City Harvest Church members and arts personalities Ryan Tan and Andrea Lim embark on a brand new adventure with God in their 100 percent plant-based, dairy-free tea café, Nuttea.
Any CHC member will surely recognise Andrea Lim—she has appeared in many of its drama productions, featured in video recordings and live announcements, and, outside of church, she has appeared in commercials, hosted live events, acted in theatre and the TV series Growing Up.
Her husband Ryan Tan is as much of an icon. One of Singapore’s most sought after choreographers and show producers, Ryan was on the founding team of O School and a judge on The Dance Floor, a dance competition show on MediaCorp. He owns a dance school One Dance Asia, and dance company TRDO. Recently he was appointed the show director at Resorts World Sentosa.
Ryan was the principal choreographer for Sun Ho’s Crossover concerts across Asia. He received Christ on the final day of the tour and joined CHC, where he met Andrea through a dance workshop for the Dance Ministry, of which she was a part. Today they are proud parents to two young sons, Travis and Austin.
A WHOLE NEW WORLD
Even for a couple that share such an atypical approach to work, taking a sudden left turn into the food and beverage industry comes as a surprise.
Nuttea is a joint partnership between Ryan and his business partner Jessica Huang, who was a dance student of his. During a trip to Australia, she visited a Nuttea outlet and was captivated by the taste of its Chocolate Hazelnut Nut Mylk Tea, which was unlike any she had ever experienced. Upon returning to Singapore, she told Ryan and Andrea about the brand and suggested franchising it for Singapore. The couple decided to give it a go.
If one looked at the whole situation through human eyes, doing this seemed risky. By admission, the Tans were not particularly entrepreneurial. When they walked into the space that they eventually settled on—29 East Coast Road—there was no floor plan nor information. The space was in deplorable conditions, having been untouched after its previous occupant vacated. Yet, the couple felt a sense of peace and reassurance when they stepped in. From their viewpoint, the space was good: it was located near a bus stop, saw strong human traffic and the rent was also manageable.
“So we said, this is the place, we should take it,” Ryan recalls. “There and then we made the decision.” They made an offer the same day, and being the first to do so, beat out other bidders who made higher offers. “We got a great deal.”
The timing for Nuttea’s opening was also serendipitous. Many F&B businesses had been suffering throughout the pandemic years, so there was a sizeable risk to this venture. Ryan and Andrea observed that the online and takeaway food business was still doing well, and so they planned for it to be a takeaway tea kiosk. However, Singapore’s government announced the relaxing of safety management measures in April, so by the time they opened Nuttea on 21 May, they were able to maximise their café space and also save on manpower.
Originally, it was planned that Ryan would front this venture. But just three weeks before the opening of Nuttea, he received an offer for a full-time position as show director for Resorts World Sentosa. It was a dream job for Ryan, creating shows and productions on a large scale.
As such, their plans had to change quickly. Andrea, who was originally the “supporter and helper” now stepped in to manage the business. Now she oversees majority of the operations at Nuttea.
Such a rollercoaster journey is not for the faint-hearted. But through all these moments of decisions they felt an overwhelming sense of peace.
Even as they were waiting for their business licence, which was delayed, Andrea shares that she found God in that waiting period. Ryan agreed. “There were a lot of challenges, but somehow I felt like God will see it through.”
Taking over the running of the café was physically exhausting for Andrea. Ryan marvels at his wife that she never complained, even though she experienced fatigue. But despite her endurance, he was worried for his wife. “I asked God, why are we doing this? And I heard Him say, ‘In due time, she will know.’ And that was the same word He gave to Andrea.”
God’s grace sustained Andrea through the busyness. When she attended a silence and solitude retreat organised by Church Without Walls, Andrea felt God remind her that there is a difference between being aware of His presence and being joined with Him.
“One word that He spoke to me was ‘closer’,” she says. “He reminded me, ‘even though you may have felt disconnected, I’m always here. And I always want you to be with me.’”
SEEING GOD’S SUPERNATURAL PROVISION
The Tans certainly do not put all their eggs in one basket. In their obedience, they have seen God take them places they never dreamed of.
Ryan is an ideas machine, and also someone gifted with talent and capability. He finds that his new role as show director for RWS makes him even more productive and enables him to complete all his projects in and outside of his job.
“I think the gift God gave me is the ability to have a lot of ideas. I don’t think the ideas are from me—they’re always from God. I find that the ideas come very fast when I understand that all my ideas are there to meet a need. It is never merely about what I want to do. It’s exactly what Pastor Kong (Hee) preached: find a need and meet a need. When you do that it is never about you anymore. The ideas will just come.”
Both husband and wife have been entrusted with a calling in the marketplace, especially with Nuttea. Ryan feels God has called them to be “sheep among wolves”, and like a sheep that trusts its Shepherd, he believes God will lead them in every situation. Though they are not business-trained or savvy with numbers, he trusts that God’s wisdom and peace will be their distinctive.
Where does their trust come from? Ryan and Andrea have honed their dependence on the Lord through many years of experiencing His divine provision through seemingly impossible situations. Between 2011 and 2019, they were both freelancing and raising their two boys. Without a stable monthly income, there were times when Andrea wondered how they would get through the end of the month. But they always did.
“It could only be God, there is no other explanation,” she says.
In 2019, Ryan went to London to pursue his Masters in Dance Producing and Management. He had applied for a scholarship but failed to get it. As he was a diploma student (normally one needs a degree to take up a Master degree) he was resigned to not doing this. To his surprise, a month later the representative in London called him, saying he was in fact overqualified due to his experience.
