Thinking of opening your own cafe? Hungry Bazterdz has 10 things to tell you.
Halal cafes are opening up daily in Singapore, but what does it take to survive and thrive in the game?
This is the story of Muhd Arfian Mohd Ishak, 29 years old, and his fiancé Charace Villahermosa (who’s in the midst of learning about Islam), 26, on their journey of building a food business, his cafe, Hungry Bazterdz which is located at The Arcade at Collyer Quay.
“If only they can see how we don’t sleep just to run this company.”
Arfian has many years of experience with coffee roasting, selling coffee on a wholesale level from business to business, and managing cafes. With his many years of dealing with the business of coffee and cafes, Arfian decided to go his own way. He striked it out on his own with his first company Muslim-owned, Nomad The Gallant Coffee Roasters. A local independent coffee roaster brand, he started selling coffee beans to other cafes. With his savings as capital, Arfian went knocking from cafe to cafe, carrying 10 kilograms of coffeebeans on his bag, getting cafes to buy his coffeebeans.
Hungry Bazterdz was set up out of Arfian’s love for the original flavour of each ingredients not embellished with sauces and frills. Charace on the other hand, lent her design skils to create the brand and look of Hungry Bazterdz and Nomad the Gallant to leave a memorable impression on customers. (How can you forget a name like Hungry Bazterdz, am I right?)
After sitting down with this dynamic duo, here are a few things all inspiring cafe owners should know before starting your own cafe!
1. Don’t open a cafe just because you think it’s cool to do so. It’s really difficult!
“We were invited to do an event at Laneway Festival. We wanted to close after that. It was disappointing. They overpromised us. We expected a crowd of 10,00 people and prepared that much food, and we took a rental of $2500,” said Charace.
“I had not been getting paid for 6-7 months. Every week we had an event just to cover cost. Charace would run down to meet me after work to get us ready for events, at the end of it, she was the one who told me to try one last time because these difficulties might be a test,” said Arfian.
2. Family and friends won’t understand what you are doing.
The team had operated from a really small office and we did everything there. Our team would take turns sleep there on a pull-out bed, resting from one event to the other.
“His mum is very supportive you know. She comes for events bringing in ice and oil,” Charace told me.
“Yes, but she still asks me, why don’t you get a regular job?” said Arfian. “What I say to that is, I am able to feed myself and be responsible for myself at the end of the day. Thankfully, my niece and youngest brother still play with me and make me smile when I’m at home.
3. Get to know the food you’ll be selling, and make the best version of it.
“I got really interested in the original flavour of food and though that I could offer something different in the halal scene. I was inspired by Gordon Ramsay through reading his books on cooking. According to him, cooking should bring out the natural flavour of the ingredients. So this is what I serve in Hungry Bazterdz with our sandwiches,” said Ian.
The menu at Hungry Bazterdz is for days when you are sick of eating rice, or pasta… but still want something filling! They have epic sandwiches likes of their Salmon Teriyaki ($15) (picture above), and Grand Poobah ($14) which is a family secret recipe of braised beef in jus (yes, jus, coming from the term Au jus a French culinary term meaning “with juice”, this refers to meat dishes prepared or served together with a light gravy made from the juices given off by the meat as it is cooked), with emmental Cheese, within a buttery and toasty Hoagie Bun (picture below). There’s also Mighty Cheese Steak ($15) – grilled Beef in a secret 4 cheese sauce, on a buttery and toasty hoagie bun.
4. Previous experience in the same scene helps.
Arfian had experiences working at dr. Cafe, Dutch Colony and Maison Ikokku. All the knowledge and experience with the coffee beans from working with three cafes in the past greatly helped Arfian with starting out his business. It also helped that he had done wholesale coffee selling at previous cafes so he could approach clients from the past for his new business.
5. Ask for help, don’t be scared to ask!
“We asked around for help, and we received a yes from a private investor, a photographer at Berita Harian. We then set up an booth at Cafe Asia, which is a business-to-business marketplace event bringing together cafe owners, managers, coffee and tea exporters as well as distributors and suppliers of cafe-related machinery and equipment. It was a good place to be for Nomad the Gallant selling coffeebeans at that time, and we met many people interested in our coffeebeans,” said Charace.
6. Keep trying and don’t be scared to fail. If you failed at something learn and don’t repeat. If you tried, you’ll hit your break soon enough!
“After tiring nights of attending event every weekend, our breakthrough was at last year’s Singapore Night Festival. We sold rendang burger, rendang sliders, milkshake and affogato. From there, TLC, the TV network contacted us. They wanted us to conduct latte classes and coffee cupping classes. TLC was a big brand, and we got our first 5-digit contract with them. More people got to know us from there, including the people of Hotel Jen,” Charace said.
7. Sincerity and passion can count for something!
Hotel Jen had approached Nomad the Gallant to pitch for one of their events. Knowing full well that they had competition from the bigger boys, they decided to go all out. Showing their sincerity and passion, they brought their own huge coffee machine to the pitching session and demonstrated to the Hotel Jen management the service that they would deliver.
“Hotel Jen saw how passionate we were and chose us,” smiled Arfian.
8. Whoever talks behind you just let them talk. Prove them wrong by your actions.
“There were people who wanted to bring me down and spread bad rumours about me when I striked out on my own,” said Arfian. Despite that, because of Arfian’s straightforward nature, he had built a good relationship and reputation among his clients, and they refused to believe his rumours. A good attitude goes a long way in business. Be honest!
9. Reinvent yourself always. Always come up with something new.
Althought the duo started out with coffee beans as their main business for Nomad the Gallant, and epic sandwiches for their cafe Hungry Bazterdz, they kept giving new things to their customers. One of their really cool releases are these glittery swirly magic potions. They even sell t-shirts of their brand too.
10. Always support the people who supported you when you are down.
“They may have the own things that they need support in and being in business is tough so every positive support really helps,” says Arfian.
There goes the 10 things that Arfian and Charace wants to tell aspiring cafe-owners out there. For epic sandwiches and magic potions, head to The Arcade, 11 Collyer Quay #01-06, Singapore 049317. Open: Monday to Friday – 7am to 6pm, Saturday- 8am to 3pm For opening hours and contact details, head here.
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