The central perk of a once sleepy neighbourhood

Keeping Tolido's Espresso Nook jiving are (from left) founder and head barista Douglas Tan, assistant chef Liew Khar Kheng and head chef Lee Ker Voon.
Keeping Tolido's Espresso Nook jiving are (from left) founder and head barista Douglas Tan, assistant chef Liew Khar Kheng and head chef Lee Ker Voon.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

A shop selling pails and pots, a salon offering cheap haircuts and a cafe serving latte with foam art may have little in common, but these adjacent businesses at Block 462, Crawford Lane have grown to be friendly neighbours.

Mr Douglas Tan, 23, may have set up cafe Tolido's Espresso Nook there with his mother just three years ago, but already feels like it is his second home.

"Our neighbours are all very warm and nice," he said.

"They help us water our plants when we close for a few days. They even feed Lucky - the neighbourhood stray cat that we adopted."

Indeed, the kampung spirit is alive and well for the stretch of shops in Lavender even though the owners are far apart in age.

They support each other's businesses too. Mr Tan, his chef partners Lee Ker Voon, 39, and Liew Khar Kheng, 31, and their two other full-time staff members all have their hair cut at the block's salon.

"We bought all our pots and pans from the store next door, and get our posters printed at the print shop a few doors down," said Mr Tan.

Meanwhile, their neighbours occasionally come over for a cup of coffee.

For Mr Tan, such intimacy is a nostalgic throwback to the mamak shops he grew up with in the 1990s, and one reason why he and his mother chose to set up shop in an HDB block.

"We thought it would be quirky to bring a Western vibe into the heartlands. We wanted the neighbourhood to have a place that serves breakfast all day."

Residents in the area seem to appreciate this, and many have made the cafe their regular haunt.

But the No. 1 fan title would have to go to a young man in his 20s, who lives in Block 463 and stops by every morning without fail for his long black, said Mr Tan.

"He was already here when we were still renovating, waiting for us to open," he recalled.

Next door, mixed-goods shop owner Tan Hong Lee is glad that Tolido's moved in.

"We mostly rely on long-time customers," said Mr Tan, 63, who opened his eponymous store more than 30 years ago.

"But it's a good thing that young people are setting up shop beside us. They are drawing more people to our sleepy neighbourhood."

Yeo Sam Jo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2016, with the headline 'The central perk of a once sleepy neighbourhood'. Print Edition | Subscribe