The Ritual Cafe and Bar, which opened in December last year, is a pretty, whitewashed Hygge-style cafe that champions mindfulness, self-love and mental wellness through wholesome, dietary-inclusive recipes and community-driven experiences.
In a time when we’re all sheltering in place, suddenly conscious of all of our bad habits while yearning for deep connections and new experiences, the hybrid concept is very hip and now. “Many people are too focused on just one area of their lives and they find there’s always something missing,” says founder Cassandra Riene Tan. “I want to create a space where the community can gather and practise healthy rituals that help them live a purposeful life, changing routines to rituals.”
If this all sounds rather bland, you can leave your apprehension at the door. Head chef Matthew Tham, formerly of Two Men Bagel House and Meta Fine Dining, is partial to big, comforting flavours. There’s a stunning truffled egg croissant alongside a can’t-go-wrong avo toast. His beef bowl is a mouthwatering assembly of sous vide steak, truffle oyster dressing, sous vide egg, pickled vegetables and short-grain rice. With Impossible mince, he has a bowl of spicy mala somen doused in homemade Szechuan sauce, sprinkled with garlic crumbs and accompanied by bak choy and a sous vide egg.
Beyond food, Tan’s intention is that The Ritual will also play host to a variety of “Tribe Events” led by mental wellness advocates, coaches, industry experts and strong social activists. Expect alternative, perhaps controversial topics including sexuality and metaphysics, as well as experiential sessions with Ayurvedic, Reiki and TCM practitioners.
Ahead, Tan gives us an inside look into The Ritual and the highs and lows of her entrepreneurial life.
Name: Cassandra Riene Tan
Profession: Founder of The Ritual, BOTANY and BITSY
Startup since: 2016
Company size: 20 to 30
Tell us about your businesses. What do you do?
I am actively running two F&B businesses: The Ritual, a cafe located at Stevens Road, and BOTANY, a restaurant located at Robertson Quay. Both places serve original East-meets-West dishes with dietary inclusiveness and a focus on making tasty food healthy. Our recipes do not use MSG and table salt — only Himalayan salt. I am also building a community of like-minded individuals to collaborate with on mind-body-soul wellness, sustainability and social causes at The Ritual. On the side, I’m also involved in a few beauty and lifestyle businesses that are helmed by my business partner.
What are you most tired of hearing in your line of work?
“Hi Cass, sorry for the last minute notice. [Insert whatever reason; we’ve seen them all] hence I can’t make it to work today.” This means that either myself or someone from the team has to quickly cover for that person. It happens more often than anyone can imagine in F&B.
How has your business(es) changed your life?
It has definitely broadened my perspectives, given me a lot of self-confidence and provided a continuous lesson on people. I’ve changed the way I deal with people. My entrepreneur journey has been a very humbling experience meeting people from diverse backgrounds and all walks of life.
What are you most proud of, professionally?
I’d like to think that my business has helped empower people and communities. My F&B businesses have given a safe space for people to gather and form communities. Seeing individuals and other small businesses who have benefitted from our space grow over the years gives me a lot of fulfilment.
Looking back now, what would you have done differently?
I would have approached matters with a different mindset and attitude. A lot of stress comes from our own minds. I have come to better control my own emotions so that I approach problem-solving with my team in a calmer manner.
What is a normal work day like?
I start my day early at around 6.30am and I have a ritual of going for breakfast with my husband before I head to work.
How hands-on are you?
I’m all in. I think I am as hands on as I can get – designing and curating the menu, experience, operations… You name it. If my team needs help in any way, I jump in to fill the role. Everyone in my team is pretty young, but they are trying to be more independent and get me less involved now, which I appreciate.
I think what I am trying to do with my F&B business is pretty different from commercialised F&B places. We want to be more personable, warm and unpretentious yet provide a premium uplifting experience.
How do you avoid burnout?
I have figured out my “triggers”. For example, if I know that I am going to have a rough week ahead, I would make sure that I eat healthy and load up on herbs to keep myself physically well to combat the stress. Many e don’t realise that the stress does not just come from the mind. What we eat can aggravate stress.
I also make a point to squeeze in a meal or coffee with my closest friends who are also entrepreneurs, so that there’s emotional support and a sounding board. Meditation, prayers and a quick bath soak also help me to clear my mind and feel grounded. Once I became more conscious of taking care of all three elements of mind, body and soul, I reduce the chances of burnout.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start up?
I would also ask them if they are willing to put in the hard work and persevere for years. If they think that starting a business or a startup is an instant windfall or success, then they are better off going to the casino. Starting a business is no different from having a baby. There is as much joy as there is much pain, hard work, late nights, sacrifices and stress. You need to be prepared to take on these challenges for the long haul.
It is, of course, a different story if you are just going to be an investor or sleeping partner, but you’d better make sure that the person running the business is going to be a good “parent”.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing what you do now?
In the practical sense, I would probably be still running my own business. Hypothetically? I would be a fantasy genre writer or a poet.
As a child, what did you aspire to be?
I wanted to be a lawyer as a kid because I always felt strongly about protecting the weak. I later realised that you can’t choose your clients as a lawyer, so I decided I wanted to be a business owner.
What has been your biggest challenge with starting the business and how did you overcome it?
I think there is no one biggest challenge. There are many challenges – having the correct business partners, location, staff, etc. And there’s no one fixed way to overcome these obstacles; you just have to adapt and problem-solve quickly along the way. If you make a mistake, don’t dwell on it. Work out a solution and move on.
If you were to start another business or invest in another start up, what would it be?
It would still be related to wellness and community. Investment-wise, I’m keen on businesses that are ethical and makes money — it’s the most logical thing to do.
How do you define success? Do you consider yourself successful?
I think success varies for people. For me, success is simply feeling fulfilled in life and the ability to help people. There are many people who are very rich but not fulfilled emotionally or happy.
If success is based on just material wealth and achievements, I wouldn’t consider myself successful. However, I feel it is a success to be able to do things that I want to do, being loved, having a happy marriage, good health and being surrounded by good people.
What’s next for The Ritual?
I hope to continue building our current client base and really establish both brands as go-to places to unwind, have a wholesome meal while rejuvenating mentally and emotionally. Meanwhile, I am also working on a sister brand that offers a new avenue to reconnect with oneself.
(All images: Cassandra Riene Tan/The Ritual)