SME Diaries: I overcame Covid-19 disruptions to start a coffee business

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Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which make up 99% of businesses in Singapore, have felt the impact of Covid-19 heavily. TODAY’s Voices section features testimonials from small business owners and managers about the highs and lows of running a business during the pandemic.

In this article, Mrs. Abigail Chia, founder of Cafe Cartisan, describes how she maintained her coffee business amid the stop-start nature of the Covid-19 rules.

Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, I knew deep down that I wanted to start a business one day.

Coffee came naturally as one of my passions, having spent 12 years in Melbourne, the coffee capital of the world, from 2003 to 2015.

Initially, I had the idea of ​​providing coffee carts for the December 2019 events.

We were preparing to launch the Café Cartisan brand.

Then Covid-19 hit and uncertainty crept in.

I immediately adjusted the idea of ​​providing delivery of cold brew coffee and tea from a central kitchen in February 2020.

I worked out the coffee recipes one by one and tasted each concoction.

It went through many rounds of testing and refinement until I got the perfect brew.

Building on the trust gained from our cold beer delivery business, we decided to open our first store at the East Village Mall along Upper Changi Road in July 2020.

We’ve experienced the stop-start nature of the coronavirus rules, but we haven’t let that slow us down.

What kept me going were my clients and the passion to create and succeed.

Although we started with a small shop, we received good support from the local community and our customers.

As the business grew steadily, so did the demand for more space and products to go with our beverages.

I took the leap of faith to open a second outlet in East Village in January 2021 with a wider selection of drinks, cakes and pastries.

Once the second store was ready, I repurposed the first store for coffee workshops, after companies such as Mercedes-Benz and Hewlett Packard approached us to run coffee appreciation workshops for their loyal customers.

The pandemic did not subside even as I set up the second outlet, with dining rules tightened.

We had to act quickly to restock takeout packages and add new items for sale.

I learned that constantly adapting was the way to overcome this crisis.

This time I have added gourmet products from Australia, such as organic olive oil and vegan crackers, to our offerings.

Having a distinctive brand and quality products has given us a good start. But growing the business through the longer-term pandemic requires courage and a growth mindset in order to meet the challenges.

Business is more stable now and we have a good clientele. Thanks to our hard work, I am happy that the company has already made a profit.

The Enterprise Singapore SME Center has also been an excellent source of support. His business advisors gave me helpful recommendations on business development plans and government grants to overcome immediate challenges and grow the business during the pandemic.

Lessons learned from the pandemic have made me a stronger and more resilient business owner.

In the hope that restrictions in food and beverage outlets will gradually ease as Singapore transitions to living with Covid-19 as endemic, I look forward to welcoming more customers to the cafe and to me expand in the near future.

ABOUT THE WRITER:

Ms. Abigail Chia, 36, is the founder of Café Cartisan.

If you are an owner or manager of an SME with an experience to share or know someone who would like to contribute to this series, write to voice [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and telephone number.

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