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“After being let go, I was a bit bummed out. It was something you always see in the news but I never believed that something like that could happen to me,” Esmond Toon shared.

He was only a couple months into his employment at a new company when it happened. Prior to that, he was a fresh graduate that just began work as an Application Consultant in the fintech industry.

Who knew he’d experience being let go within just two years of his professional career?

It was a mere coincidence that he had a couple of overseas vacations planned in the next few months. So off he went to rest, recuperate, and plan his next steps to bounce back. 

But instead of searching for a new white-collared job, he returned with a bolder idea—to start his own coffee shop. And as fate would have it, his mum, Mary Chan, was pretty tired of the corporate world too and decided to join his venture.

Image Credit: Bullock Cart Coffee

That’s how Bullock Cart Coffee was founded.

From hobby to full-time career

Speaking candidly, Esmond explained that opening the coffee shop wasn’t a whimsical decision.

While most people were picking up baking during pandemic lockdowns, he picked up coffee-making. It was something he enjoyed doing and actually took time to learn the craft. He had even invested in a coffee machine at home and took classes here and there to improve.

“I always had this dream of mine to have a small coffee bar especially after getting into the coffee hobby,” he stated.

Mary, on the other hand, had been a corporate employee for almost 40 years at that point. She already had plans of resigning when Esmond came up with the cafe idea. It was this push that motivated her to leave and try something new.

Image Credit: elodie Rousseaux

Within a few months, the mother-son duo scouted and secured the store’s location at Hong Lim Complex, Chinatown. Being within the area meant they could target the office crowd more easily.

Having worked close by previously, Esmond was more than familiar with how dependent the crowd there was on caffeine. The smaller space for the shop was also a deliberate decision as it suited their grab-and-go concept.

In regards to the name, well, he jokingly shared that it came down to his “horrible” Mandarin.

“The only place in Singapore that I know the Mandarin name of is Chinatown, also called ‘Bullock Cart Water’ in Mandarin.”

He replaced the word ‘water’ for ‘coffee’, and the name just stuck.

New year, new venture

Image Credit: Bullock Cart Coffee

The coffee shop officially opened on February 6 this year, with only Esmond and Mary helming the space.

If you visit earlier than its opening hours of 8AM (on weekdays), you’ll find Mary dialling in the coffee. This was a process Esmond would repeat at the beginning as the shots were either too acidic or too bitter. But she’s a fast learner and picked up the skill after her first month on the job.

Dictionary time: Dialling in coffee refers to the daily ritual of calibrating your coffee equipment and adjusting brewing parameters to achieve that perfect espresso.

Source: North Star Coffee Roasters

Described as a quaint, hole-in-a-wall place, Bullock Cart Coffee doesn’t serve fancy drinks the way a full-fledged cafe does. They keep it simple by providing the usual black and white coffees along with Taro Latte, a house specialty. 

The mother and son duo recently started providing mobile cart services for corporate events and weddings / Image Credit: Bullock Cart Coffee

Those looking for something more refreshing to beat the heat could opt for Italian soda drinks. 

Esmond and Mary stay true to their ambition of being just a coffee shop by not serving any hot food. In fact, they have no plans of expanding the menu to include anything that involves cooking. 

But if you are feeling peckish, there are pastries from Bread Yard, a local artisan bakery and cafe. Those looking for something heavier could try their Egg Mayo Croissant.

Chatting with customers over coffee

On average, Bullock Cart Coffee brews up to 80 cups of coffee on weekdays. Business tends to be a tad slower on non-working days without the Central Business District lunch crowd. 

This would be a good time period to visit if you’re looking for a short break from the hustle and bustle of the city. Regardless of your intention, Esmond and Mary’s aim is to make customers feel at home and get to know them personally.

“We ask them about their day, what they did during the weekends,” he explained. “I would say it’s akin to an old friend stepping into my living room and having a chat over a cup of coffee.”

Image Credit: Bullock Cart Coffee / Y yx

This approach in building authentic relationships and connections with customers seems to be working too. The 27-year-old disclosed they’ve been steadily building up a loyal customer following, much to their delight. 

So if you’re looking to make new friends, this coffee shop might be a good place to start. But do note that there is a limited seating capacity of up to six people. 

Despite being still relatively new, Esmond and Mary have big ambitions for Bullock Cart Coffee. “Ultimately our dream is that we would like ‘Bullock’ to be a verb, in a sense that people will say ‘Let’s go to Bullock’ when they want to grab coffee,” he said.

The plan to achieve this is by opening up more stores of a similar size and growing their numbers from there. Esmond also didn’t rule out returning to the work force. Should the right opportunity present itself, he’d be open to running Bullock Cart Coffee on the side, while Mary handles the day-to-day operations.

In the meantime, they’ll be working on expanding their menu to include more exciting beverages for the daily grinders.

The cafe sells Brazilian Single Origin and Ethiopian Della beans, so customers can bring a taste back home / Image Credit: Bullock Cart Coffee
  • Learn more about Bullock Cart Coffee here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Bullock Cart Coffee

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© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)