Entrepreneur

This S'porean Quit Banking To Start Up A New-Age Coffeeshop To Make Kopitiams Cool Again

Singapore has no shortage of big-name coffee chains like Starbucks, or third-wave coffee houses that offer specialty coffee.

However, it is difficult to replicate the same old-school, rustic charm of sipping kopi at a coffee shop.

Unfortunately, the demise of some traditional coffee shops like Chin Mee Chin and Hup Lee have led us to wonder if these places will be around for much longer.

This was also the mindset of Kopifellas‘ founder Terry Neo, who set up his own F&B business in 2017 as a way to preserve Singapore’s heritage.

Putting A Modern Spin On Traditional Coffee

kopifellas coffee
Image Credit: Timbre+

The National University of Singapore (NUS) business graduate is a big fan of Singapore’s old school traditional style coffee.

He found himself being more drawn towards kopi o’s and kopi pengs instead of cold brew and frappuccinos.

Hence, the 35-year-old wondered if there was a way for him to continue with the traditional methods of making coffee, whilst updating the concept to be slightly “younger and cooler”.

Coincidentally, Terry told Vulcan Post that he had always been interested in venturing out and starting his own business.

The ex-banker went on to ditch his job in Fixed Income trading and fund management, and started up Kopifellas.

Kopifellas started out as a humble, single stall at Timbre+ in One North.

Despite its name, the Kopifellas stall at Timbre+ also served up a variety of creatively crafted drinks besides coffee, including its very own bubble tea concoctions.

It was quickly embraced by the customers there, as it managed to effectively meld the contemporary with the traditional to cater to different age groups and tastebuds.

As the business grew, the team decided to expand to different verticals and locations.

Inspired by the traditional Asian dining experience, Kopifellas opened its second outlet — a cafe at Toa Payoh — and began serving more items.

Terry brought in more food options and selections to the menu, on top of their signature drinks.

Now, Kopifellas has expanded to three outlets — the pioneer one at Timbre+, another at Beauty World Centre, and the Kopifellas Cafe at Toa Payoh.

Its latest addition to its repertoire of F&B experiences is FellasCube, a traditional coffee shop in the day which transforms into a modern lifestyle bistro bar at night.

Starting A New-Age ‘Kopitiam’

fellascube coffee shop
Image Credit: Kopifellas

For many of the younger generation, the word “kopitiam” may evoke an image of senior citizens drinking kopi in a coffee shop.

“We wanted to challenge that stereotype with FellasCube and keep our local heritage alive by offering a contemporary twist to the traditional  Singaporean coffee shop,” said Terry.

By transforming into a bar at night, Terry and his team hopes to attract the younger generation and “make coffeeshops relevant to them again”.

Referring to the famous book “Blue Ocean Strategy”, we want to see FellasCube in this “Blue Ocean” where we do not compete directly with a  traditional coffee shop or a bistro bar.

Terry Neo, Co-Founder of Kopifellas

By day, FellasCube is a heartland breakfast joint with freshly-roasted kopi and unique toast flavours such as matcha milk and earl grey.

By night, it transforms into a beer joint, with local craft beer on the tap from collaborations with homegrown beer breweries like RedDot Brewhouse and Rye & Pint Brewery.

fellascube coffee shop food
Image Credit: Kopifellas

The stalls at FellasCube are helmed by a group of hawkerpreneurs who are passionate about serving quality food at affordable prices.

In particular, Fellas’ Roast and NoodleFellas are proud creations of the Kopifellas team, while other stalls include Sean’s Western Cuisine and Mok’s Thai Kitchen.

Opening A Coffee Shop During A Pandemic

fellascube coffee shop
Image Credit: Kopifellas

Despite being in the midst of the pandemic, Terry and his team took a gamble and opened FellasCube, which is the “highlight of the year” for him.

Coming from a financial trading background, we all know a recession will hit us once every 10 to 12 years. Hence, the biggest takeaway is that Kopifellas has muddled through our very first recession and we managed to survive. 

Terry Neo, Co-Founder of Kopifellas

Rising rental and manpower costs are among some of the challenges the team faces.

Like most other businesses, 2020 was an especially difficult year, says Terry.

With less customers at their stalls, they ramped up food delivery efforts and introduced new set meals that customers could order.

“During the circuit breaker, our whole mode of operations changed (and) we had to start from ground zero again,” shared Terry.

Regardless, he is optimistic about the future of Kopifellas and plans to grow and expand into more Kopifellas, Noodlefellas and FellasCube outlets across Singapore.

Featured Image Credit: Kopifellas

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