Coffee:Nowhere owner Welson Ang balances the art of doing good with sustainability with his concept café business.
While terms like CSR (corporate social responsibility) and social enterprises are loosely bandied about today, doing good through business remains an idealistic concept that is easier said than done.
For Coffee:Nowhere’s CEO Welson Ang, it’s a balancing act between benevolence and bottom line. “As a ‘community-based’ café, we have a vision of impacting the community. But of course, we have to be sustainable before we can do so,” says Ang, a long-time entrepreneur who also runs more than 30 business regionally.
In Dec 2013, the first Coffee:Nowhere (pronounced “Coffee Now Here”) outlet was opened in Johor Bahru, Malaysia through a joint venture as a flagship concept café serving not just specialty coffee and food but also sells coffee beans, apparatus and gears, as well as provide barista training.
Within six months, the coffee chain expanded to Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam; in the pipeline are new outlets in Thailand, Cambodia and Brunei. Its goal—to open 50 Coffee:Nowhere cafes by 2017, with the help of its own coffee learning academy, Barista:Nowhere which serves as a learning and communication platform for interested franchisees. Recently, it won the Promising Franchisor of the Year award.
Behind its strong start is a dedication to quality and excellence—hence the tagline, “Journey of Excellence”. Explaining the name behind the brand, Ang, who also runs a printing business, says, “It depicts two extreme ends—you can read it ‘no where’ or ‘now here’. It describes a journey, and we are always going for a journey toward better things, not destruction. So from point zero, ‘no where’ to the end point, ‘now here’, we constantly aim for better things with the end goal of achieving the best in mind.”
In March this year, Coffee:Nowhere participated in the Malaysia International Tea and Coffee 2014 as well as the Malaysia’s Brewer’s Cup Championship 2014, for which Coffee:Nowhere was also the gold sponsor.
Speaking of excellence, many of the café’s speciality brews are double shots, which explains the names of some of the drinks—Faith to Faith, Strength to Strength and Glory to Glory. “Again, the name expound on our concept of ‘journey of excellence,’ as they give the impression of journeying from one place to another,” explains Ang.
There are two branches in Singapore: one an open-air café at Rochester Park and the other at West Coast Plaza. Among the must-tries are the classic cup coffee, Faith to Faith (S$4.50), a double espresso with a roasted aroma that permeates the air before reaching your table, and the Cup of Love (S$6.50), comprising espresso, milk and wet foam. There is also a range of caffeine-free options for non-coffee drinkers.
Coffee:Nowhere roasts its own coffee at its roaster in Johor Bahru, allowing it to better control cost and quality. It uses 100 percent specialty grade Arabica beans, following a standard methodology and recipes to ensure consistency and freshness of its brews.
ENGAGING THE COMMUNITY
In its very first week of opening, Coffee:Nowhere embarked on its very first community project by donating its revenue from six days of business to support disaster relief works in the wake of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
Ang believes that businesses should not only be the vehicles to earn income, creating opportunities and build a community, but also be the salt and light to bring love to those around them. The three objectives of Coffee:Nowhere are to be profitable, to serve the community and to evangelize.
Out of this, Coffee:Nowhere’s CSR initiative, Love:Nowhere, was launched nationwide in April 2014. Its first project, I-Believe served abandoned, neglected and abused children at the Berkat Children’s Home in Johor Bahru.
“Apart from raising funds and awareness on our end, we also involved our customers in this meaningful project,” explained Ang. Every customer who dined in Coffee Nowhere was given an I-Believe card to pen words of encouragement and blessings to the recipients at the home. The project lasted for three months.
But the café’s CSR scope is not limited to serving the poor and in need. Earlier this year, Ang decided to pull off a simple yet novel concept. Step one: invite patrons to sign up for a crash course in coffee-brewing under the tutelage of the café’s baristas—at a brew bar located in the cafe, complete with various contraptions. Step two: come Mother’s and Father’s Day, these newly trained baristas-for-the-day would personally hand-brew a cuppa for their beloved parents.
Both events witnessed tender moments of filial piety shared between child and parent; some parents even eschewed their typical sugar and milk combination in their drinks, in order to better savor the handcrafted brews made by their offspring.
During Christmas last year at its branch in Johor Bahru, Coffee:Nowhere organized a “Candlelight Experience” in December, modeled after CHC’s own candlelight service. Supporting the event were members from a local church, who performed Christmas carols for a record 1,500 customers over six days.
“We had performances, games and even a sharing session about the Christmas story. It was like a casual sharing. Many enjoyed the experience,” recalled Ang. For some, it was the first time they learned about the meaning of Christmas.
“Our aim for now is to build relationships with people, before reaching out to share about Jesus. In fact, at our Vietnam outlet, we are already starting to reach out to people. Our foundational values for the café is that we must be able to touch the community; there must be an avenue to preach the gospel and yet the business must be sustainable,” explains Ang.
He adds, “It is not how you start, it is how you end. Along the way you may see people fall, but you have to just move on.”