Making coffee part of the daily grind

A cafe in Taman Melodies, Johor Baru, which opened at the end of July, is filled with customers during weekday lunch hour. — THOMAS YONG/The Star

From serving speciality coffee to fusion food, new cafes have been popping up in Johor of late despite the current challenging economic climate.

According to Johor Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Low Kueck Shin, youths who want to be their own bosses were mostly behind these trendy cafes and restaurants.

“Job opportunities are scarce these days so many from the younger generation prefer to open up a cafe with a few friends while some do it with their family’s support.

“It costs around RM500,000 to RM700,000 to start up a shop and equipment such as coffee machines and furniture can be leased.

“I think the improving business activities in general and the return of visitors from Singapore has given them the confidence to open an outlet as the crowd is already there,” he said.

He noted that many shoplots that were left empty during the Covid-19 movement control order (MCO) had now been taken up by food and beverage businesses.

Such outlets also tended to be renovated to provide a certain look and feel for their customers to take photos to post on social media, which was also a form of publicity for the businesses, he added.

Low said apart from downtown Johor Baru, trendy outlets were also mushrooming in areas such as Mount Austin as well as smaller towns like Kluang, Batu Pahat and Muar.

“These cafes are selling a lifestyle to those who enjoy speciality coffees and unique food offerings such as fusion dishes that provide a twist on traditional cuisine.

“I believe there will be more of such cafes opening up in the coming days, which is a good sign as food and beverage businesses have been doing well compared to retail and other industries.

“However, business owners will have to face challenges in hiring local staff and the increasing price of raw materials while maintaining quality standards,” said Low.

For Constance Tiew, 22, opening a restaurant in Taman Melodies at the end of last month was a long time coming as her initial plan was to start operating in the first quarter of 2020.

“Back then, because of some technical difficulties, I could not sign the agreement for the restaurant. It was a good thing because several days after that, the government imposed the MCO in March.

“After waiting for two years, the pieces began to fall into place and we finally opened our doors to customers,” said the restaurant manager.

She noted that aside from eight employees, her parents and siblings also help out at the outlet, located in a bungalow unit, which used to be a travel agency.

As someone new to the food and beverage business, Tiew added that she was still looking for reliable suppliers to provide raw materials at stable prices.

Tiew, whose family has been in the hairdressing industry for more than 30 years, said she saw the restaurant as a place for them to spend time together as the back of the restaurant was a salon managed by her brother and sister-in-law.

Similarly, a passion for speciality coffee is what led finance executive Zulfikri Mohd Noh to open up his own stall in Kampung Melayu Majidee to sell drinks and snacks.

The 28-year-old, who began operating in November last year, said he made the bold move despite the situation then as a way of chasing his dream.

“I actually developed an interest in speciality coffee when the pandemic started and my family and friends encouraged me to start my own business.

“All businesses come with a risk. If I keep waiting for the right time, it may not come so I decided to go ahead with it.

“Thankfully, my customer base has since grown.

“I operate after office hours from 6pm to 10.30pm on weekdays. My sister also helps me out,” he said, adding that his stall could seat up to 20 customers at a time.

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