In the Spotlight: Grab a Dough with Joe!

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Introducing the first article under our new column:

***IN THE SPOTLIGHT***
This show and tell section will have The Hooting Post interview personalities from all walks of life who have been inspiring in their own ways. Here’s where we will be fishing out tips and newsie bits of their lives, the challenges experienced, success stories and more!
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To commemorate our inaugural interview feature, we are extremely honoured to speak to one-half of the brainchilds behind the gourmet coffee and sandwich chain, Joe & Dough, Ms. Dawn Wee, in this exclusive interview.

Millenia Walk - Joe & Dough

Unpretentious with a laidback charm, Joe & Dough’s rustic theme and soft earth colours invites one with open arms admist the hustle and bustle of city dwellers.
Photo: Joe & Dough

Damien Koh and Dawn Wee have been busy round the clock – from their recent wedding in September to a new outlet which opened its doors in early November – and they barely squeezed in a 3-day trip to Bali all in the middle of everything (Dawn shares sheepishly in a personal meeting that it’s been tough to make time for holidays since they started Joe & Dough). The pair has been putting in much time and effort into their cafe business and results speak for itself – 4 outlets and a bakery in 4 years, all these without any in-your-face above-the-line advertising. Purely by word-of-mouth, a Facebook page and website (they do delivery too, great for those lunch meetings and events!), Joe & Dough’s hard work has indeed paid off, and we are proud of this homegrown brand exceling in the competitive retail business.

Coffee, sandwich and pastries are serious stuff at Joe & Dough. Tantalising much?  Photo: Joe & Dough

Coffee, sandwich and pastries are serious stuff at Joe & Dough. Tantalising much?
Photo: Joe & Dough

One hands too many in the industry, how does Joe & Dough differentiate itself? Dawn shares “Before we embarked on our plans, we noticed that there was a market for specialty coffee which emphasizes on using good quality and fresh beans roasted in small batches and coffee crafted by skilled baristas. There were also only a handful of establishments which served true artisan coffee and quality gourmet sandwiches which Damien and I believed these two go hand-in-hand for a wholesome experience.” Needless to say, this paved the birth of Joe (for “coffee”) & Dough (for “sandwiches”) as the focused items on the menu. Having a business of her own has always been Dawn’s dream as a child, and she shares memories of selling stationery to her younger sister. Looks like the entrepreneural spirit was fueled back then!

Each cup of coffee is specially brewed by an experienced barista at any of Joe & Dough's outlet, anytime of the day.  Photo: Joe & Dough

Each cup of coffee is specially brewed by an experienced barista at any of Joe & Dough’s outlet, anytime of the day.
Photo: Joe & Dough

Armed with intensive market research and a solid business plan, this looks easy to fire away with, right? All was not easy peasy for the couple. Being young and green in this line, many suppliers were not keen to work with them given the initial small orders. Also, since the brand was very new, one of the key challenges was to build awareness amongst both end-consumers and B2B partners alike. Dawn recalls “My learning curve was very steep and I had to learn literally everything required to start the business in a very short time, even if I liked it or not.” Now, Joe & Dough works closely with a local well-known roaster on a special blend of 100% quality Arabica beans roasted in small batches to ensure “freshness” in every cuppa. Even breads, cakes and pastries are handcrafted from their very own artisan bakery (Joe & Dough supplies to other local cafes such as Toby’s Estate and Selfish Gene, to name a few!) which eliminates preservatives and artificial flavourings from the recipes, keeping only the real good stuff with fresh, quality ingredients in every bake, coupled with traditional baking methods and the human touch, something which is often missing as many mainstream factories churn them out by machines these days.

With Ms Foo Mee Har, MP for West Coast GRC, Vice-Chairman for West Coast Town Council, at the Communi'Bake project event site on 29 July 2012.

Dawn with Ms Foo Mee Har, MP for West Coast GRC, Vice-Chairman for West Coast Town Council, at the Communi’Bake project event site on 29 July 2012.

Stemming from the heart of goodness, Damien and Dawn are also earnest in giving back to the community to help make a difference in someone’s life. Any unsold food are donated to non-profit charity, Food from the Heart, on a daily basis. At the Communi’Bake Project in July 2012, Joe & Dough team put on their kitchen gloves to put together the world’s largest cupcake mosaic heartily created with 20,000 cupcakes and 1,000 people which set a new Guinness World Record!

