How The Lab makes people keep coming back for its "experimental" food
by Safiah Alias Dec 21, 2016
Walking into The Lab at Jalan Pisang, in Kampong Glam, is like entering a different vibe. With rough wooden tables, metal pipes, glass test tubes, you would think that The Lab would feel sterile and unfinished, but it feels both dynamic, and exciting, with potted green plants makes you relax After having a chat with the Founder and Director of The Lab, Ms Ejan, I pinned down the word that makes her cafe memorable and different- Experience. "Yes, the experience that a customer feels when they come here with their friends or family. Even though food delivery is all the trend now, experience is one thing you cannot buy online, and therefore it is something that we always work on, besides our food," said Ejan who opened The Lab in November 2014. I was visiting the cafe around 3pm and there was a healthy crowd of people there enjoying themselves.
The cost of having a dream.
But to get where she is now was not easy. "I loved the cafe experience at Melbourne and I thought Singapore lacked that kind of ambience. So I dreamt of opening a cafe here. Having a dream is difficult. Living the dream is even more difficult, but it's so worthwhile looking back." She and her husband, Luqman Hakim, started small, with a pop-up stall at The Local People bazaar. Initially, they wanted to sell coffee but the organisers requested them to sell food. After much thought, they decided to sell burgers. The first night, the queues just kept going on and on. They sold out on their first night. "I thought to myself, maybe we could do this after all!" Since then, they kept participating in bazaars, and with the help of social media, their fanbase grew. Ejan took a chance to leave her job as a baker, and looked around for a location for her cafe. "We had to find a location by September 2014, and we liked this space at Jalan Pisang. But a very famous bakery wanted to expand too- Fluff Bakery wanted this space. Being newbies, we thought we wouldn't get it but we did! Alhamdulillah."
Hustling and handmade decorations.
However, this opened up another problem for her. Between securing the location, she must now open a restaurant with minimal experience. And most of her capital had been spent on the rental and the necessary licenses to be used in opening up a F&B business in Singapore. So they did what any other hustling founders would do, all the furniture and decorations were built by them, DIY-style. Looking around at their interiors, my jaws dropped in amazement and I started pointing at furniture and asking Ejan, "Really? You made all this?" She chuckled. "We have really good friends."
The people serving your food makes the cafe memorable too.
One part about the experience of the cafe, besides the food is the people, and Ejan does her best to take care of them, including them in her dream, and listening to the dreams that they have. "A lot of people who join us are part-timers too and they come because they want to know what it feels like to own a cafe. From part-timers they become full-timers and they become a part of our family. They become comfortable in telling us what they feel like creating and we allow them to experiment," said Ejan. For her, The Lab's concept is experimental, not defined to one concept, which allows the people behind it to experiment with ideas, while giving customers a new reason to keep coming back. How would she feel if one of her staffers want to open their own cafe? Would that be competition for her? "Oh! I would love that! I would fully support them and give them any assistance I can. Singapore needs more interesting cafes with unique identities that can last. Just look at Melbourne! Every cafe you go in is so different from the other!"
Feeding and expanding her dream
Now that The Lab is more or less stable, Ejan has opened up another concept store called Sinseh The Grocery, which is a dessert takeaway joint/grocery store two stores away along the same road. She still continously goes cafe-hopping in Melbourne and is seriously considering opening a cafe there. "The taxes over there is crazy! But I do see a need there. There is a serious lack of halal cafes in Melbourne and I think we could succeed over there too!" This is something I totally agree with Ejan. I observed the same thing when I went to Melbourne for my graduation trip in 2014. I would definitely love it if The Lab could open there too to fly the Singapore flag high. Meanwhile, I will just keep visiting The Lab SG with my friends for a relaxed chill session and make sure I pour out the syrup from the syringe into my mocktail.
To find out more about The Lab's location, opening hours, and contact details head to halalfoodhunt.com
The Lab is a verified listed merchant on halalfoodhunt.com.
You can also get 15% off at The Lab when you flash your FRIENDS Rewards Card (not valid with other promotions, discounts, or vouchers).
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