 for an espresso which is the average price found at similar specialty coffee places. We believe first and foremost in quality and the value of the taste that it brings. The range of hand brewed pour overs starts from $8 all the way to $45, which offer a huge range in terms of accessibility to such flavourful and premium beans. Artisanal specialty coffee done well, speaks for itself. Other than just the flavourful tastes, we wanted to make a difference to the way coffee is viewed from seed to cup.
We are a passion-based business so it took a bold move on our part to import the type of coffee that most establishments wouldn't bring in regularly as it takes rather discerning customers to appreciate and the profit margin is much lower than most common coffees. However, we are dedicated to making and sharing coffee with good flavour profiles.
Maximizing quality has always been an important focus for us. This includes spending time to train our staff right, choosing the right premium beans to roast and shipping it from our Australian roaster to Singapore with express air shipping. Countless hours have been spent in research and development before reaching our current selections. We want to bring the best all the way from seed to cup and play our part in improving the standards of coffee, be it in the education of the farmers or in the choice of bringing coffee from farms that work on reforestation of land surrounding the coffee farm. Better educated farmers and coffee grown in wide open forested land actually yields the best taste at the end of the day. Our passion for good coffee is endless but running a business means we need to balance that with making enough profits to fuel that same passion.”
He ended off by doling out some words of wisdom that any aspiring entrepreneur should know.
“New cafes are a dime a dozen these days and it's not an easy business to start but I believe one should never lose their identity and their beliefs. When you run a new cafe, it can become overwhelming as you try to please every customer and most cafes end up over expanding their menu and losing their core focus. By trying to be all things to all people, you end up being very little to very few. Learn as much as you can before you choose to open your own business. Find the right suppliers to minimise your costing, know your focus and stay true to your passion to keep you going.”
What is Wheelys? Where is Wheelys?!
Wheelys launched in 2014 and spread all over the world, currently operating cafes in more than 45 countries. It is a chain of organic bicycle cafes which allows people to start their own business. And now, it has landed on our sunny island! Mark, along with his team have brought Wheelys into Singapore and it will launch officially at the Singapore Coffee Festival 2016.
Mark was more than happy to tell us why he decided to get into this business and to share advice to aspiring cafe owners.
“My wife, Elfe Boyd, found this on Indiegogo and we were attracted to the idea of providing opportunities for budding entrepreneurs to start their very own eco-centric cafe business at a very low startup cost. In a market as saturated as ours, creative, out-of-the-box thinking that’s service orientated is what’s needed to make your establishment stand out. Apart from having low rental and operating costs with high profits, a successful café is one that puts relationships first. It is all about service - to customers and even within the company itself. Great people work for great companies that offer great service. People may not understand the way you want to run your business. But it is yours. So just do it the way YOU want, ride the waves and tweak as you go. Never forget your dreams.”
We hope you’re inspired! Get one step closer to fulfilling your dream of opening a cafe by heading down to the Singapore Coffee Festival, happening from the 9th to 12th of June 2016.
Meet the lovely teams behind Common Man Coffee Roasters, The Pourover Bar and Wheelys along with over 100 other exhibitors from the coffee and cafe industry to sample top coffee roasts from around the world, indulge in delectable food and learn more about coffee from the best industry practitioners through workshops, classroom style sessions and panel forums. That’s not all, you can also kick back and chill out to music from local stars such as iNCH, JAWN, Joie Tan and Pleasantry. Movie buffs are invited to bring their mats and watch local movies such as 7 Letters and 881 under the stars on Friday and Saturday evening.
Two winners will be announced on the 8th of June 2016 via Facebook.
To find out more about Singapore’s first ever coffee-centric festival and to purchase tickets, click here.