Philip Chin and Peter Teo of PS. Gourmet Group
Philip Chin and Peter Teo are the creative partnership behind PS. Gourmet Group, one of our very favourites and a stalwart of modern Singaporean lifestyle and cafe culture. Having kept a relatively low profile, we enjoyed the chance to chat with them about how it all started, what keeps them inspired, what’s next in store for the group, and their firm belief in the adage – “there’s always room for dessert!”. Don’t you just love them already?
So, first things first, how did you guys meet? And how did the concept of PS.Cafe take shape?
PC: We first met in Singapore in the late 70s through our siblings. My brother was dating Peter’s sister. They were first loves.
PT: And we then found out that we happened to be going to London at the same time to study. I’d say we first came up with the idea of having a café while in London. We didn’t think we’d come back to Singapore, and we were enamoured with the idea of having a little bookbinding business and café. I was really interested in stationary and paper goods in addition to fashion. PS.Cafe started as an evolution of our Project Shop brand. It was popular then to have multi-concept lifestyle brands. We had a successful and rather large shop in Paragon, and we wanted to offer customers a different kind of experience, one combining fashion and food. We wanted to diversify our fashion label and make it more of a lifestyle experience. Food and drink came naturally to us. The fashion side of the business allowed us the luxury of opening a café without worrying if it would make money.
What’s the best thing about your job?
PC: Definitely the creative part. We’re both designers at heart, and Peter is a designer by training.
PT: Creating and then presenting a space that we’ve designed. Just like the best part of the fashion business is the fashion show. It lets us showcase what we do and feel like we’re entertaining friends.
And the hardest thing?
PC & PT: Maintenance in every area. Both maintaining consistency of food and service at all our restaurants and maintaining market position in an ever-changing dining scene here. The desserts at PS.Cafe are obviously famous, or should we say notorious (especially the Double Chocolate Blackout Cake).
Tell us more about ‘cake’ as a cornerstone of your offering.
PC: The Double Chocolate Blackout Cake was indeed one of our firsts. We started out with six cakes when we opened. I’ve always baked and this was one of the first cakes I perfected and wanted to offer at PS.Cafe. Cakes and salads were really the cornerstones of our menu. This was because we loved dessert and we could never find a good salad! I guess the two balance each other out in a way – naughty and nice. If you have a salad, you can have dessert!
PT: We started out serving coffee, and simply put, cake is nice with coffee. Over the years, we’ve discovered that sugar makes people happy. It’s easier to please them with a nice piece of cake than almost anything else.
The different dining concepts in the PS Gourmet Group are very fashionable and trendy. Do you feel there are parallels between fashion and F&B? How have you traded on this idea?
PC: We actually don’t see them as fashionable and trendy concepts. We can’t avoid reading the market, but our goal is to create timeless restaurants. We don’t follow the fads, and most of what we offer is classic dishes and homestyle staples. We don’t find that food compares to fashion per se – in fashion you have to follow the trends, but in food you can rebel a bit more.
PT: But our experience in fashion has made us stronger in F&B. Fortunately we know our food, but our competitive advantage is that we attack the F&B business from all angles, and with a keen eye to keep things fresh. As designers, our instincts and perspectives are quite different from those a chef-owner might have.
Chopsuey and PS Café Petit are opening soon at Martin Road – congratulations! What are you most looking forward to about this new location?
PC: Yes, it’s always exciting creating a new location and seeing it come to fruition. My favourite part is the calm before the storm – once all the hard work is done and you can enjoy it for a bit before you officially open to the public. We do love seeing people’s reaction to a new project though. It’s very rewarding to see them enjoy the restaurant and appreciate all the work and detail that go into creating it.
PT: The Martin Road restaurants will have a fresh new look, so we’re really looking forward to seeing what our customers think of the design. PS.Cafe Petit will be open for morning coffee and breakfast – so I’m looking forward to an 8am skinny flat white!
We noticed a curated selection of wine at PS.Cafe Petit for the first time. Does this mean you’re branching out into other areas, starting with wine?
PC: Yes, well, the wine shop is an integral part of PS.Cafe Petit. By working closely with over 20 different suppliers, our wine shop offers a selection of approximately 200 bottles usually only offered to and available in restaurants, giving customers access to a new selection of great wines previously unavailable for retail purchase. A number of champagnes and top shelf spirits are also for sale. It’s a pretty broad selection, but the wines are really tailored to what we love. At Martin Road, we’ll have a unique Italian-designed Enomatic Wine Serving System that allows you to sip and sample to your heart’s content before deciding on your favourite bottles. We’re also starting a wine rewards program and regular wine events, so stay tuned for more information on those.
What do you think is the most important lesson the business has taught you so far?
PT: You have to trust people or you’ll never be able to run and grow your business.
PC: You must love what you do in order to do it well. And when it comes to our business in particular, there is always room for dessert.
In your experience, what is the virtue of good ‘partnership’?
PT: I think the main advantage of good partnership is having a perfect sounding board, someone you can share all your ideas and opinions with – someone who will listen, reflect and help make those ideas stronger.
PC: The main virtue of good partnership is trust. Peter and I have a relationship built on unconditional trust. It’s important to really know and trust your partner or partners. So many great businesses have unraveled because of issues between partners.
Besides your partnership (of course), what do you think is the secret to PS.Cafe’s success?
PC: I think it’s reading the customer and being able to tell what they really want. Consistent management and a strong company culture gives us a stability both internally and in the eyes of our customers.
PT: We have a fantastic team. We wouldn’t be where we are without our wonderful staff.
PC: Everywhere! We are always out researching, tasting and seeing what is new in Singapore.
PT: Any good hawker food.
Lastly, what’s your favourite city to dine in?
PC: We love local food, so Singapore is at the top of my list. London is another great dining city – it has the most variety and the best of everything.
PT: There are so many great dining cities. We recently went to Jakarta and we had some wonderful Indonesian food!