We recently sat down with Sara Soong, founder of Anther & Stigma Café, to share her personal experiences of starting and running her cafe. Here’s a short transcript of how our interview went.
Can you tell us a little bit about your café and what gave you the inspiration for your café name Anther and Stigma?
Basically, Anther is the male part of the flower, and Stigma is the female part of the flower. There were a lot of concerns on the name because not everyone was able to pronounce it properly as it is a pretty ‘scientific’ name. I also received some feedback not to put the word ‘stigma’ because it has a negative meaning towards it and we were afraid that others might have a negative perception towards our café when they hear our name. But we proceeded with it anyways, because we believe that if we like the name we should just embrace it.
Despite the negative connotation, the name Anther and Stigma does reflect your café concept well. So how did the flower café idea come about?
My mom is a florist, she runs an existing online flower shop under a different name, called ‘Eska Creative Gifting’. It was all run in an office nearby and she didn’t have an actual shop at that time.
One day she told me she wanted a physical shopfront, where people can just walk in and buy flowers. As we were surveying around we came across this place and then we thought this could be our potential location.
The flower café concept came about because we were worried that a stand-alone flower shop may not be able to drive traffic. That’s why we incorporated our food concept, because we thought that since food is a daily necessity it will be a good to combine both a café and the gift/flower shop.
How did you decide on the location, and why a café and not a restaurant or a takeout or some other food establishments?
Okay firstly, we live not too far away, so we wanted to pick a location for our convenience. Secondly, it’s near my mom’s office and there is also a flower supplier nearby where she gets her flowers from. Since everything is around the area, she didn’t need to hire a transporter, instead we can collect it ourselves.
There is also a pastry factory outlet nearby. When we surveyed the area, we picked the location base on all the available resources they have to offer. We then realise that this is a good place for us to open our café as this was the most strategic place logistics-wise.
We also noticed a trend among the younger generations. They like to chill, hang out and study at places where they can feel comfortable and cosy. We want people to feel at home when they visit our café. It’s like a small get away from your work. Restaurant is also pricier compared to a café, and people usually go there just to dine in and then go home. For example, before we started the café, we surveyed the community here, the food prices here are really expensive, even a plate of rice can cost up to RM28. They expressed their concerns to us and we heeded their advice. That’s how we came up with our menu, to be affordable, acceptable to the public’s tasting and also presentable.
One of the key success factors in the F&B business is foot traffic. How is the foot traffic like here?
Unfortunately, most of the foot traffic is located downstairs and people don’t usually come up as most of the food shops are located there. I think one of our main disadvantages is that we are located upstairs.
I didn’t invest too much in marketing, but I decided to invest in the floor-to-ceiling frosted glass window designs in hopes to draw people’s attention when they look up. The “opening” in the frosted glass design acts as a sneak peek into our interior aesthetics when they look through the windows. We also try to focus more on using social media platforms to promote ourselves. We mainly use Facebook, Instagram and our website. There were several people who wrote reviews about us too.
Right, food bloggers. Did you invite them to come review your café?
No, I didn’t. I was really lucky because they just casually came and dined in my café. I thought they were just regular customers and the next day, the review came up. It can be quite scary because you never know who comes in next, since they didn’t introduce themselves too. But it really was a pleasant surprise nevertheless
What other promotions did you do?
Honestly, I didn’t do much promotion. Most of my promotion are done with the help of my families and friends. Because to be frank I’m quite a low-confidence kind of person. I just kept a low profile, but everything turned out fine and I am so thankful.
That’s really interesting. Most entrepreneurs are known to be risk takers, they are the gung-ho kind of people. So how can you be a low-confidence kind of person and yet start a business of your own?
The reason why I say I have low-confidence is because I don’t have any F&B background and experience. I majored in psychology and then went into the corporate world for a year plus before I left. I declined a lot of job offers where I could have earned so much more but instead I decided to help my mom with her flower business. At that time, I wasn’t earning anything at all, I didn’t ask for salary or any form of allowance because we’re family.
I started taking up part time jobs to learn about the F&B business. I was taking up two-part time job at one go. I was juggling a lot of work while trying to build up this business. It truly was a struggle but eventually I managed to overcome it.
Aside from lacking experience in the F&B industry what were the other challenges that you’ve faced?
Most of the challenges were before I launched my café. Like for example, dealing with food suppliers, or food costing and pricing. I didn’t know how to do them, so I had to learn them myself. Also, getting IT web designers to create our website was beyond my budget, because I had to spend a lot on renovations. In the end I had to create the website myself with the help of some of my IT friends. It’s the little things you learn and pick up on the go. Although they were challenging, but you’ll feel a sense of achievement at the end.
Did you have to source for funding?
No, it was all self-funded. Because we wanted to minimize our budget as much as we can, so we went all out in sourcing for suppliers and we searched for the best possible options at the lowest cost. In turn we managed to save a lot of money by doing so. Excluding food inventory, I would say we invested roughly RM150,000 to RM200,000 in renovations works. We’re quite happy with it.
How do you see yourself growing the business?
Firstly, I need more staff to help me run the place. On the operations side, we need more staff to cater to people’s needs. I want to selectively hand pick people who I can work well with. Secondly, I want to improve our menu, on the taste and quality. I want the food to meet people’s expectations and make them want to come back to the café again. Once these aspects are stable, eventually, I want to host events, activities and workshops in our cafe. I have a lot of ideas in my head, but I can’t do it now because I still have a lot of things to work on.
As for opening more outlets, I don’t have any vision of opening another branch just yet even though I’ve been approached to open another branch at Pavilion. I feel really blessed because there are a lot of opportunities coming my way, but I can’t take them in yet. The timing is not quite right.
Last but not least, do you have any advice or parting words for other young entrepreneurs who want to start their own cafe business?
A lot of people want to start their own thing, but I would say first you’ll need to see if there’s a right opportunity to do so or not. Because you wouldn’t want to throw in all your money, risk it all and fail. You’ll need to access all the pros and cons of what you’re doing.
Besides that, maintaining a business is also quite hard, so you’ll need to be able to keep at it. You wouldn’t want to close your business after a year or two. Many warned me about the difficulty in the starting a F&B business, that it is one of the riskiest business to start due to the high failure rates, but my advice is don’t be scared. Sometimes we as entrepreneurs need to take up the challenge and take some risks because I think that’s what entrepreneurs are all about. I want people to know that you need to have the passion when you want to start a business and work hard at it. Do it until you die! (Laughs.)
(Laughs) I think that’s great advice. Thank you for your time, we’ll end the interview here. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have.
Yeah, I did. Thanks for the opportunity!
Tues – Thursday: 8:30am-6:30pm,
Friday- Sunday/ Public holidays: 9:00am-9:00pm
*Kitchen Close: 6pm everyday*
H-1-10, Plaza Arkadia
No 3, Jalan Initisari Perdana,
Desa Park City,
52200 Kuala Lumpur
Telephone: +603 6262 2818