Portraits: Ronald Tan
August 11, 2016
By Jovita Ang
Set within one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Singapore, sits a café that serves up their own roasted coffee and signature yeast-raised waffle, all complete with a hearty scoop of artisanal gelato. Struck by Toa Payoh’s old-school charm, owner Ronald Tan, 28, together with two of his partners, decided to set up Shrove Tuesday, a café that prides itself on its waffles and self-roasted coffee.
Traditionally, Shrove Tuesday is a day of indulgence. On this day, families would prepare pancakes to enjoy and also as a way to deplete the eggs, milk, butter and fat leading up to the Lenten fast.
“We wanted to create a space for people to enjoy themselves, a place where everyday can be a time for fun mindless feasting. Over here, everyday is Shrove Tuesday, everyday is a day of feasting,” shared Ronald.
Nestled in an area peppered with great dining spots, surrounding the cafe are famous eateries that have over the decades, amassed a legion of supporters: Ocean Curry Fish Head, Kim Keat Hokkien Mee and Lee Fun Nam Kee Chicken Rice.
“We have a very diverse crowd here with people traveling to dine in at these famous eateries. But because the neighbourhood is so old, there is nothing much to do after you’re done with your meal; it lacks a place to hang out. We wanted Shrove Tuesday to be a place to complement these eateries,” Ronald revealed.
We sat down with owner Ronald Tan as he shared more about his café and learnt the secret behind the well raved about fluffy and crispy waffles.
1. Share with us a little bit about yourself.
I currently run Shrove Tuesday with two of my partners. I also hold a full-time job as a country manager at Joe and The Juice. After I graduated from university, I went on to become a property agent for 4 years. But prior to that, I used to work part-time for a café. It was during that period that my passion for coffee grew. My two café partners are pastry chef and engineers respectively, so we put our skills together and started Shrove Tuesday together. You could say that I’m the guy who is in charge of the drinks within the café. We’re a micro-roaster so we roast our own coffee in-house.
2. Why did you decide to open up a café?
It’s always been a dream. When I was working part-time back during my poly days, I knew then that I wanted to start a café someday. During that period, my partners and I realised that we all had the same passion, so we came together to discuss further. It was over a game of mahjong actually *laughs*! We were just playing mahjong when we started talking about it. Then we decided, yeah let’s do it. We planned for about half a year before really setting up Shrove Tuesday.
3. How did you decide on the name Shrove Tuesday?
Ironically, none of us are Catholics! Shrove Tuesday is a festival where people would feast on pancakes in particular. We wanted to create a space for people to enjoy themselves, a place where everyday can be a time for fun mindless feasting. Coincidentally, we realised that the main ingredients we use are very much similar to that used during Shrove Tuesday: eggs, flour, butter, sugar. Thus, we thought the name Shrove Tuesday was very fitting and makes for a nice story. Over here, everyday is Shrove Tuesday, everyday is a day of feasting.
4. How did you decide on the location for Shrove Tuesday?
We’re the second café in Toa Payoh. We chanced upon this location when we were eating nearby. We saw that this space was available for lease. It used to be an old-school dentist. I was just sitting outside after my meal and I felt that this place has a very lovely charm to it. This is a 48-year-old estate where kids in the 80’s and 90’s can relate to; these 3-storey HDB flats, you seldom see them anymore. Toa Payoh is one of the oldest estates in Singapore and around us are incredible eateries that have been around for a long time. Just beside Shrove Tuesday, there is a noodle store that has been operating for the past 46 years! The old school charm of this place just bought me over. When I first saw it, I called my partners down and we all stood there for about half an hour before thinking to ourselves, “This might just be it.”
5. What does a typical day for you look like?
I wake up very early and reach the office at around 7.30am. Every alternate days, I would pop by the café after work to help out, so on those days it would be a full working day for me. During the first two years of opening I was here full-time, now with a full-time job I’m here on alternate days instead. Thankfully for me I have got very good partners and staff. It’s very tiring to be running two places at once. And there are many days where you’d doubt yourself. There are days where business is so slow you start to question if this was a right choice to invest so much time and money. But then there are also days where business is so good you’re just like, “Yes this is it!” It’s a rollercoaster ride.
6. There has been many great reviews online about the waffles at Shrove Tuesday, how is your waffle different from others? What do you think is the most important step to making a good waffle?
It’s our own recipe as well. Our waffles use a yeast-raised batter thus the very light and crispy texture. Each batch takes about 3 to 4 hours to prepare because the yeast needs time to grow. When the yeast ferment, the carbon dioxide released creates air pockets within the batter. Again, we wanted our waffle to complement the food offered in this neighbourhood. After a full meal of hokkien mee or fish head curry you probably won’t want to have something that is too heavy.
Nonya Chendol Waffle, $12.90. Comes with two generous scoops of Chendol gelato, vanilla soft serve then further topped with azuki beans, coconut jelly, desiccated coconut and a drizzle of gula melaka.
7. Are all gelatos made in house?
Our chef worked with some gelato guys and had these recipes customised for Shrove Tuesday.
8. How often do you rotate the ice-cream flavours?
We used to rotate them every often but we’re slowly moving away from gelato because of the stiff competition. We want to be a café where you can visit no matter the timing of the day; be it for a light snack or a solid meal. Even the beverage menu has just been revamped. We’re very proud of our coffee and used to serve just that. But slowly we started to notice that customers prefer to have non-caffeinated drinks at night, so we introduced certain drinks like cold brew tea from Gryphon Tea Company.
9. Is there anything that you would love to be able to experiment/incorporate someday at Shrove Tuesday?
We are trying to reach out to the neighbourhood more and we’re actually leasing out the room at the back for free. If anyone wants to hold their meetings or any classes, they are more than welcomed to do so.
Another area that we’re still working on is our hot food menu. Due to limitations, we can’t have a full-fledge kitchen over here. A lot of food has to be oven-baked and that really puts our creativity and culinary skills to the test as well. *laughs!*
10. What would you consider, the most challenging aspect of managing a café?
To me one of the most important aspect would be to always communicate with your partners and to resolve conflicts together. Everyone will have differing opinions and it’s very important to always resolve it together.
11. What is one thing you always tell yourself when things get tough?
Well.. I’m still here. *laughs!*
12. If you could go to anywhere in the world for a meal right now, where and what would it be?
Melbourne, coffee capital of the world! Shame on me that I haven yet visited. The competition there is even crazier and they take a lot of pride in their coffee. Food offered there is also very creative so I’d really love to try it for myself someday.
14. Complete this sentence, “It makes me the happiest when…”
When I’m making my coffee behind the counter and customers tell me that they’re enjoying what they’re having.
Running a café is no easy feat, and coupled with a full-time job, one can only imagine how Ronald juggles it all together. Yet despite a plate full, this 28-year-old sees no signs in stopping.
“There are plans for expansion. Not Shrove Tuesday per say but other concepts that we’re exploring,” he shared. “It does get tiring but it’s also very fulfilling.”
Blk 94 Toa Payoh Lorong 4 #01-32
Sunday – Thursday: 12pm – 10pm
Friday & Saturday: 12pm – 11pm