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Cafe hopping in Johor is latest trend among young S'poreans

Cafes in Johor, Malaysia, are now a booming business as young Singaporeans flock across the border just to visit them.

Cafe hopping, which involves visiting multiple cafes, has become an increasingly popular activity since the border reopened in June.

At some such cafes, staff said Singaporeans in their 20s and 30s now make up about 70 per cent of patrons.

Mr Vernon Ong, 34, the owner of Keijometo, a cafe near the popular Taman Sentosa area in Johor Bahru, said long queues of Singaporeans are a daily occurrence, with many lining up even before opening time at 11.30am.

"Queuing is actually not normal in Johor Bahru, but it has become part of the cafe culture here," he said.

"We see a full house daily, especially at lunch time, with patrons having to wait at least an hour in line. It's even longer on weekends."

He said the cafe began operations in March, and saw mostly only Malaysians then.

But when the borders reopened in June, Mr Ong said Singaporeans immediately flooded the scene.

Many are also going further up north in Johor to visit cafes like Plantherapy, a cafe located inside the interior design firm Spazehaus in an industrial area in Austin.

Ms Ice Tan, 38, the cafe manager, said many Singaporeans are taking the extra effort to make the trip even if it is out of the way.

She said the main draw was the aesthetics of the cafe, which features a glasshouse dome.

"We have Singaporean regulars who come once a week, and many others come to try our food, such as our cheesecake," she said.

Mr Xavier Tan, 29, a Singaporean civil servant who was in the cafe with a colleague, said he came to know of Plantherapy after reading about it online.

"There are now many articles and reviews about the cafes in Johor, and cafe hopping is already a big thing in Singapore," he said.

He said that the price point was a significant draw.

While a latte at a cafe in Singapore costs about $7, it costs RM14.90 (S$4.60) at Plantherapy.

The cafe's Special Brie Cheese Cake costs only RM25.90, compared with a slice of cake which costs about $10 in Singapore cafes.

Mr Tan said: "It's the same thing, but more affordable here because of the currency (foreign exchange rate). It's also an affordable alternative for those who want to travel without having to pay $2,000 to fly somewhere."

At Soil JB, a cafe at the recently developed retail park Eco Spring Labs in Austin, staff said the many Singaporeans driving to visit have caused traffic jams with waiting times of up to 45 minutes to park in the area.

Miss Ang Jing Jia, 19, a cafe worker, said there are already about eight cafes in the vicinity, with new ones popping up in Johor every other week.

"Milk tea shops used to be the trend in Johor, but cafes are already replacing them," she said.

"Many youngsters come to cafe hop and to take photos."

She said that businesses in Johor had suffered because of the Covid-19 pandemic, with many shutting down because of the border closures.

Soil JB is located at the recently developed retail park Eco Spring Labs in Austin. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
 

Miss Ang said that the return of Singaporeans to Malaysia was thus welcome.

She said: "It's nice that Singaporeans are back because it means more money."

But while Miss Ang hopes more Singaporeans will hop onto the trend, others like Mr Ong are hoping for a more sustainable alternative.

He said: "My crew is very tired dealing with the crowds daily, and with long queues, people become less understanding.

"I would actually prefer if it is less crowded, and for people who come to do so because of our food and drinks, not just for the trend."

JohorCAFES AND BAKERIESmalaysia