Secrets to café success


“The things that make a café unique are the personalities of the café owners and the extent of personalisation that they put into their café,” says Angeline Yap, co-owner of Frisky Goat at Taman Tun Dr Ismail (pic).“The things that make a café unique are the personalities of the café owners and the extent of personalisation that they put into their café,” says Angeline Yap, co-owner of Frisky Goat at Taman Tun Dr Ismail (pic).“The things that make a café unique are the personalities of the café owners and the extent of personalisation that they put into their café,” says Angeline Yap, co-owner of Frisky Goat at Taman Tun Dr Ismail (pic).

We asked the founders of some of the Klang Valley’s most noteworthy cafés to share their insights with us. Here’s a round-up of their thoughts:

Angeline Yap, co-owner of Frisky Goat at Taman Tun Dr Ismail (above pic):

“The café-hopping trend took off with a zeal some two years ago. Customers weaned on coffee and chit-chat in the likes of Starbucks and Coffee Bean have evolved and grown more sophisticated. A nice ambience, great coffee and good food are a given, and expected by customers. Boutique roasters, food fusion pairings and photogenic food plating have become increasingly common.

The things that make a café unique are the personalities of the café owners and the extent of personalisation that they put into their café. Each owner is unique, with different tastes, experiences and influences. Sharing these influences through the café’s concept, food and drinks, décor and music selection, down to the choice of china ware, will result in the café having a distinctive identity, reflective of its owners. Heart and soul win every time.

Eugene Ng, owner of The Humble Pie Co in Section 17, Petaling Jaya:

  1. A Signature Product or Easily Identifiable Range of Offerings – Obviously, this isn’t the easiest thing to do, but as a newbie listening to the sage advice of those infinitely more experienced in this business, ONE signature dessert/ dish/ drink, or a strong range of products, gives you an edge in terms of customer recall of the brand (ahem, “that’s the place that sells Musang King Pie” for example) and thus a better chance of survival and success in this brutally competitive industry. Think Rotiboy.
  2. Great Service – Given the low expectations of service in F&B, this is one area that an establishment can truly shine in. I’ve come to realise that if our customers can actually sing the praises of our service because “your service staff all speak good English!”, imagine how much greater they would feel if you could provide them with service that is personal, polite, attentive, warm and professional.
  3. Stunning Interior Design – In the age of Instagram, when everyone is an artist with a smartphone camera, there is no doubt that an eatery with an interior design that looks like it just leaped out of a magazine page into a shop-lot is a powerful tool to draw new patrons. Nonetheless, I still strongly believe that product and service are paramount and far more crucial, if only because any design that is on trend has an expiry date, so if great interior design isn’t matched by good food and good service, I would have concerns about the longevity of the business.

Lim Cheng Cheng, founder of Swich Café in Publika, Damansara Uptown and Atria Shopping Gallery:

Be passionate about what you are doing. If you’re serving sandwiches, be passionate about the basic building blocks of a sandwich – the bread, the fillings, the sauces, etc.

Be innovative. Food blogs and food related TV channels are spawning many amateur and professional cooks, chefs and bakers. So, the bar is much higher now. You can create your trademark by adding your own innovative twist. It’s often easier to work with a well-known dish and find a new way of preparing it or introduce a unique and delicious twist to it.

You don’t have to offer a broad range on your menu; it’s more important to focus on offering quality products. Quality ingredients are more expensive, but it shows. Use good-quality ingredients if you can afford it. A word of caution: Although an attractive cafe design helps, don’t spend so much on the renovation that you can’t afford to spend on quality ingredients and in creating great products.

Be attentive to your customers’ needs. Excellent customer service will definitely help you stand out.

