Tan Sue Lynn, owner & founder of Neko no Niwa, paved the way for pet cafes in Singapore by starting the very first cat cafe on the island. She shares her insights into running an unusual F&B business in the most expensive city in the world.
Starting a cafe is hard work - and adding animals to the mix doesn't make things easier. So what compelled Tan to take on the challenge? "We felt cats were very misunderstood. Most Singaporeans are familiar with pet dogs, but the only cats they know are community strays," says Tan. "Because of that, most think cats are noisy, dirty and aloof. We wanted to change that mindset."
Neko no Niwa has allowed Tan to dispel myths that strays are "too feral" or unattractive. All the cafe's cats are rescued - Tan spent a lot of time medicating sick strays and bringing them back to health with good nutrition. "Our 13 cafe cats look absolutely gorgeous and happy now. Our customers can't believe they used to be strays or shelter cats."
Today, Tan continues to use the cafe as a platform to promote social messages and support local businesses. For instance, it is the only cat cafe in Singapore to conduct Cat Care Workshops supported by the SPCA, and it also retails products made by local artists and suppliers. The Ice Cream & Cookie Co.'s ice cream sandwiches have been available at the cafe since the start. Says Tan, "The sandwiches provide variety to our dessert menu. We've often received compliments for stocking such an awesome home-grown product."
In addition to caring for the cafe cats, Tan also oversees business operations. The three biggest challenge in F&B business? "Cost, cost and cost," she laughs. "Running an SME in the most expensive city in the world is very challenging." Her advice to budding entrepreneurs is to choose location wisely. "The total sum of rent, renovation and potential footfall can make or break your investment - no matter how good your offerings are."
Although located in bustling Boat Quay, Neko no Niwa is a quiet haven, tucked away in the second floor of a colourful shophouse. An hour spent with the cats definitely relaxes the mind and puts a smile on one's face. Says Tan, "Cat therapy has been proven to lower blood pressure, relieve stress - and make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside."
54A Boat Quay Level 2