The Long Run
Interview by Caitlin de Laure
Photographs courtesy of PS. Gourmet
PS. Café, having engineered lush dining destinations for years, celebrates its sixteenth anniversary this year—a noteworthy feat considering that café culture is at its saturation point. In fact, the founders of PS. Café, Peter Teo, Richard Chamberlain and Philip Chin, have gone on to create the widely successful PS. Café Petit and Chopsuey as well. It may come as a surprise to some that the origins of the PS. Gourmet group lie in a fashion label, Project Shop, started by three friends in the early 90’s, and that the little café they started within their boutique has gone on to become a cornerstone in the local dining scene. Having a natural flair for hospitality, Philip and Peter share more about this longstanding partnership and how the business became an extension of themselves.
Please tell us about your backgrounds and how you came to know each other.
Philip Chin (PC): We were all teenagers back then. Peter and I met when my brother and his sister dated, and Peter and Richard met at University in London.
I studied law while Peter and Richard studied fashion, so naturally we started a fashion business. However, we decided to diversify the business by entering F&B. Also, fashion in Singapore was getting too hard to maintain, with rental and competition.
Peter Teo (PT): Yes, fashion is what led us to this. I guess the lesson learnt is that by keeping an open mind and being passionate about what you do, one thing will lead to another. Whenever someone asks me if they should go into any particular business venture, my advice would be, “Do it; it may or may not work, but it may open other doors.”
Coming from a design background, how is your approach to F&B different?
PT: Coming from a discipline where there’s constant change, you are aware of the need to stimulate people’s eyes, minds and palates. We try to keep things fresh so, the flowers change, we move furniture around and we constantly tweak the menu.
Would you mind walking us through the evolution of PS. Gourmet starting from the conception PS. Café?
PT: It started as a complement to the fashion business because the space in Paragon allowed us to put in a café. Fortunately, the clothing line was our main business, so we weren’t pressured to make the café successful from day one.
PC: PS. Café was tucked away at the back of the shop and very few people knew about it as there was no social media then. However, we needed the luxury of time to learn, as we had zero experience in F&B.
PT: With help from a brilliant chef friend of ours, we developed a following. When we launched our second outlet at Harding, we already had a loyal pool of customers. People thought we were crazy to open there as the area is scarcely occupied, and we had to build the café from scratch. However, the only alfresco dining options there then were seafood restaurants, hawker centres, and the satay club. So, when we opened, it was radically different and immediately successful.
A few years later, we opened one at Palais Renaissance. I think that’s also where we introduced truffle fries in Singapore.
PC: Shortly after, we opened at Ann Siang Hill (A.S.H.) and in Chinatown where we found another unusual location we couldn’t resist.
PT: Although all our restaurants had a full bar, we designed them such that you didn’t see alcohol and they looked like proper cafés. But when customers started asking us where they could go for drinks, we figured it was time for a more bar-like place.
Interestingly enough, all the outlets were related to what we were doing in our lives at those points: Harding was inspired by our holidays in Australia, Richard and I were spending a lot of time in France when we did Palais, hence the European influence; and there’s sort of a speakeasy feel for A.S.H. because of our time in New York.
Read more in The U Press N˚11 (Singapore edition).