Discovering Their Passion for Food

Two alumni stumbled upon the world of F&B and developed an appetite for entrepreneurship.

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In the past year, two alumni have launched their F&B businesses. Phua Jia Jia (CS’19), 23, inspired by her mother’s experience in the food industry, opened a cafe called Lalune. Meanwhile, Chen Diya (CS’08), 32, started Sanity Coffee Bar as a side venture from her singer-songwriter career, putting her barista skills to use.

 

Her Cup of Bubble Tea

Located at the basement of 313 Somerset, Lalune is a mother-daughter venture for Phua and her mother, Jasmine Lim. The official opening of their cafe in late April this year has drawn in regulars ever since, with most ordering their signature chocolate croissants and Dirty Milk Tea concoctions, said Phua.

In a bid to tap on the growing thirst for bubble tea in Singapore, the self-confessed bubble tea addict said she was instinctively drawn to the opportunity of starting her own business. She took up the challenge to create a unique menu that Singaporeans might like, she added. Seeing that no other stores had the combination of pastries and bubble tea, she decided to offer both food items on Lalune’s menu.

“We want to make sure it is a sustainable plan and ensure there is quality control from service to products. I feel that quality is more important than quantity.”

PHUA JIA JIA (CS’19), OWNER OF LALUNE SINGAPORE

Before the opening of Lalune, the mother-daughter duo tasted different croissants from several suppliers in the market. It was then when they tasted croissants from their current partner and were blown away. “It was different from other bakeries in Singapore. Its quality and standard was great, it was easy to make and it tasted delectable,” shared Phua.

Before graduation, Phua was busy preparing and strategising for the grand opening of Lalune. The idea of managing her own business was more attractive and lucrative to her, compared with taking on corporate work, she said.

With her mother’s ten years of experience in the food importing and distribution business, Phua was able to rely on her mother’s contacts easily, she said. Madam Lim, the owner of ShanLee Pte Ltd, supplies daily goods and household items to local supermarket stores like NTUC Fairprice and Giant.

“The advantage of owning a business with my mother is that I have a one-on-one mentorship with her,” she added.

Phua shared that while they are in the midst of expansion plans for a second outlet, they would like to take it slow. “We want to make sure it is a sustainable plan and ensure there is quality control from service to products. I feel that quality is more important than quantity,” Phua added.

The mother-daughter duo have also been looking to venture into catering and are planning to sell packaged bread in local supermarkets and convenience stores under the Lalune branding.

 

Coffee Keeps Her Sane

Chen’s journey into the F&B world was serendipitous. A coffee aficionado, she was stoked when an acquaintance who owned Room 2F, an event space at the Esplanade Mall, asked if she knew of any contacts who might be interested in setting up a cafe in his premises.

Without hesitation, she stepped up to the challenge. Unbeknownst to many, the 34-year-old Mando-pop singer had always been harbouring a dream of setting up a cafe, following an earlier stint as a barista at java joint, Oriole Coffee, located in the Orchard Road area.

“I am still learning as a business owner as it is a completely different ball game from singing. It is always the interaction with customers that come first.”

CHEN DIYA (CS’08), OWNER OF SANITY COFFEE BAR

Sanity Coffee Bar opened its doors in March 2019. Its menu boasts unique blends of specially customised flavours. A signature offering is its Piakssant, a flattened croissant, with various toppings such as ham and cheese, chilli pineapple jam and margherita sauce.

Prior to Sanity Coffee, Chen had a taste of what it was like to work in the media industry during her professional internship at the radio station, Capital 98.5FM.

Participating in Project Superstar 2007 was a life-changing moment for Chen. After being crowned the female category winner and overall runner-up, she was offered several singing and songwriting assignments from Mediacorp.

In 2010, Chen and singer Carrie Yeo, whom she met at Project Superstar, came together to form a mando-pop duo, The Freshman. They travelled with Hong Kong singer Jacky Cheung as backup vocalists on his world tour “A Classic Tour”, completing 233 shows over two and a half years.

Forging a music career and being a business owner comes with challenges.

“I am still learning as a business owner as it is a completely different ball game from singing. It is always the interaction with customers that come first,” she said.

VIDEO: WILLIE TAN

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