The Business of Brewing

Interview by Charlene Chan
Photography by Jimmy Sng (profile photo) & Marc Tan

Few cafés can claim to have built up a strong following in the space of three years, much less make the shift to a larger space after just two. But that’s exactly what Gwen and Xavier, the founders of Brawn & Brains Coffee, did last year. It’s evident that while good coffee remains a major draw for regulars of the café, the amount of thought put into the design and ambience of the space has paid off for the pair: there is seldom a lull in the airy, well-lit café despite it being nestled amongst rather older buildings along Guillemard Road. Gwen took some time off her packed schedule to tell us about the thought process behind the design of their space, and look back on one special memory they share with a regular patron.

Brawn & Brains Coffee

Why did you decide to start Brawn & Brains?

The idea of starting a café came about when Xavier chanced upon our first shop while driving around the Guillemard area. We had a look at the unit and fell in love with it right away. Both the unit and building were retained in their original structures with a classic and high ceiling, which is really rare.

Prior to that, Xavier had always been interested in coffee roasting and brewing. That opportunity could not have been more timely as it happened shortly after he imported his sample coffee roaster and equipment.

Can you tell us the meaning behind the name?

Before starting Brawn & Brains Coffee, Xavier was in the manufacturing business, specializing in sheet metal fabrication and laser cutting. Armed with this experience and help from Studio Juju—the brains behind the interior design of both our previous and current space—Xavier managed to craft most of the structures and fittings in the café. These include our existing furniture, lamps, bar counter, work tops and shelving units. He pretty much built everything from scratch using raw sheet metal materials.

Also because we wanted a casual name, and being in the Old Badminton Hall where Onsight Climbing Gym and White Lodge Kindergarten are located, the name Brawn & Brains Coffee could not have been more apt.

Brawn & Brains Coffee

Yours is a very cosy space—what did you focus on when creating such an environment?

We like a calm and minimalist vibe with lots of natural light. The sense of space is also important to us, so that people are able to socialise freely and have conversations. We like a community feel, where everyone can say hello and give hugs when they see a familiar face. When the café is not too busy, we like that young children are able to move around freely while their parents catch up with friends over a cup of coffee.

However, this can only be achieved with our current layout instead of filling up the space with more seats. Of course we cannot please everyone, but we strive to do our best and often remind ourselves of the reason why we created such a space from the beginning.

Read more in The U Press N˚13 (Singapore edition).