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Playground

January 12, 2012 1 comment

This is the blank canvas that we have inherited (actually we paid for it with our hard earned money). We have a month or so to transform this into something different and hopefully something that can resonates with the crowd. Now the question is how do we go about doing it?

By simply throwing the finest ingredients like black truffles, parma ham, abalones, caviars and foie gras into a pot doesn’t guarantee you the best tasting dish. On the contrary, some of the best dishes are made with ingredients that are often an afterthought in the kitchens, as evident from the movie Ratatouille. Let’s just hope we can strike that delicate balance in getting our renovation right. Do check back for updates on the progress of our renovation!

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Sunshine Plaza

January 2, 2012 Leave a comment

The process of finding the shop location is akin to choosing a life partner. That eye candy that was the sole highlight of the boring lectures may turn out to be just that, an eye candy. The seemingly dour bespectacled dork that you walked past countless times may be that one person that completes you. In short, choose the wrong one and you are screwed.

Well friends, Merely has taken the plunge and found in the one in Sunshine Plaza. Of the friends whom I have informed, most of them thought we are situated in Sembawang. That would be Sun Plaza while we are at Bencoolen Street, in close proximity to Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), Laselle College of the Arts, Singapore Management University (SMU) and and School of the Arts( SOTA) or as I would like to call it, the Abbreviation land. Having a sizable catchment area of potential youth clientele present opportunities as well as it own sets of problems but that would be tackled in a post another day.

Truth to be told, we weren’t exactly keen on Sunshine Plaza initially. Perhaps spooked by the knowledge that the mall used to house an ice cream shop which didn’t exactly fare too well, LoST suggested we take our business elsewhere when I first broached the idea of Sunshine Plaza. Being a fan of Japanese manga and anime, I have fond memories of Sunshine Plaza as the strata mall was an enclave where like-minded fans would gather to discuss anything and everything about the Japanese sub-culture. The fact that it is a stone throw away from Sim Lim square, the Akihabara of Singapore, didn’t hurt its standing among the tech geeks either. I would make regular pilgrimage to Latendo to ogle and then ultimately started buying anime collectibles when the pay cheques that trickle in started to make a difference to my bank account. As the mall began its lease renewal process, F&B outlets were added to the tenant mix. And it was there I unearthed some culinary gems like the chicken pies and chocolate muffins at Oven Marvel, wanton mee at Parklane Wanton Mee and of course the dim sum fare at the now famous Victor’s Kitchen. Unfortunately another lease renewal process a couple of years later saw bulk of the anime collectible shops moving out and as a result I stopped frequently the mall.

Prospective shop, sandwiched between the two Thai stalls

Three years on, the tenant mix is now one that boasts more F&B options, and an array of printing shops that is no doubt, very a magnet for the nearby art schools students. It was in early November when I chanced upon a listing on commercialguru for a 480 square feet unit at Sunshine Plaza. Further correspondence with the property agent revealed that the unit is situated at a prime area of the mall, sandwiched between the two popular Thai eateries, Aroy Dee and Thai Gold Food, and directly opposite the NAFA. With our interests piqued, we made numerous trips down to the mall to observe the human traffic during the meal times, off peak hours, weekends, school holidays, rainy days, on days there was flooding ponding days sunshine etc, and went away cautiously optimistic about the crowd.  Putting my bargaining skills (honed by frequent trips to street markets in Hong Kong ) to good use, we managed to negotiate a monthly rental that is within our budget and a reasonable rent free period for us to finish our renovation. And we signed on the dotted line on 27 Dec 2011, with us officially taking over the shop on 1st February 2012.

Putting our wedding analogy to good use, we are now legally husband and wife and will move into our resale flat on 1st February. Whether we will copulate and have many wonderful children depends on your patronage. So come and support us when we open on doors in (hopefully) mid March!

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(PS: Sunshine Plaza is located just beside the Election Department. Hopefully we are still going strong come the next General Election!)

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Jumping the gun

November 15, 2011 Leave a comment

As it turned out, we kind of jumped the gun on the shop at Tiong Bahru that we’ve blogged earlier. Plans by the property agent to convert the unit to one suitable for F&B trade were rejected by the relevant authorities. On hindsight we could have clarified the situation with the agent before spending hours scouting the location and drawing up  plans on how to market our products at that area. Its like dreaming of having a grand wedding with a girl you are infatuated with only to find out that she is happily married with two kids. In banking speak, its like failure to do proper a KYC or due diligence on your client.

