Hobby haunts

Hobby haunts

Whatever your hobby, there is a cafe for you. Gardeners can assemble terrariums at The Plant Story in HortPark, pet lovers have a cat and dog cafe each to play with their favourite animal and two bike cafes have sprung up in the past six months selling food along with bicycles. Owners say they aim to create communal spaces where like- minded people can hang out and bond over shared interests while exchanging tips and insights as they sip coffee and snack on light bites.

Life!Weekend checks out eight such hobby cafes, which are themed to appeal to specific interests.

Camping tales

A store selling camping equipment seems an unlikely location for a cafe, but it suits travel and adventure junkies such as mountain climber Trixie Tan just fine. Ms Tan, 50, has been visiting Camper's Corner, an outdoor outfitter store, since it opened in 1989. It was located in Peace Centre on Selegie Road then.

When it moved to its current location on Waterloo Street in 2010, it found enough space to open a 20-seat cafe next to rows of anoraks, hiking boots and sleeping bags. Outdoor seating can fit another 25 diners.

Store owner Calvin Tay, 50, says the cafe section, which takes up about a fifth of the store, was a natural progression as the community of campers grew.

"People would come in to buy supplies and while they were shopping, they would talk about an upcoming trip. Another customer or staff member would overhear and soon they would start giving advice, sharing stories and planning future trips together," he says.

Ms Tan, for example, has gone from being Mr Tay's customer to being his travel buddy. They have been on about 10 group trips together in the last 25 years, to places such as Mount Kinabalu and Gunung Tahan in Taman Negara national park in Malaysia. "We're all friends here. We sit around in the cafe, catch up and meet other travellers. It's a community," she says.

The cafe offers mostly breakfast food, such as French toast, egg and toast and ham and cheese sandwiches (all $5 each). It also serves pizzas ($8 to $10) and coffee ($2.50 to $4.50). There is free Wi-Fi so groups can gather to plan their trips on their laptops. There is also a projector screen on the wall so folks can present upcoming trip itineraries or talk about trips they had recently taken.

Presentations and interest group meetings are held a few times a month and are not confined to travel groups. Photographers, tree climbers, kite flyers and bird watchers regularly meet and give presentations in the cafe as well.

Most of the events are open to the public and are posted on the store's website and Facebook page.

"Anyone can come in and share his trip. People love to talk about their journeys," says Mr Tay.

Station 51 At Camper's Corner

Where: 51 Waterloo Street 01-01
When: 11am to 8pm daily
Info: Go to www.camperscorner.com.sg

Planting ideas

The slow death of all her plants was what spurred Ms Cath Lim to leave a career in advertising and pursue gardening.

"I was a serial plant killer. I wanted to figure out what I was doing wrong," says the 40-year-old.

So five years ago, she quit her job as a regional business director of an advertising agency, started reading gardening books and planted a small garden at home. The project grew into a small business as she taught other busy urbanites with black thumbs what she had picked up through workshops. She would teach for a fee in community centres and at corporate events and private parties.

Ms Lim, who is married to an oil and gas company executive, expanded her business three years ago when she moved into the 650 sq m open-air workspace in HortPark called The Plant Story, where she runs workshops, sells plants and gardening tools, and runs a small cafe.

While The Plant Story is mostly focused on gardening and workshops, which account for 60 per cent of its business, Ms Lim decided to include a cafe as a way to attract customers and introduce them to her gardening workshops and displays. The cafe serves comfort food such as soup ($7.90), mushroom quiche and chicken pie (both $4.90), cakes (about $6) and drinks such as coffee and root beer floats (both $5.90).

Mismatched tables, chairs and a hammock are scattered among the displays of plants, giving the cafe a rustic and laid-back vibe.

It is this verdant, idyllic setting which draws repeat customers such as Ms Joyce Tan, 27, a customer service representative who travels to The Plant Story from her home in Tampines about once a month. "I go when I need some quiet time to myself. I sit in my favourite chair, read a book or take a nap. It is a very calm, quiet space and I like being surrounded by the garden and all the cafe's plants. It's very comfortable and I often stay for hours," she says.

Terrarium and gardening workshops are run by appointment at the back of the store. The hour-long workshops can be arranged on an individual or group basis, depending on Ms Lim's availability. They cost $10 a person, excluding the cost of the DIY garden kit the participant picks.

Ms Lim offers four types of gardening kits - terrariums, air gardens, desert gardens and water gardens - priced from $35 to about $300.

She says that 90 per cent of her customers would not have touched soil before. "They're clueless about plants," she says.

The goal of the workshops is to get people to explore their creativity as they design their own gardens, and to learn about plants, how to care for plants and help them grow.

"It's really about the experience, not the product," she says. "You are here in an idyllic setting where you can have food and drink and learn at the same time."

The Plant Story

Where: 01-01 HortPark, 33 Hyderabad Road
When: 10am to 7pm daily, closed on Wednesday and some public holidays
Info: Go to theplantstory.com

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