Toa Payoh: Cafe hub

Toa Payoh: Cafe hub

SINGAPORE - Entrepreneurs looking for spaces to open new food and beverage concepts have hunted everywhere from the West Coast to Bedok.

However, a new crop of them has opened in Toa Payoh, one of Singapore's oldest housing estates. There are no fewer than 16 cafes and bakeries, standing out among the usual heartland shops.

For example, in Toa Payoh Lorong 1, new additions to the stretch housing the popular Creamier cafe are Niche Boulangerie, The Daily Press cafe and frozen yogurt shop Frozen By A Thousand Blessings.

At Toa Payoh Lorong 4, Gratitude Snack Bar joins the likes of bakeries Charlotte Grace Cakeshop and Nineteen Niche.

And over in Toa Payoh Lorong 6, there is Studio Cafe SG and The Little Prince Creamery cafe, which relocated from Somme Road.

One of Toa Payoh's main draws, besides its convenient location, is that rental rates are fairly reasonable, compared with other locations, say cafe owners.

They say rentals range from $5 to just over $10 per sq ft for shop units in the estate. The price goes up to $14 psf for units within a four-minute walk from Toa Payoh MRT station. A 2,500 sq ft space can go for about $35,000 a month because of "high human traffic flow", says Mr Eugene Lim, 48, key executive officer for real estate agency ERA Realty Network.

He adds: "Retail space for F&B, particularly in Toa Payoh Central, is tight. Over time, we have seen some non-F&B spaces converted to F&B outlets, subject to approval from the authorities. Due to low vacancy and high demand, rents have been increasing by an average of 10 per cent a year over the last two years."

And it seems that some are paying even more. The owners of Les Patisseries at Toa Payoh Central pay about $12,000 for their 635 sq ft space.

Most of the cafes and bakeries focus on desserts, but the owners are realising that it is not enough to just serve sweet treats and coffee.

Shrove Tuesday's owner Ronald Tan, 27, plans to introduce more hot items soon to the menu of ice cream, coffee and cakes at his Lorong 4 cafe.

He says: "The cafe scene is changing. People don't just want coffee, they want a solid meal. In addition to new cafes opening, it would be great if there's a mix of cuisines, such as Italian and French, to complement the existing outlets."

A stone's throw away from him is The Daily Press, a three-week-old cafe which took over the premises of a photography shop and hair salon. It features a small menu of grilled sandwiches and dishes for sharing.

Manager Nicholas Chua, 28, says: "We wanted to focus on quality food as that is the next level for the cafe scene. We didn't want to do what everyone else is doing - no Eggs Benedict and truffle fries."

Studio Cafe SG in Lorong 6 is also standing out from the crowd by serving hearty dishes such as nasi ayam penyet and sirloin steak.

Located in the same block as Studio Cafe is The Little Prince Creamery. Its owner Chong Yen Ling, 41, says: "Diners are constantly looking for new places, cafes and restaurants to explore. Thanks to the social media frenzy, people will never be sick of the chase. We need to have quality food and a strong identity to keep up with the competition."

Senior public relations and marketing executive Valencia Poh, 25, who lives in Bishan, goes to cafes such as The Little Prince Creamery, Shrove Tuesday and Creamier, with her friends and is a fan of Creamier's ice cream and waffles.

She says: "Although cafes that serve brunch are opening everywhere around town, they seem to have missed Toa Payoh. We have so many dessert spots, it would be nice to have a place that serves a good quality brunch."

With the mix of old and new in Toa Payoh, the landscape has changed a fair bit.

One of the early birds on the scene in Toa Payoh was popular cafe Creamier, which opened in 2011.

Ms Khoh Wan Chin, 38, one of Creamier's partners, recalls: "There was a slower pace of life with mainly elderly folk hanging around the market and void deck area. By 6pm, the shops would close and the place would be deserted."

But the risk of picking the then quiet spot paid off, as the cafe is now constantly crowded with diners eating waffles and ice cream.

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