I could go on all day but no point crying over spilled milk. To quote a prominent local politician; ” Its an honest mistake, lets move on. “

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Scouting Report (Tiong Bahru)

November 10, 2011 Leave a comment

A friend suggested that we should incorporate more photos in our posts as readers, more often than not, prefer seeing pictures than reading a lengthy writeup. If you belong to the former camp, you are in luck as there is a slideshow in this post! Don’t worry though, we won’t be posting self taken camwhoring pictures of three guys on the wrong side of our 20s sticking their tongues out.

After wrapping up a scheduled short trip back to the office on a Saturday morning in which I started work at 6:45am through a combination of malfunctioning alarm clock and overestimation of SMRT’s inefficiency, I headed to Eng Hoon Street at Tiong Bahru estate to check out a potential rental opportunity in which we came across at commercialguru. The Chief Craftsman and myself came down on a weekday night previously and we left with a cautiously optimistic view on the location due to the presence of some popular eateries like Tin Heng and Sin Hoi San that draw in the dinner crowd even on a weekday night

Planning my route using google maps prior to leaving the office, I alighted at Outram MRT station and embarked on a 10 minutes slow walk to the site. The shop is situated a short distance from Singapore General Hospital, which is reassuring if I enjoy a klutz like moment in the kitchen like chopping off a finger or scalding my hands, help is just a few minutes away.

A major sticking point that came out of our previous scouting trip was that the shop unit was situated opposite a budget hotel chain. Call us biased but its hard to shake off the sleazy image whenever that particular budget hotel name pops up. However Chief Craftsman, with his amazing googling skills, managed to allay those fears when he managed to glean this off the search engine;

” I went this lunchtime with a PRC (vendor’s agent i.e. with visitor pass) to Hotel 81 Osaka (Tiong Bahru), thinking it is new and not a sleazy location. They asked if my partner is local and refused to register us because she is PRC. It does not allow PRC at all, even with work permit apparently!

Bro, it is not just PRC but any girl. Hotel 81 Osaka requires all parties to register with NRIC or passport. They were quite apologetic and explained that this is the only Hotel 81 with this requirement because when the hotel was built, there was a lot of objections from the local residents. “

The unit that we are eyeing is a retrofitted shophouse from a residential unit that comes with two rooms and an open kitchen. Among it neighbours is a row of small offices that appear to be occupied by companies in the creative industry, a Cheers convenience store and of course that budget hotel chain. Unlike its more popular cousin at Yong Siak Street, which boast the holy trinity of Fortyhands, BooksActually and Strangelets as its tenants, or the other part of Eng Hoon street which is home to the recently opened arts cafe The Orange Thimble, this stretch of Eng Hoon street appears deserted sans some tourists (I hope) that pop in and out of the budget hotel chain. Perhaps the absence of crowd is down to the lack of F&B options?

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With every step I pound on the streets of the Tiong Bahru estate, it increasingly dawned on me on how quaint the neighbourhood is as compared to the rest of Singapore. As Chief Craftsman quipped on our first scouting trip, this place seems like a laid back holiday chalet rather than a HDB estate, which probably explains why the yuppies and expats community are making a beeline to settle at Tiong Bahru estate. On the surface, the presence of the well heeled residents appear to be an opportunity for our business, it could turn out to be a double edged sword as much resources and effort have to be put into renovation and creating the kind of ambiance that may attract this segment of the market.

I concluded the scouting mission with a trip to The Orange Thimble. As I settled down at a quiet corner of the shop with a cup of mocha and a slice of hazelnut pie, I begin to compile a list of the pros and cons of setting up a shop here.  For 4000 dollars, we can get a relatively large unit of 700 square feet which will not compromise on our kitchen space in order to squeeze in more seating area. Being a stone throw away from the popular Tiong Bahru market, there is a sizable potential crowd for us to tap into. The lack of an established ice cream player, unlike the congested Katong / East Coast or the Upper Thomson Stretch, plays into our favour too. Plus the estate is fast becoming the IT place for yuppies, this place indeed has the potential. However that doesn’t hide the fact that the shop unit is situated at a quiet corner of Tiong Bahru estate. Substantial outlay is also required for doing up the shop unit and while we have confidence in the quality of our ice cream, perhaps the process of adding the frills may need more time and experience to get it right.

Tiong Bahru estate, I think I have fallen for you. More as a resident, less as a retailer.

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