“At the end of the day, we are a family. We are all clear about wanting to continue the legacy of the values imparted to us by our grandparents, so we do not let anything come between us.” – Alvin Peh, co-founder of The Tastemaker Store.
Once their grandfather’s traditional bookstore, this Ah Peh (get it?) stationery shop at Havelock Road has now been transformed by his grandchildren into The Tastemaker Store.
Born Shing Lee bookstore, the business first took wing in 1935 at Chin Swee Road, before shifting to Havelock Road in 1965.
As children, Alvin Peh and his younger siblings Stacy and Shing Jie would serve as their grandparents’ little assistants.
“We would help tidy and clean the shop, buy meals for [their] grandfather who manned the cashier and walk around to offer assistance to customers,” he said in a previous interview.
Brewing Cafe Dreams
The cafe idea actually came about in 2011, to create a space that would “encompass the five senses of sight, smell, taste, touch and sound”.
But back then, all 3 siblings were in full-time studies or work so they could not “pursue the idea vigorously”. The opportunity resurfaced the following year when grandfather Peh decided to close the shop due to old age (he was 96 then).
“When we first announced the idea, there were mixed thoughts on whether it could be done considering its location, cost of set up and other factors,” Alvin shares.
In addition, 2012 was the time for cafe trends, and the siblings “questioned hard” if they could tide the intense competition.
“Fortunately for us, our family and friends rallied behind us and The Tastemaker Store became a reality.”
The hardest part was actually in decision-making and and getting the consensus to move forward, he says.
“[So] it’s important to hear from each other and get everyone aligned even though it may take more time”.
Investing $190,000, the siblings gave the 600 sq ft space a new look and lease at life when it re-opened as The Tastemaker Store.
“We did an entire facelift as the function of the store then and now differs but more important to us are the values of our grandparents which we still practise – honesty, simplicity and perseverance. We put these values into practice as we run The Tastemaker Store.”
Located at Havelock Road, Alvin shares that they see an “eclectic mix of residents”, and the “support from the local community has been tremendous”.
Many familiar faces from their grandfather’s time come by the space, from a mother who had been a regular patron of stationery for her children in the past, to the elderly neighbours who enjoy their cappuccino and gelato every week.
“Some may be surprised to learn that,” Alvin laughs.
In addition, The Tastemaker is also one of the rare ‘hipster’ cafes that still serves traditional delights.
Best-sellers back then were the family recipe yam cakes and glutinous rice. Although they’re both off the menu for now, Alvin reveals they’ll be making a comeback soon.
Even though Shing Lee and The Tastemaker Store looks nothing alike, Alvin muses that it’s not about how the cafe looks, but the essence of it that matters.
“It is through the human connection rather than the actual physical exterior of the store that people will remember Shing Lee by. Old-time patrons familiar with my grandfather told me they were glad his grandchildren were taking over the space.”
A Family Affair
Time has been the largest sacrifice, Alvin shares, and manpower as well.
“Operating the cafe 7 days a week requires lots of energy and now, rest time is a luxury [so] we are always on the lookout for people to join us”.
While having siblings for business partners also create a fair share of disagreements, “at the end of the day, we’re family”.
“We are all clear about wanting to continue the legacy of the values imparted to us by our grandparents, so we do not let anything come between us.
As cafepreneurs, “we aspire to continue learning, experimenting and refining flavours to serve our customers, and also to create a space for them to feel at home.
Here’s a link to their Facebook page.
The Tastemaker Store
Blk 22 Havelock Road #01-705, Singapore 160022
Featured Image Credit: Alvin Peh