June 16, 2016
By Jovita Ang
Running a business is no easy feat, but ask any parent and they’ll tell you the world’s toughest job would be raising an individual. This Father’s Day, we speak to three café owners who double as father figures themselves. With a café to build and a child to raise, we learn how these three individuals make fatherhood and running a business work.
After a good 12 years of being in the corporate world, Mouss Kamal, 40, decided it was a good time to exit and have a hand in running his own business. Fast-forward four years, he now boasts three food ventures under his belt: halal bakery Fluff bakery, cafe Penny University and an upcoming heartland restaurant slated to open this July.
“I’ve always wanted to do something of my own. Working in London for six years really exposed me to the café scene and really piqued my interest in coffee making. When I returned, before the surge of cafes in Singapore, I noticed that there was a lack of good coffee and I thought why not bring that culture to Singapore. And the fact that I haven yet started my own family then made it an even better timing to start my own business venture,” shared Mouss.
Penny University is conveniently nestled along East Coast Road with a cosy interior of wooden furnishings and peppered with warm inserts of blue hues. While primarily focusing on serving up good coffee and small desserts, Mouss later decided to offer easy brunch dishes as “more customers started requesting”. Two years into running café Penny University, Mouss met his second wife, Ledyna and 11-year-old stepdaughter, Angie. When asked about his first encounter with Angie, Mouss revealed that it was very much in an unusual circumstance.
“Angie was always sick. So my first two meetings with her were in the hospital! I would bring her toys and some treats to cheer her up,” he said. Despite the far from ideal scenario, Mouss never had any problems talking with this 11-year-old sweetheart.
“We connected right from the start,” he smiled. “Maybe it was the toys!”
The chemistry between this duo was hard to miss. Each time his daughter catches him pondering too long over a question, she would jump in to his aid. Occasionally, Angie could also be spotted wearing a shy smile or leaning in closer to her Dad while he spoke.
It was lovely afternoon exchanging laughs and learning about some of their favourite acitivities together. Not forgetting that one time when Mouss brought Angie down for a My Little Pony gathering. Enjoyable or not? You’ll find out.
1. What are your working hours like?
My working hours can get quite long but the duration really varies. I pull a full day shift about three to four times a week and during the weekends, my day starts at 8am and ends only about 1030pm. When I’m not on shift, I’ll swing by the café if there’s anything I’ll need to attend to, or just when I want to. Sometimes I pop by during opening then do my work till about early afternoon before heading home.
2. What do you normally do when you have an off-day from work?
I try to catch up with sleep. I only sleep about four to five hours a day! So whenever my schedule allows, I sleep in longer.
[Angie smiles sheepishly at her Dad’s response.]
After a good sleep, my family and I will sometimes head to the movies or hit the bookstore. Angie and I love to hang out at Kinokuniya, we’re huge bookworms. Then of course, we also make sure to enjoy a nice meal outside. My friends sometimes also visit from overseas, and I’ll always make it a point to bring them around, visit our local attractions and just have a great time together. It’s a good excuse for my family and I to have fun too!
3. How much time in a day do you spend on average with your child?
Angie and I were just discussing about this before you came. She said it’s five minutes. *both bursts out laughing at this point*
It’s really hard to say because whenever I’m in the café, she’ll also be here with me. Then there are also days where I leave home in the morning and come back only when the sky is dark. If Angie is still awake, I get to talk to her for a bit but that’s about it.
4. Is there anything you make it a point to have to do with Angie everyday?
Going through her homework is one. If it isn’t too busy at the café, I’ll bring Angie out for a short ice-cream trip. Or any small little activities that we can do together. She really enjoys those moments.
5. Favourite place to hang out?
Kinokuniya! We can spend up to three hours there. It’s like our little exclusive activity because my wife doesn’t like to read.
6. Favourite activity together?
Angie: I love it when we play ball games in the swimming pool! And the bookstore.
Mouss: The bookstore, really. *laughs* We also enjoy outdoor activities.
7. Most memorable experience with Angie?
Angie: I think it would be when he does something silly!
Mouss: For me it would be when I see her learning new things and picking up new skills.
8. What was the most embarrassing thing you’ve done to make your child happy?
I’m quite a reserved person. There was this time we went for a My Little Pony event. It was very much a pony lovers get together session where everyone brought their My Little Pony collection and did some activities together. When we got there, the entire place was decorated with ponies and other fancy whimsical accessories. It was just not me! Angie went around to mingle with other girls while I just rolled out my picnic mat and read my book the whole time.
Angie: I was very happy that Dad came with me though. *smiles cheekily*
9. Do you cook? If yes, what do you most enjoy making for your child? If no, what do you most enjoy having together?
Mouss: I love to cook. When I’m free, or just whenever I feel like it, I experiment with different recipes. Recently I’ve been making Japanese curry and Angie loves it.
Angie: And your heart shaped eggs as well!
Mouss: Oh yes I made that too. I experiment with a lot of Western dishes like pasta, salmon steak etc. Angie enjoys Western food better.
10. So Angie, share with us one dish that your Daddy makes that you enjoy the most?
It’s probably his lamb chops! So good.
11. What was the first Father’s Day gift you received from Angie?
Angie made me a card. She’s really into art and craft so she’s always making things for my wife and I. Whether cards or just adorable accessories, there’s lots of her pieces hanging around the house!
12. What type of father do you think you are?
*looks at Angie*
Angie: An interesting one, like in a scientific way.
Mouss: I like to teach her about how things are made, the logic behind certain concepts etc. I’m also pretty strict when it comes to her discipline. Like going to bed on time, and not having too many sweet treats.
Angie: And no means no?
Mouss: Ahh yes, and no means no.
13. Having to juggle with work and family is no easy task and it can get overwhelming at times. How do you make it work?
My schedule is pretty flexible given my line of work now. I have a say over my time. And given the nature of my work, I’m able to have my family join in the things I do. When I organise an event, they’re also able to be a part of it. And it’s great because even at work, we can have fun together. But on regular days, I try to take short breaks to spend some time with them. At the start it sometimes feels like I can’t afford to take a break. But then I realise, you’ll always feel like there’s something for you to do. If you don’t force yourself to take breaks, you’ll never do so.
14. What has being a father taught you?
The real value of time. The role of a father is not so straightforward. Before I started my family, it was very much about me and being able to achieve certain things. But once my family came into the picture, I realise it’s not just about that. In fact, I realised that whatever glorious achievements I thought mattered has less importance. My wife and my child is priority.
Angie has also allowed me to gain new perspectives through the simple activities. An example would be making coffee. I do it everyday, so gradually it becomes a routine. But she’s so curious and starts questioning about every step, every ingredient and why the end result comes out a certain manner. She helps me revisit those knowledge again.
More importantly, it’s also the realisation that this person really looks up to you that makes me want to do and give better to my child.
15. If you had to describe your child using a tea flavour, what would it be and why?
I think Angie would be a blend of chamomile and peppermint. Chamomile because she’s very delicate and also sensitive to others. Peppermint because I see her as a breath of fresh air.
402 East Coast Road