SME Diaries: I overcame Covid-19 disruptions to start a cafe business


Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which form 99 per cent of businesses in Singapore, have felt the impact of Covid-19 keenly. TODAY’s Voices section is publishing first-hand accounts from SME owners and managers on the highs and lows of running a business in the pandemic.

In this instalment, Ms Abigail Chia, founder of Cafe Cartisan, describes how she kept her cafe business going amid the stop-start nature of Covid-19 rules. 

Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, I have known deep down that I wanted to build a business someday. 

Coffee came naturally as one of my passions, having spent 12 years in Melbourne, the coffee capital of the world, from 2003 to 2015.

Initially, I came up with the idea of providing coffee carts for events in December 2019.

We were preparing to launch the brand Cafe Cartisan. 

Then Covid-19 hit and uncertainty crept in. 

I immediately adjusted the idea to provide delivery of cold-brew coffee and tea from a central kitchen in February 2020.

I crafted the coffee recipes one by one and tasted every concoction. 

This went through many rounds of testing and refinement until I achieved the perfect brew. 

With the confidence built up from our cold-brew delivery business, we decided to open our first shop at East Village mall along Upper Changi Road in July 2020. 

We experienced the stop-start nature of coronavirus rules but didn’t let that slow us down.

What kept me going were my customers and the passion to create and succeed. 

Despite starting with a small shop, we received good support from the local community and our customers.

As the business grew steadily, demand for more space and products to go with our beverages also rose.  

I took the leap of faith to open a second outlet in East Village in January 2021 with wider selections of drinks, cakes and pastries.

Once the second store was ready, I repurposed the first shop for coffee workshops, after firms such as Mercedes-Benz and Hewlett Packard approached us to hold coffee appreciation workshops for their loyal customers. 

The pandemic did not let up even as I was setting up the second outlet, with rules on eating out being tightened.

We had to act fast to restock takeaway packaging and add new items for sale.

I learnt that adapting constantly was the way to overcome this crisis. 

This time, I added gourmet produce from Australia, such as organic olive oil and vegan crackers, to our offerings. 

Having a distinctive brand and quality products gave us a good start. But growing the business through the pandemic for the longer term requires grit and a growth mindset so as to ride out the challenges. 

Business is more stable now and we have a good customer base. With our hard work, I am happy that the business has already turned a profit.

Enterprise Singapore’s SME Centre was also a great source of support. Its business advisers gave me useful recommendations on business development plans and government grants to overcome immediate challenges and expand the business during the pandemic.

The lessons learnt from the pandemic have made me a stronger and more resilient business owner. 

With the hope that curbs at food-and-beverage stores would ease gradually as Singapore transits to living with Covid-19 as endemic, I look forward to welcoming more customers to the cafe and expanding in the near future.  

ABOUT THE WRITER: 

Ms Abigail Chia, 36, is the founder of Cafe Cartisan. 

If you are an SME owner or manager with an experience to share or know someone who wishes to contribute to this series, write to voices [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and phone number. 



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