About Maison Ikkoku
Venture off Haji Lane, otherwise known as the hippest enclave not called Tiong Bahru, and you’ll find Maison Ikkoku tucked away at the end of Kandahar Street. It's been there for 3 years now, and is no stranger to café aficionados. They’re known for their quality coffees and are considered to be one of the pioneers of café culture in Singapore.
Maison Ikkoku combined a men's boutique with a place for a cuppa, which probably sparked the trend of marrying two concepts. Even though they no longer have the men’s boutique, they have recently opened a new cocktail bar on the premises.
As Café Fest approaches, we will be introducing some of the cafés that will be featured during the event, as well as the people behind these establishments.
Maison Ikkoku was started by 2 husband-and-wife pairs - Janice and Thomas, and Shanie and Franz. To learn more about their story, we spoke to owners Shanie and Thomas, operations manager Rizuan, and Sarah, one half of the duo behind Café Fest.
On Maison Ikkoku
TSL: Hello Shanie and Thomas! Firstly, I’d like to know: How did Maison Ikkoku come about?
Thomas: We all started off as friends. My wife and Shanie got to know each other through our children’s enrichment programme. We became good friends and started travelling together. It was during our trip to Japan that we saw cafés with multiple concepts, and that really inspired us to do something similar here.
TSL: Could you share with us the inspiration behind Maison Ikkoku?
Thomas: When we engaged our designer to come up with the concept for this place, we discussed and we knew we wanted a “Japanese feel” to the place. The name "Maison Ikkoku" is a mix of French and Japanese. Maison is French for “house”, and Ikkoku is Japanese for “moment”. So “Maison Ikkoku” actually means “house of the moment”. It signifies that Maison Ikkoku is a place where people can come here and hang out for a while and “be in the moment”.
Shanie: That’s why you see the hanging cabinets in the café. It looks like they are frozen in time.
Sarah: If you notice, their table tops are old doors that they sourced by themselves.
TSL: What were you guys doing before Maison Ikkoku? Did you have any prior background in F&B?
Shanie: Nope. I’m a mother of 4 so I was looking after my kids. But I have a certificate in Hotel & Tourism Management and I’ve always wanted to have a café.
Thomas: I had a day job, but now I run a freight company together with my wife.
TSL: There are so many cafés in Singapore right now. What do you think sets you apart from the others?
Shanie: Good coffee, good food, good service, good environment.
Sarah: I think Maison is really one of the pioneers in the café culture. The café scene really boomed in the last few years, but Maison Ikkoku was one of the few who started out.
TSL: What were some of the difficulties faced in running Maison Ikkoku?
Shanie: When we first started out, one of our concerns was catering to the locals. After the other cafés came around, we also had to think about how we should differentiate ourselves from the rest. So we did a lot of trial and error in our menu.
TSL: As one of the pioneers in the café culture, how do you think you managed to convince Singaporeans to be part of the café scene?
Shanie: We actually started out with just a snacks menu and focused more on our coffee. Then we found out that Singaporeans like to eat and that food is very important to them. Three years ago, everyone was going for all-day breakfasts. So we expanded to include our all-day breakfast menu. The inspiration for the menu comes from all of us.
Rizuan: We definitely see a lot of new cafés coming up so that's the challenge now. For us, it’s always about maintaining standards. We’ve been around for quite some time but the café industry is very small. The whole café scene is a lively place where people want to hang out, so you have to keep it interesting and change your menu or introduce interesting concepts.
TSL: Are there any upcoming plans for Maison Ikkoku?
Shanie: We are working on introducing waffles since it’s the “in” thing now. The great thing about waffles is that it can be plain or flavoured. You can try to do something new with the waffle. And our waffle will not be the ordinary waffle.
Rizuan: We are also currently working on a new menu - something a little more artistic. We are trying to launch it in the fourth quarter.
TSL: Maison Ikkoku will be featured in the first ever Café Fest. How did the whole partnership come about?