Robin Lim of Bites Café and Buns & Meat in Lake Fields:

Bites At Lake Fields

Bites At Lake Fields


  1. Retail is detail – With every single small detail that we put our passion and thoughts into, it made a huge difference for us, from the ingredient selection, the concept, to the smallest hand-picked decoration in the cafe. Customers can feel the passion and the efforts.
  2. Be different. Be better – As much as we can, we would like to be different and definitely to be better than the market. Never settle to be a “me too”. We constantly open ourselves to new things by travelling often, get inspired and innovate. You may also get a great idea by listening to your customers and team members.
  3. Relationships – When it comes to relationships, employees and customers often comes to mind. But building a good relationship with suppliers is as critical. When we identify dependable suppliers, we go all out to build a good relationship with them. This helps to ensure we get the best produce at the best price possible. Suppliers are also an important source for knowledge and information on what’s happening in the supply chain.
  4. Goals – We have to set a reasonable goal and be honest with ourselves. Many people perceive that the F&B business is a cash cow. Many people have the misconception that if you have an awesome product at the right location, at the right pricing with the right promotion, you will be guaranteed instant success. It is not always true. Many other factors come into play. It’s not wrong to be optimistic but when we draw up the budget for setting up the business, we ensure there will be enough cash reserves to run the business effectively until the profits start coming in. Just to be safe!

 Andy Chan and Nathaneal Teoh, co-owners of The Curious Goat in Damansara Perdana:

Grabbing the pen and paper is the easiest way to begin. List down your favourite cafés, closest competitors and other unique cafes that have great USPs (unique selling points). Identify what their pull factors are and how they’re different from each other, and then see what’s missing in the market. Studying what worked in other countries will also help keep insights fresh.

With The Curious Goat, we wanted to put all our focus into the coffee and didn’t want any fancy concept to distract the focus. We kept the interior and menu simple, which worked, but we still needed something else to help us as a brand.

We named The Curious Goat after the story of how coffee was discovered, and in keeping with the theme of curiosity, did not front our entrance with a signboard.

A lot of our branding is also done through our social media platforms, as this is the best way to interact with our customers and other coffee enthusiasts.

Above everything, though, we think the biggest reason we stood out was because of our service: We serve with heart, and that’s the best way to stand out.

Mark Chong & Priscilla Tan of That Latte Place in Ikon Connaught and Map’s in Bandar Sunway:

Create at least one signature item, one that anyone can easily associate to your café. This product should be of high quality, easily produced and profitable.

Always go the extra mile in providing great customer service, as small efforts can go a long way. Every now and then, we try to stock up on sweet treats for the little kids; sometimes it’s the little things that make the little ones smile that make everything worthwhile.

Juliana Omar, founder of Bisque Café in Damansara Perdana:

Bisque Cafe 'Bisque Bites' Mini Cakes

Bisque Cafe 'Bisque Bites' Mini Cakes

Bisque started off as an online cake company in 2013. What immediately set us apart was that we created an online store where customising, ordering and paying for your cakes was just a few clicks away, and it would be delivered to your location within three days.

We created 14 different Bisque Classic Cakes with Chocolate Brownies stacked on top like a chocolate mountain. This created a buzz as it was unique.

After a successful year-long run, we decided to open into a cafe so that our customers could try our flavours first before purchasing the whole cakes. The challenge was creating smaller pieces with the Bisque look – hence, the Bisque Petites were born.

What we did differently at Bisque was introduce fresh new ideas in every aspect of the business. Be confident to venture out of the norm, get creative and have fun with it.

Adrian Yap, Managing Director of The Bee in Jaya One and Publika:

We offer our customers unique experiences every time they step into our outlets, with diverse activities and events that we organise. Be it a performance by a singer-songwriter or a ballroom dancing workshop or stand-up comedy, we try to keep things exciting and fresh.

Basil Tan, co-owner of Second Sunday in Damansara Jaya:

Second Sunday 'Pankek' Pandan Pancakes

Second Sunday 'Pankek' Pandan Pancakes

There are many ways to ensure your cafe stands out – for instance, the food. It’s either your food is the best in town, or the only one in town. For us, we have our Local Pankek (pic), which, for now, is the only one in town.

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