How Chye Seng Huat founder Leon Foo built an empire from coffee

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There’s something about coffee. It’s the first thing we crave when we wake up in the morning. This is the solution for a midday crisis. It’s the drink we drink when we go out with friends. For many, coffee is something we simply cannot live without.

Leon Foo, 40, has built an entire career on coffee. “Coffee is a bit funny, isn’t it? Some people say it’s a drink, others say it’s a social tool. Some people say it’s a drug,” Foo thought to himself. “When I looked at coffee, I wondered why people are so crazy about it? But the more I discover, the more I fall in love with it.

Prior to starting his coffee business, Foo worked in auditing and corporate finance. But the 2008 financial crisis prompted some soul-searching. “There was a back and forth [factor] and I felt I had to do something more purpose and passion driven, instead of just being a number in the system. But I didn’t just want to make coffee; I wanted to start a coffee business,” he shared.

Today, Foo is known as one of the pioneers of Singapore’s third wave coffee scene. In 2009, he founded Papa Palheta, a coffee roasting and wholesale business that supplies cafes and restaurants. The business eventually branched out into F&B when Foo opened Chye Seng Huat Hardware in 2012, a cafe and coffee shop that a decade later still retains its popularity. The cafe was bustling when CNA Luxury visited on a weekday afternoon for this interview.

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