Sarah: We approached Maison Ikkoku actually. It’s very interesting because I used to work for the PR agency handling the account for Maison Ikkoku. Right off the bat, we knew we wanted a good mix of cafes to bring out the whole café culture. Café Fest is not just about specialty coffee, but it’s also about cookies, cakes, waffles, bakeries. We wanted Maison Ikkoku because of their specialty coffees. We wanted to showcase what they were already so good at - their filtered coffees - and their various ways of brewing it, so I wanted to include Maison Ikkoku in our lineup.
TSL: What can cafégoers expect during Café Fest? Anything special up your sleeves?
Rizuan: For Café Fest, we are going to introduce a variety of coffees. We are shipping in new green coffee and will be doing our own roasting of coffee beans soon too. We are also currently working with green bean traders both locally and internationally.
Maison Ikkoku will be involved in introducing new coffees to the market. But at the same time, we’ll try not to clash with other cafés. If possible, we'll dabble in a bit of retail of brewing and coffee equipment. We’ll also be finding new partners to work with and do wholesale. So Café Fest will be a platform for us to expose ourselves. Being Maison Ikkoku, we also hope that everyone can bond over coffee.
TSL: What do you think of Singapore’s café culture and scene?
Shanie: Every couple of weeks, you see a new café popping up.
Sarah: Before we started Café Fest, we did our research and found out that there are about 200 cafés in Singapore. It’s really a booming scene.
Rizuan: But I think it’s a friendly competition. You need a lot of knowledge to make a cup of coffee and there’s a lot of science involved in it. As long as you have this knowledge, you can make it. This is our third year and things have been going on well for us.
Shanie: Yup, Rizuan has been with us since the beginning of Maison Ikkoku. He has also been in the coffee industry in a long time.
Rizuan: Since 2000, so that’s about 14 years. I was one of the judges at the Singapore national competition this year and was also a national barista in 2007. Along the way, I’ve done a lot of coffee events with other companies as well.
TSL Rapid-fire Questions
TSL: If someone was here for the first time, what is one item they MUST order?
Shanie: Definitely our coffee.
TSL: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Thomas: Char Kuay Teow.
TSL: If you could go back in time, what would you tell your 15-year-old self?
Rizuan: Get married soon.
Shanie: Actually I have no regrets, so I don’t think I have anything to say to my 15-year-old self.
TSL: Fill in the blanks. If you weren’t running Maison Ikkoku, you’d be _______ ?
Thomas: Still holding my day job.
Shanie: In the education industry.
Rizuan: A chef.
TSL: Favourite thing to do in Singapore?
Thomas: Spending quality time with my family.
Rizuan: Watching sports. Especially now that it's World Cup season!
TSL: Coffee or cocktails?
TSL: What is your favourite cafe or restaurant to go to? Other than Maison Ikkoku, that is.
Sarah: I don't have an all-time favourite, but my current favourite is Café Melba. It's very spacious, and the food offerings are very different from what they have here.
Rizuan: Hoopla is my current favourite hangout spot.
Thomas: I don't really have a favourite, but my daughters and I like to go to Omakase Burger.
Shanie: Assembly Coffee. The parking and the convenience is really a huge draw for me.
TSL: What’s one motto that you live by?
Sarah: You reap what you sow.
Rizuan: Go big or go home.
Thomas: Be positive.
Shanie: Less is more.
TSL: Finally, any word of advice for budding café owners?
Sarah: Dare to go for it and do not be afraid to ask for help.
Rizuan: You have to take risks to run a coffee business. It may look simple, but it really takes a lot of effort.
Shanie: It really takes a lot of people to make it work.
Thomas: It’s not easy, but you have to believe it what you do.
Getting to Maison Ikkoku
Address: 20 Kandahar Street, Singapore 198885
Contact: 6294 0078
Maison Ikkoku is one of the 12 cafés participating in the Café Fest. For more information on Café Fest, visit their official Facebook page.
This post is part of TSL's pro-bono coverage for the upcoming Cafe Fest where we decided to help put the spotlight on cafe culture in Singapore.