Epoch Times, Singapore Edition (Issue 497, Oct 17 – Oct 30, 2014)
By Li Yen
Epoch Times Staff
Nicher is a tiny bakery stall uniquely nestled in an old school coffee shop at 71 Seng Poh Road in Tiong Bahru estate, which is one of Singapore’s oldest and hippest towns where you can find many specialty cafes, coffee bars, modern bistros and trendy lifestyle stores.
This humble bakery stall had caught my attention with its scent of freshly baked cake wafting out as I walked past.
Nicher is run by two young and passionate gentlemen, Melvin Koh, 28, and his brother-in-law, Lewis Lee, 24. Lee is currently studying for his private degree, and because of that, Koh’s friend, Sean, is presently helping him to manage the stall most of the time.
I met up with Nicher’s co-owner, Melvin Koh, an enthusiastic young man who shared with us his story about starting up this bakery.
Humble, Home-Baked Pastries
Literally translated as Nest in French, the owners of Nicher want to create an idea of a nest, where customers can savour baked pastries akin to having freshly home-baked products made especially by their mothers.
“Everybody who bakes at home will do it with the best quality. We want to do it with good ingredients to make products of good quality. So Nicher is just like a nest, a place where customers can relax and enjoy good quality pastries, just like coming back home to eat pastries,” explains Koh.
Melvin Koh, a graduate of At-Sunrice culinary school with a Diploma in Baking and Pastry, has been working in the F & B industry and honing his craft for a while before deciding to follow his passion to create something of his own.
Koh’s fervent zeal to have his own baking production was unstoppable, and so he started this business.
Due to low capital, the bakers did not want to invest too much by opening a cafe. By chance, however, they came across this down-to-earth old school coffee shop located in the Tiong Bahru hipster enclave. Delighted, they decided to start business in this small space that ideally fits their concept and budget.
In fact, setting up a bakery stall in a coffee shop gives Nicher an edge among the other bakery cafes in Singapore. Situated in a nostalgic coffee shop, their customers can enjoy freshly baked pastries and wash them down with inexpensive local coffee instead.
This unpretentious bakery stall also stands out among the rest as their oven is situated in the coffee shop, and the baking process can be seen by the customers, unlike most pastry shops where the kitchens are at the back.
“Customers can see how we make, how we bake, how we pack our products, so nothing is hidden. Everything is very basic, general, everyone can see what we are doing,” says Koh.
Indeed, this humble stall from which aromas of freshly baked goods fill the air welcome its customers with a warm and unpretentious embrace.
Koh and his baking partner bake their cakes early in the morning around 5-6am, and finish around 3pm.
If they have bulk orders, they will extend their working hours to cater to the demand.
“It is physical work; you have to stand in a non-air-conditioned place. How much effort you put in [is] how much you will get back. It is very relevant,” Koh says.
Receiving customers’ compliments and the endless bulk orders motivate Koh.
“Even though it is physically tiring, it is happiness at the end of the day,” he enthuses.
In the beginning, they faced challenges in the form of feedback from customers saying the cakes were either too sweet or too dry.
Knowing that they could not possibly please everyone’s tastebuds, they worked on the feedback and came up with recipes that suit the masses.
“Customers definitely come first,” says Koh.
Their customers range from middle-aged housewives and office workers to the Japanese staying near Tiong Bahru.
Initially, they had difficulties working in such a small space. But as time goes by, they are now very comfortable working in their tiny stall.
Business has been brisk so far, and the only problem now is the rental cost.
“It happens everywhere. In Singapore, property prices soar. If the rental goes up too much, it does affect our profits, especially in Tiong Bahru; it is quite expensive because it is a very good location,” he explains.
When asked about his future plans for Nicher, Koh muses, “I don’t know. It’s actually based on opportunities. Whether we can find a new place, an investor, we do not have a good capital to start in the first place. Now, even when we have turnover, we are still paying ourselves salaries. So we actually don’t have much to launch a cafe.”
Koh sees himself as a baker rather than a businessman. He welcomes investors who shares the same vision as him, but it is not money he is after.
“If everyone just focuses on the money and the profit, then I don’t see a point. I started this business because of what I like, and not because of the money.
“I will still stick to my stand that I want my products to go out well. My customers have to like my products, money is the secondary part,” he emphasises.
Advice for Young Entrepreneurs
As for advice for young entrepreneurs, he shares, “Firstly, just don’t be afraid. There will definitely be fear and risks [to take]. But if you really want to do something, the only way to know whether it works or not is to do it. The only thing I can say is that to know how to manage a business, you have to run a business. You have to run a business to know how to do business.”
“With any successful millionaire, billionaire—they were not millionaires [when they first started]. Only after they started running a business—and along the way they adapted to changes and overcame obstacles—did they become successful. It is the same for young people. If they want to do business and be an entrepreneur, they have to start running it,” he adds.
Cakes by Nicher
Nicher is a Japanese Yakigashi-inspired bakery which serves wholesome and hearty pound cakes and muffins in neat gift boxes (Yakigashi are Japanese baked desserts, often packaged as gifts).
The pound cakes are priced at S$6–S$8 for a half loaf and S$12–S$16 for a whole loaf. The muffins are priced at an affordable S$1.50–S$2 each.
The pound cakes come in six delicious flavours, ranging from Orange (S$12), Plain Jane (S$12), Almond Marble (S$14), Matcha Azuki (S$14), Chocolate Coffee (S$14), to Earl Grey Berries (S$16).
As for the muffins, there are five yummy flavours to choose from, including Summer Berries (S$1.50), Blackcurrant (S$1.50), Banana Walnut (S$1.50), Chocolate Chip (S$1.50) and Cheese (S$2). Light and buttery, these snack-sized treats were delicious.
Nicher’s most popular cake flavours are the aromatic Matcha Azuki, the Earl Grey Berries and the rich, dark Chocolate Coffee cake. Their moist, hearty banana walnut muffins are also best-sellers.
The pound cakes are packed in cute pink boxes specially designed by Koh’s wife.
Nicher creates seasonal recipes for the festive seasons as well, such as the chestnut fruit cake sold during Christmas.
Nicher bakes Japanese-inspired cakes that are soft, moist, and beautifully flavoured without being cloyingly sweet.
Try complimenting their cakes with a good ol’ cup of hot local Kopi-O (traditional black coffee). These light, buttery treats go perfectly with local coffee and are definitely a delight!
Nicher – Block 71 Seng Poh Road
Open: 8am to 3pm
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