Freshly baked croissants from their daily bakery - off to feed the hungry peeps at Joe & Dough and other cafes in Singapore.  Photo: Joe & Dough

Freshly baked croissants from their daily bakery – off to feed the hungry peeps at Joe & Dough and other cafes in Singapore.
Photo: Joe & Dough

The duo also knew that “no man is an island” and they needed a strong team to make things happen – 2 pairs of hands are definitely not enough to build a cafe overnight. Like many other local retailers, they experienced difficulties with recruiting the right people with the right attitude. “One of our greatest satisfaction is to see our team progress with the business. Some of the junior members who started with us back then have also advanced to bigger roles in the company. In fact, our very first Store Manager is still working with us today!”, quips Dawn.
The team that work and play together, stays together!  Photo: Joe & Dough Facebook page

The team that work and play together, stays together!
Photo: Joe & Dough Facebook page

The success behind Joe & Dough lies beyond the founders’ firm belief in building a cohesive and efficient team and creating a fair workplace for their dynamic squad. Staying rooted to the brand’s philosophy is also important, as many brands and companies start to lose sight of their initial values as the business takes off. “We are very clear of what we want our business to be, and the way we make and serve our coffee and sandwiches. We want to serve good coffee by getting the basics right such as getting the coffee brewing techniques and coffee proportions right, and using the correct cup sizes,” muses this petite lady who needs her daily brew to kickstart the day. “Making our sandwiches using fresh artisan breads with no preservatives, as well as interesting and quality ingredients, and toasting the sandwiches before serving them to our customers are just some simple rules we abide with to maintain consistency throughout the outlets, anytime of the day.” It’s definitely heartening to know that Joe & Dough is regarded as a place where people can enjoy simple, honest food and coffee that are comfortingly familiar with every visit. This is what the Joe & Dough brand prides itself for: handcrafted, simple, honest quality food.

Damien Koh and Dawn Wee, the founders of Joe & Dough.  Photo: Damien Koh

Damien Koh and Dawn Wee, the founders of Joe & Dough.
Photo: Damien Koh

Working with someone close is something that can make or break the bonds too. This couple who have been together for a whopping 16 years (WOW!), have grown together through the tough times and especially more so, as a business partner. At the early stages of the business, these Chung Cheng High (Main) schoolmates used to argue often over differences in opinions and ideas but have since learned to split their scope of work and responsibilities. Dawn sheds some pointers “I think it’s essential to have mutual respect for each other and be able to talk about things with an open mind. We have to always watch how we talk to each other and it’s really hard for me as he is my other half for so many years. It’s also important not to let our egos get in the way with the best interest for our business. I know that we can achieve much more and grow the business faster together as a united team as opposed to working individually.
” Definitely useful tips for those in a dilemma over a husband-wife team, but we know Damien and Dawn complement each other perfectly like “Joe” and “Dough” – the ideal recipe for an everlasting relationship.

Joe & Dough’s Milestones:
2009 – Opened doors of the first outlet at Hitachi Tower (now known as Income at Raffles) on 31 Mar.
2010 – The second outlet was opened at Suntec City Mall and it has relocated to Millenia Walk due to the revamp of Suntec City Mall. Also, started own bakery to bake artisan breads, pastries and cakes.
2011 – Third outlet opened at Marina Bay Link Mall.
2012 – Bakery moved to a bigger 11,000 square feet premise.
2013 – Fourth outlet at Golden Shoe Car Park in November.
[Coming soon in Q1 2014!!]
Two outlets at Orchard Gateway and Kallang Leisure Park + launch of new sandwiches and pastries

Dawn Shares: 3 Tips for a Successful Business!

1. Find what you like to do and be passionate about it. Do think carefully and realistically whether the business will work and if there is a real demand for the products or services. Do not simply hop onto the bandwagon and think that your business will definitely make a lot of money after seeing the success of other similar businesses.

2. Plan well and do your homework before starting your own business. Ask yourself questions and be honest with your answers. How is your business and product different? Are they going to stand out in the market? Understand your market and analyzing the needs of your target customers are fundamentals. You have to set realistic goals and to know very clearly what you want out of the business.

3. Consistently be determined and stay focused. Running your own business is exhausting and stressful, and meet many obstacles and problems are part of the journey. You need to deal with them without procrastination and see the big picture with your key objectives in mind.

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It was really lovely to have this exclusive privilege to chat with Dawn. Whether you’re a budding entrepreneur or have some thoughts about starting your own business, we hope this article has inspired you with our interviewee’s real nuggets of life experiences. If you know someone inspirational or someone you look up to for that extra boost of motivation, tell us! We might just feature him/her in our next “In the Spotlight” article! :)