Timing, luck and the right people behind PS.Cafe's success: Peter Teo

Co-Founder Of PS.Cafe

THE NEW PS.CAFE at One Fullerton was meant to open just before National Day. But a week after Aug 9, Peter Teo, one of its three co-founders, was still standing in what he called "a building site". Workers were still renovating the 5,000 sq ft space which overlooks the Merlion and Marina Bay Sands.

Despite the opening delay, Mr Teo, 52, looks sanguine. "There's always something that comes up," he says. That time, a choked pipe caused some flooding, and a sprinkler went off, which delayed renovations. The cafe finally opened on Aug 31.

PS.Cafe started in 1999 as a cosy cafe hidden within the Projectshop clothing store at Paragon. If opening one restaurant isn't stressful enough, the eighth PS.Cafe, at Raffles City, is in the works, and will open by year-end.

Besides Mr Teo, PS.Cafe's two other founders are Philip Chin and Richard Chamberlain. The trio also run two ChopSuey Cafes.

PS.Cafe is known for its truffle fries and burgers, staples in many hipster cafes today. The cafes also have many Instagrammable spots.

So is PS.Cafe the original hipster cafe?

When we first opened, the word "hipster", like how it is used today, wasn't invented yet. Back then, it was the fashionable thing to do, to have a cafe within a fashion store, like how there was DKNY cafe. It was trendy to have the fashion/lifestyle element then. We were "of its time".

Cafes and restaurants come and go. What's the secret behind PS.Cafe's lasting success?

I put it down to timing, luck and working with the right people. And also being consistent, and constantly worrying about how things look, and if the staff are happy.

It also helped that when we first opened, we already had a strong customer base from our fashion business, so we were not short of customers for the cafe. I think if we didn't have the fashion store and started with the cafe instead, we would have needed to hype it up.

Our cafes offer the classics, such as fish and chips, burgers and fries, but we have new items. For example, the menu at One Fullerton will have more seafood dishes, such as chargrilled skate, since we are at a waterfront location.

But while being consistent, we are also constantly evolving. Things may feel the same but we are always tweaking things. Our staff also play an important part in our success, they know the PS.Cafe philosophy well, and we've managed to retain our staff too.

Your last outlet at Martin Road opened 21⁄2 years ago. And within the span of less than six months, you are opening two new outlets. Is that overly ambitious?

It is opportunistic. We came across the One Fullerton site, and saw the possibilities, so we created an indoor dining space, a private room, a bar, and an open-air terrace that overlooks Marina Bay. Our location at Raffles City is on the third level atrium space, and it is a great location. So it is just good timing that we got these two spots.

Speaking of locations, you seem to have a knack for picking beautiful ones, such as Harding Road and Ann Siang Hill. How do you decide where to open?

My partners and I pick places that we want to go to. We ask ourselves: "Would we come here?" We also ask: "Is this place an escape?" Can we create a place that people want to escape to? Our Harding Road one is by far the favourite with customers. It is our best-performing outlet, and it has the most "wow" factor, with the lush greenery all around it. This outlet gets featured in foreign magazines a lot, and has become a destination even for tourists to go to.

Why have you given up The Projectshop?

I work with Philip on the food, and with Richard on the design of each restaurant. We are all very handson, down to deciding on the pattern on the floor, and the grain of the wood. It was too much to do both food and fashion, so we gave up the fashion side.

It also felt like the our fashion customers were always dissatisfied, never feeling happy with how they looked.

With food, we hear people tell us we have the best burger. It is more rewarding developing the food side.

Also, the three of us wanted something that we can grow old doing, and it was more food than fashion.

Do you dine out? What is your favourite cafe food?

I eat either at PS.Cafe or hawker centres, because I enjoy local food. I have a fear of being disappointed when I go to restaurants, so Philip is the one checking them out. I love fries, regardless of whether they have truffle oil added or not. I love dipping them in ketchup. I also love burgers. And I tend to order burgers and fries when I'm dining overseas.

What else is happening for PS.Cafe?

We've had requests to go regional, so next year, we may go somewhere out of Singapore. Manila could be an option, it has that right kind of vibe. We also have plans to open in the east of Singapore. It seems that many of our customers live in the east and have been asking us to open on that side of the island.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to open a cafe?

Don't do it. Or just do it, because if you don't try you will never know. We didn't have any special advantage, but we have done it, and you can do it too.