The supernatural provision continued. Ryan needed to produce $24,000 in less than a week for school fees, and he only had a few hundred dollars in his bank. Miraculously, clients started paying him for projects, even without him asking. And just before the end of that week, he had $25,000!
Within the next few months, he managed to raise another $20,000 for his family’s expenses and for his overseas accommodation.
Ryan flew to the UK with just £2,000 to last five and a half months. Not only did he make it through that period, he even managed to watch 10 shows and spend time with his wife when she visited him. He also achieved a distinction in his course, and two of his academic pieces have been used as student samples for future cohorts. He graduated in 2020 and returned home—just before Covid caused international borders to close.
Ryan shares that God encouraged him with these words: “If I open the doors for you, what makes you think I will not provide?”
Andrea adds, “God will not let anyone take over the glory of the testimony.”
A HEART OF GRATITUDE & A DESIRE TO SERVE
If there is a “secret” to the Tans’ faith journey, it is that they have an attitude of gratitude.
“Just be grateful there is another day to live. Just be grateful there are people around you that you love and who love you. Be grateful that you have a roof over your head,” Ryan lists. “Maybe I desire something but I don’t get it—I get something else. I should be grateful for it. Being grateful unlocks opportunities and blessings. If you are not a grateful person, even if I give you a million dollars, it will not be enough for you.”
This attitude has indeed brought him many blessings in season and out. During the pandemic, when many in the arts and entertainment industry struggled, Ryan had more projects than before. And now that that season is over, he has his new job.
Andrea, on the other hand, has a deep heart to know God and serve Him. She is involved in three CHC ministries: Backup Vocalist, Drama and CityRadio. In recent years, she decided to serve as a song leader in HarvestKidz again. The family is also involved in CHC’s The Blessing Project to deliver birthday cakes to children from low income households.
“I just want to be able to help in whatever way I can,” says Andrea.
She chose to be a freelancer for two reasons:to have time with her family, as well as to the freedom to serve God. When there were fewer opportunities to serve in her usual ministries during the pandemic, she decided to serve in HarvestKidz again.
It is natural that she has worries, Andrea says, but she chooses to give them to God.
“He has already proven Himself to us. Not that He has to, but He has taken care of us financially during the most difficult years of our lives together. We know that we will be taken care of, we don’t have to be anxious for anything.”
IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY
Apart from business, Ryan and Andrea also have a passion to develop talent in the performing arts world. In July this year, Ryan produced a musical Our Golden Years, which featured 26 children from two dance schools: One Dance Asia and Distinct Creative Arts. The cast rehearsed for just six weeks but their performance was a resounding success. There are talks of a bigger scale production of the show next year.
The message behind the musical is that there is so much more to children than their grades: they have interests, talents and things that they want to explore. Parents should be proud of them because of who they are, and enjoy their childhood moments with them.
It was a project that involved their two sons Travis and Austin, who share their parents’ God-given talent and passion for performance. Andrea and Ryan are filled with pride and joy when they share about their boys, who performed in the show.
“We are very happy for them,” says Andrea. “They experienced so much joy throughout the production journey. They worked very hard to memorise their lines, their acting, their dance routines—all without a single complaint—and they experienced the fruits of their hard work. They learned a lot and I think the best part for them was the friendships they made with the rest of the kids. We’re happy that they found something that they are passionate about.”
A TOTALLY DIFFERENT BUBBLE TEA EXPERIENCE
Nuttea’s selling point is its use of totally plant-based, dairy-free milk, a proprietary blend of nut milks that the brand terms “mylk”. Fresh fruits are used in place of syrups, and the nut cream and nut milk are made fresh daily. A perfect alternative for the vegan, the dairy-intolerant, and the bubble tea lover looking for a healthier treat.
The menu offers a range of nut mylk teas and teas with nut cream, as well as fresh fruit smoothies, fresh fruit teas, cold brew teas, nutty coffees and acai bowls. Even the toppings are unique: brown sugar jelly and chocolate nut cream. To date, Nuttea’s bestsellers are the Four Seasons Tea with Nut Cream, the Matcha with Nut Cream and the Grape Tea with Nut Cream.
It has only been a few months but the cafe has already attracted a healthy patronage and even a number of regular customers. When it comes to customer service, they want to build a culture “that is even more than good service, it is hospitality,” says Andrea.
The Tans’ core value of being people-oriented also means that they focus on serving customers and building up their staff members. “We see the potential in them and we hope to help them grow and develop. We want to be involved in what our staff is good at,” they say of their team.
It may run counter to how other businesses usually run, which is to put profitability first. But Ryan and Andrea see Nuttea as another way to serve God’s purpose in the marketplace.
“God says ‘I make the weak strong’,” Ryan notes. “So I don’t look at Nuttea as a business—I look at it as a gateway for God to do His work”.
Having made a lifetime’s habit of trusting in God’s timing, Ryan and Andrea demonstrate what it looks like to live out John 16:33. One doesn’t need to have the whole picture to obey God, notes Ryan.
“We really don’t know what effect we will cause, but we will cause an effect, whether in our own life or in someone else’s,” he says. “The most important thing is that if you trust God to bring you to eternal life then God will see you through whatever you’re doing. Just be very bold. The Bible says, ‘Be courageous’ so don’t be afraid of doing something—as long as you are guided by Christ, you will be okay. God designed you like that—you have to do whatever He tells you to, so that other people can receive the blessing.”