My first impression of Pompompurin was that it was awfully bright.
Tucked away in a little corner on the 4th level of Orchard Central, this character café gleamed in the dim lighting.
It was 7:30pm, and the dinner crowd was at its peak. The cozy café was filled to the brim, with a little queue snaking around the entrance. But it was not as long a queue as I would have expected.
This being my first visit, I trawled through the menu religiously, and true to social media postings, the food is indeed cute. I could feel my excitement brewing.
Barring the risk of turning this into a food rant, the food quality did not correlate to the high levels of cuteness (and prices).
But then again, character cafés usually come with an unspoken disclaimer – good flavours aren’t their main selling point.
An Early Retirement
The café closure announcement was shared widely, with an outpouring of support to visit it before it died a ‘dog’s death’.
A couple of people I spoke to at the café were there for this very reason, and seeing how others were spamming photos, I was willing to bet so were they.
According to the floor manager, the generous weekday dinner crowd I was seeing was “normal”, but I am inclined to take this with a pinch of salt.
The companion I was with worked nearby and comes by regularly for food – he had a different story to tell.
This article also indicated that crowds had more to do with the closure.
Just based on my time there, there were a few glaring factors that stood out.
The café is located in a corner of level 4. Although it is near the lift, it is also far away from the escalators. Its immediate neighbours consist of a single boutique and un-leased shop spaces.
I was standing outside for a good hour before I went in, and it was clear the human traffic volume was low. Essentially, you would not have come across Pompompurin unless you came specifically for it.
On the other end of the level, Genki Sushi is adjacent to the escalators and surrounded by lit shop fronts – it was enjoying a queue almost 20 people strong.
I managed to get in touch with Ms. Wyncy Tan, Corporate Design Manager at Create Restaurants Asia, parent company of Pompompurin.
Having been with Create almost 4.5 years, her job with Pompompurin was to design the visuals, menu and café branding.
While Pompompurin enjoys a generous fanbase back home (Pompompurin in Harajuku is still thriving after 2.5 years), Singaporeans hardly know of this Sanrio character, she admits.
“Many people only found out about it after we had introduced it.”
For a café whose traction rides on character awareness and popularity, the sore lack of either already becomes a glaring issue.
Another factor was the labour, or the lack of it, she says.
“We use hand-rolled designs in our food, compared to other character cafés that use prints. Finding professional staff capable of handling food preparation was a problem.”
Now that Pompompurin is going, Create plans to open another restaurant in its place, but “it’ll not be a character restaurant”.
Judging from their branding however, it’ll likely be for Japanese dining.
“Pompompurin is gone for now, but that doesn’t mean we’re not planning to bring it back in the future,” Tan assures.
Specific dates however, are still up in the air.
Fall Of The Fads
Channel NewsAsia published a commentary on the non-sustainability of food fads.
“About 28% of F&B outlets in Singapore close within a year of opening,” Steen Puggaard, also 4Fingers’s CEO, had stated. “They started by hooking onto a new consumer craze but were unable to sustain interest once that fad passed.”
For character cafés, the establishment is so closely tied to the character that once said character fades from spotlight, so does the business. It’s not a sustainable business model.
What other surviving character cafés have going are better footfall (Gudetama, near Suntec City’s entrance), the temporary nature of pop-ups (Pokémon) and the constant tourist traction (Hello Kitty, at T3).
Singaporeans love fads, and last year we hit the mother-load of them. But just like how we are prone to trend chasing, we are just as prone to ditching them.
The Pompompurin café is simply another name in our kill list.
If you’re interested in taking those final photos, here’s their address – do take note that their last day is 20 August, Sunday.
181 Orchard Rd, Orchard Central, #04-08
Meanwhile, here’s my gratuitous farewell to Pompompurin.
And yes, that’s a free Pompompurin mug for customers! (It’s honestly really adorable.)
Featured Image Credit: Samantha Tay / Vulcan Post