Student runs coffee outlet on NUS campus between lessons

More than 300 customers, usually students and faculty, visit The Coffee Roaster at the National University of Singapore every day. The cafe, a business set up by Mr Ang Swee Heng (below) and his mother, moved to NUS' Block AS8 last August after it st
More than 300 customers, usually students and faculty, visit The Coffee Roaster at the National University of Singapore every day. The cafe, a business set up by Mr Ang Swee Heng (below) and his mother, moved to NUS' Block AS8 last August after it started as a hole-in-the-wall coffee bar in Tanjong Pagar in 2014.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Final-year business undergraduate Ang Swee Heng spends an average of 12 hours at a cafe at the National University of Singapore (NUS) almost every day.

But the 23-year-old is no seat-hogging student.

Rather, he is the proud owner of a speciality coffee shop, called The Coffee Roaster, which had its beginnings as a hole-in-the-wall coffee bar in Tanjong Pagar in 2014.

Mr Ang, who had just finished his national service then, was deciding if he should start working or make other plans. Meanwhile, his mother, who was a tuition teacher, had been looking for a career change.

The duo, who have a passion for coffee, decided to take "a leap of faith" and open the cafe despite having minimal experience.

Save for attending a basic coffee-making course, what they knew of their trade was learnt mostly by trial and error and from YouTube tutorials, said Mr Ang.

"For taste, we also relied a lot on customer feedback at the start, figuring out a balance (in the coffee) that customers like and would keep them coming for more."

More than 300 customers, usually students and faculty, visit The Coffee Roaster at the National University of Singapore every day. The cafe, a business set up by Mr Ang Swee Heng (below) and his mother, moved to NUS' Block AS8 last August after it st
Mr Ang Swee Heng ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

 
 

But profit margins in the Central Business District were slim due to high overhead costs. By a stroke of luck, Mr Ang found out that his own university had been tendering for an operator to run a speciality coffee outlet.

The Coffee Roaster then moved to NUS' Block AS8, near the Central Library, in August last year.

Setting up shop on campus made managing the business a lot easier for Mr Ang, who usually oversees operations in the cafe from when it opens at 7.30am to closing time at 6.30pm. He leaves only when he has classes or lectures to attend.

Business has picked up as word of mouth spread about the cafe's speciality coffee, as well as its other offerings of pastries, sandwiches, salads and soups.

Now, more than 300 customers, usually students and faculty, visit the cafe every day. There are seven other staff at the cafe besides Mr Ang and his mother.

"Our philosophy is to deliver speciality coffee and make it affordable and accessible. Our most expensive drink is only $4.30," said Mr Ang, who said that the business is already making a profit.

The only challenge he faces is the fact that footfall will dip during school holidays.

As an undergraduate himself, a strategy that he thinks may work out would be to find other ways for The Coffee Roaster to be involved with student life during this period.

"For example, we could work closely with school camps and orientation event organisers to sponsor products, or offer products at wholesale prices for fundraising events."

NUS communications and new media undergraduate Ng Yu Hui, 25, goes to The Coffee Roaster about twice a week.

"It's very conveniently located next to the study areas, and I think the coffee is much better than that at bigger chains like Starbucks."

Yuen Sin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2017, with the headline 'Student runs coffee outlet on NUS campus between lessons'. Print Edition | Subscribe