Foodie Confidential

An espresso changed her life

Cafe owner Daphne Goh says running her own business has helped her to become more independent.
Cafe owner Daphne Goh says running her own business has helped her to become more independent.ST PHOTO: TAMARA CRAIU

A stint as a waitress sparked cafe owner Daphne Goh's interest in making coffee

While her peers spend their weekends having brunch, Ms Daphne Goh, 25, is busy working.

In fact, she has time to sit down for brunch only twice a year - on Christmas day and the first day of Chinese New Year.

The irony is that she runs two popular cafes, Assembly Coffee in Evans Road and Atlas Coffeehouse in Duke's Road, which opened last month. Both serve brunch-type food.

She says with a laugh: "People have the misconception that running a cafe is a glamorous job, but there are a lot of sacrifices to be made. I work 15-hour days and handle everything from dialling the espresso machine and washing dishes to scolding my suppliers and motivating my staff."

The workload was something she did not expect when she chose to work in a cafe as a way of "escaping from a deskbound job" after graduating with a business administration degree from SIM University in 2013.

WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

My grandmother's steamboat, chicken rice and lor ark (braised duck).

She worked as a part-time waitress at Strangers' Reunion cafe in Kampong Bahru Road for three months and was asked to pull an espresso shot out of the blue. That "shocking experience" sparked her interest in learning more about coffee. She has visited plantations in Bandung, Indonesia, and has taken part in latte art throwdowns, in which baristas pit their skills against one another.

Armed with a seed investment of $120,000 from her mother, she decided to set up Assembly Coffee in Evans Road, which focuses on coffee and light bites such as waffles and sandwiches. She broke even within six months and has opened the 2,400 sq ft Atlas Coffeehouse in Duke's Road. It is three times larger than Assembly.

Getting into the cafe business has taught Ms Goh, who is the second of three children, to be more resilient. Her father, 59, runs a security automation business and her mother, 55, is a housewife.

Ms Goh, whose 27-year-old boyfriend is her business partner, says: "Being the middle child, I used to cry a lot when I faced problems and my siblings would give in to me. By being committed to my business, I have learnt to be more independent and to not be afraid of hard work."

What did you know about coffee before becoming a barista?

I thought that coffee came from tin boxes and I drank only three-in- one instant coffee mixes. Working in a cafe opened my eyes to the work that goes into creating a cup of coffee and the variety of tastes from coffee beans depending on the harvest seasons.

What are your favourite ways of enjoying coffee?

I like espresso as it showcases the best qualities in a coffee. I love its syrup-like viscosity and great texture. Sometimes, I also like hand-brewed coffee, such as drip coffee, which has a more delicate flavour.

What are your fondest memories of food?

I grew up eating the braised duck rice from the now-defunct Lim Seng Lee Duck Rice Eating House in South Buona Vista Road. I love how the gooey braised sauce and shreds of moist duck meat remained the same through the years.

I also look forward to the feasts that my grandmother cooks every three months. They always include a charcoal-fuelled steamboat filled with white cabbage and meatballs, and ngoh hiang (five-spice meat rolls).

What is your favourite foodie destination?

Melbourne. I like The Town Mouse Restaurant in Drummond Street, which has interesting modern Australian dishes such as oyster with vinegar sorbet; and lemon, smoked duck liver parfait and slow-roast red cabbage with prunes, parmesan cheese and red apples.

I also like Belles Hot Chicken in Gertrude Street. I always go for the white bread that sits at the bottom of a bucket of well-seasoned fried chicken wings.

What are your favourite restaurants here?

I grew up eating dim sum at Wah Lok Cantonese Restaurant in Carlton Hotel. Till today, I always order its mini egg tarts as I like the rich filling and flaky pastry.

I also like the shrimp, crab and crumb spaghettini at PS. Cafe Petit in Martin Road. I like the contrast of textures, from the seafood to snow peas to the stringy linguine.

If you could choose anyone around the world to have a meal with, who would that be?

Sushi master Jiro Ono, owner of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo, Japan. Watching the 2011 documentary film Jiro Dreams Of Sushi made me appreciate the hard work that goes into crafting exquisite sushi and has also inspired me to treat myself to meals at Shinji by Kanesaka at the Raffles Hotel.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'An espresso changed her life'. Print Edition | Subscribe