“I actually always wanted to take after my dad (Dr Bernard Cheong) and be a doctor when I was a kid,” says Cheryl Cheong, the woman behind hip cafe Kindred Folk at King Albert Park.
But the universe had other plans. To earn some extra pocket money in her teens, she picked up baking and started selling her creations. “Since then, owning my own cafe had always been my dream,” she adds. With that goal in mind, Cheryl took up both business management and accountancy in university, hoping that those courses would equip her with the knowledge and skills she needed to set up her own company. Upon graduation, she spent eight months in a data analytics company, and half a year managing a small cafe before opening Kindred Folk.
“Ice cream because it’s just so comforting and universally loved! When I think ice cream, I think happiness, joy and smiles all around,” Cheryl enthuses. “I also wasn’t quite satisfied with the ice creams out there, so I dabbled around in making ice cream for a few years prior to setting up the cafe. Ahead, she shares her entrepreneurial journey.
What makes Kindred Folk so special?
We are not stingy at all with the ingredients that we use! And I think I can say we’ve got about the creamiest ice cream you can find in Singapore, while giving you the rich, intense flavour gelato offers.
What are your signature flavours?
Watermelon Calamansi Sorbet, Loaded Cookies and Cream, Belgian Dark Chocolate, Cereal Milk, and Spring Rose.
Who are your customers?
We have a very young crowd — students, young adults, and young families — mostly because of the location.
What is a normal work day like for you?
I go in to the cafe any time between 8 to 10:30am, depending on how much preparation I have to do for the day. I spend the day running the cafe, managing our social media platforms, coming up with creatives if time permits. Some days I get time off in the afternoon to head to the gym. I’m usually there till closing, between 10pm to 12am after cleaning up.
How hands-on are you?
I’m 100% hands on. I develop all the ice cream recipes myself, and make them all on-site with help from staff. I’m physically at the cafe each day, opening and closing. And I make everything in-house, baking my own brownies, and preparing my own mix-ins for the ice creams.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
Keeping fit is really important to me so I really do enjoy hitting the gym. I go to Barry’s Bootcamp for their HIIT classes as I find them really short and effective, so it fits into my schedule well. Other than that I make it a point to catch up with friends and spend time with family whenever I have some time off, as I never know when my next night or day off will be. Before the pandemic, I would also attend events organised by magazines and boutiques when not at work.
What has been your biggest hurdle?
My biggest hurdle was and still is staffing, especially because I run the business solo. I wouldn’t say I’ve overcome it. It’s an ongoing challenge to have sufficient manpower and also to find good staff. All I can do is press on.
How did you overcome it?
Overcoming the feeling of being overwhelmed managing the business solo mostly involved setting reminders, becoming more organised, and making lists. There’s actually more time in a day than you realise when you’re really focused and don’t procrastinate. It just takes a lot of discipline. Of course that’s also not me every day – nobody’s perfect!
Looking back now, what would you have done differently?
I would have taken more time to do site surveys instead of rushing into opening.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start up?
If you think you can find a reliable partner, do it. Running everything solo is truly not an easy task. Be sure it’s something you’re passionate about or believe in. And pace yourself, take care of your own mental health, or you will burn out.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing what you do now?
I honestly cannot imagine doing anything else. No matter how tough it is or how much time I need to invest in my cafe, I still enjoy what I do, and I know I’m doing what I want to do.
Anything new in the pipeline you can share?
I have just started operations at my new space, and the final touches to the decor will be coming in soon, so I’m excited for that! I’ll also be launching a new fruity and alcoholic flavour soon, and will begin developing this year’s Christmas special.
How do you define success?
The first component of success to me is creating a product people love, and I think I’ve definitely been successful there! But because it is a business, profits and sustainable operations matter. I still have some ways to go there, to achieve what I would personally deem successful — especially in terms of having the business be able to run on its own. I enjoy being hands-on and working as one with my staff, but ultimately I believe this is not a sustainable way of life moving forward. I’ll consider myself successful when the business can run smoothly on its own, and still maintain the same quality and consistency.
What’s next for the business?
My next step is to find reliable full timers and open a second outlet, hopefully within the next three years. Pre-pandemic, we were also gearing towards catering for more events such as weddings, birthday, corporate events, etc. So we will definitely get back into this, offering bespoke ice cream flavours for private events.
(All images: Cheryl Cheong)