24/7 cafés aren’t aplenty in Malaysia.
The concept is great. Imagine having money coming in around the clock. However, execution-wise, it is a whole other ball game. There are far too many criteria to factor in from cost, to manpower, and the constant battle between quality versus quantity.
Thus far, there are several notable 24/7 chains such as Donutes Malaysia as well as Hayaki, a Kelantanese eatery in Uptown Damansara Utama. However, we don’t really think of cafés and 24-hour operation times as a good combination. After all, many of us drink coffee to stay awake. Would a 24/7 café really work?
Sudo Brew, a café located in Damansara Jaya is known for many things, among them for being a place with really fast WiFi speed (it’s true, we’ve given it a go, and we have movies downloaded in under an hour). They also have the 24/7 concept tagged to their name, and it has been around 7 months since they have been operating continuously.
Vulcan Post decided to look into their quaint little café, which is almost never without the scent of fresh java wafting through the air, to get the inside scoop of what it takes to work non-stop and have fun along the way as well.
Q: Why the decision to switch to a 24/7 concept?
A: The partnership agreed to pursue a 24-hour business model during the design and development phase, as there were no third-wave coffee shops open past midnight in the Klang Valley. After about 1.5 months of operations, the 24/7 service level was achieved, and since 4th of December 2015, we haven’t closed the doors. We believe that we’re the first third-wave coffee shop in Asia to target and achieve this level of service.
Q: What are the hardships of running a 24/7 cafe?
A: Costs are higher than competitors, especially since we serve best-in-class coffees, and don’t put potatoes on shift.
Q: Do the workers work on alternate 12-hour shifts?
A: We currently operate in three shifts of 9 hours each, allowing an overlap of an hour between each shift.
Q: How do you assign shifts to each worker, and do they generally have a preference?
A: Employees are given a choice of shifts. As most of our baristas are actually part-timers, they are not obligated to work predetermined shifts and instead provide the hours that they are available so that we can ensure that we have enough staff on duty at any given time.
Q: Is it hard to get crew to work the graveyard shift?
A: Not at all, we’re lucky to have a healthy mix of night owls and early birds working with us.
Q: When do you close shop for cleaning?
A: We haven’t closed our bar since December 4, 2015 (!), so our heavy-duty cleaning is done late at night during the hours of lowest traffic so that we do not disturb our customers, and our bar and bathrooms are cleaned regularly throughout the day so that we can maintain a consistent level of cleanliness. We do currently close our kitchen at regular periods so that it may be deep-cleaned effectively.
Q: As the crowd would clearly be smaller during the wee hours of the morning, is it sustainable enough to be open then as well?
A: We regularly review our financial performance. 2am to 7am constitutes about 20% of service hours, but contributes typically only 6.5% of revenue. That’s not bad on a good month, when we’re churning 100,000-150,000 MYR in monthly net sales, but it’s pretty painful when we’re doing anything less than 80,000 MYR.
We believe it’s a sustainable business model, but in our specific case, we may not have enough capital to iron out operating inefficiencies before we run out of cash—so we’ve been reconsidering our business model. We also regularly consider just packing up the business.
Q: We as humans are not engineered to work during the night. What are your thoughts on this?
A: We as humans are not engineered at birth, but all sorts of people have engineered themselves to do all sorts of things.
Q: Do night shift workers typically have less work to do, or is it the other way around?
A: It might seem that our staff on the graveyard shift have less work to do because there are less customers, but actually because of the drop in traffic, they are tasked with deep-cleaning the store (i.e. vacuuming, heavy sweeping).
Q: Do night shift workers EARN more than those working day shifts?
A: No, everyone is paid an hourly wage dependent on their experience and ability as a barista or cook.
Q: How has the engagement been, ever since switching to a 24/7 concept?
A: Encouraging. But not encouraging enough for us to be sure that we will be able to stick to this business model unless we expand our campus to be able to take in more customers—in fact we often get more customers than we can handle, and that’s constricting our revenue growth. We need a larger campus to deliver the experience that we want, at a competitive price, with volumes that will make us viable.
Q: What’s next for Sudo Brew?
A: Survival. Growth through diversification and scaling-out if we survive. Just the same as any other new company. Because we’re in the third-wave coffee industry, we have to add the trite and often cited vision of attempting to go toe-to-toe with Starbucks and beating that brand at its own game.
Feature Image Credit: Sudo Brew Facebook