Themed cafes thrive on constant change

Fans said goodbye to Miffy the rabbit at Japanese-French cafe Kumoya on Jan 28. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - On Jan 28, fans said goodbye to Miffy the rabbit at Japanese-French cafe Kumoya, which had been the Dutch character's "home" since October.

On Thursday (Feb 1), patrons at the halal-certified cafe will be greeted by new friends - the multi-coloured Care Bears.

They will be Kumoya's third character-based theme in eight months. From last May to August, it was home to Sanrio character Cinnamoroll.

The themes have been successful - each attracting about 5,000 to 6,000 patrons a month.

In a dining market that has seen almost 700 cafes close over the last two years, at least six pop-up themed cafes have opened in the same time.

"Customers have short attention spans, so you either constantly revamp the menu or the space," said Mr Joseph Koh, 42, operations manager at Kumoya and the "brand guardian" for the brands it works with.

Japanese shopping mall developer and operator Parco went into temporary themed cafes here to meet demand for new experiences. In 2016, Parco teamed up with the now defunct Everything With Fries to run two stints of the Pokemon Cafe.

Parco Japan and Parco Singapore launched a Minions Cafe in Singapore on Nov 23, 2017. It will run until Jan 31, 2018. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Ms Lai Sau Kuen, 51, corporate general manager of Parco Singapore, said Singaporeans may visit a themed cafe only once or twice to see what the hype is about.

She said: "Compared to Japan, we don't see as many character-crazy fans here. Thus, the emphasis is placed on being a lifestyle themed cafe where fans can also purchase cafe-exclusive merchandise, rather than being a fully fledged bistro."


The strategy works for the cafes and malls, said Mr Timothy Kao, 42, diploma in culinary and catering management section head at Temasek Polytechnic School of Business.

He said the themed cafes' short lifespan leverages on millennials' fear of missing out while providing new reasons for crowds to visit the mall.

Cafes like Central Perk - its permanent theme is based on popular US sitcom Friends - also look to new experiences to keep customers coming back.

Central Perk Singapore is inspired by its namesake in the TV comedy series Friends. It is officially licensed by Warner Bros and was designed to look as similar as possible to the characters' hangout. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Founder Lim Jit Min, 30, introduced Friends events last year, including a Chandler Comedy Night, with local and regional stand-up comedians, and Phoebe Open Mic - where customers can hop on stage to sing.

"They don't even have to watch Friends to come. If they love music or comedy, they can come - and hopefully become a fan," said Mr Lim.

He also constantly looks at upgrading the menu.

Chandler's Edible Helium Balloon from Central Perk Singapore. PHOTO: EVANGELINE SEE

Last April, Mr Lim flew in culinary consultant John Placko to teach his staff how to make a dish that features helium, inspired by a dish from three Michelin-starred restaurant Alinea in Chicago. And since Chandler was featured inhaling helium and singing in a squeaky voice, the dish was named Chandler's Edible Helium Balloon.

This March, the cafe will hold The One With Rachel's Fashion Runway, which will have models and features a panel on fashion.

Said Mr Lim: "These events touch on... interests that help build a solid community. That ensures the cafe's longevity."

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