Cartoon power or passing fad?
PRISCA ANG (firstname.lastname@example.org) finds out if the recent string of new themed cafes in S'pore are here to stay
Ms Christina Yeo, who is in her 50s and retired from the tourism industry, has joined the fanfare surrounding themed cafes such as DC Comics Super Heroes Cafe.
While she did want to be interviewed, the cafe's marketing consultant Brandon Chu, 35, helped relay The New Paper's questions and her answers.
"She is a fan and likes the themed decor, and the cosy atmosphere of the cafe," he explained of his customer. She usually orders a cup of coffee with the Superman logo.
She is one of many who flock to the DC Comics cafe at Marina Bay Sands every week.
Customers such as Ms Yeo are the reason why themed cafes are popping up here.
Singapore's first Hello Kitty cafe opened its doors to customers in Changi Airport earlier this May, while fellow Sanrio character Pompompurin entered the themed cafe business here in April.
Since it opened three weeks ago, the Hello Kitty cafe has received more than 10,000 customers, said Mr Andrew Khoo, director of group business development at ABR Holdings, the parent company.
The group decided to start up the cafe here as it realised there is a huge base of local Hello Kitty fans.
It experienced success with its Hello Kitty "Sundae Delights" promotion last year at Swensen's, which it also owns and operates in Singapore.
The restaurateurs said that although themed cafes worldwide generally have a life span of three years, they are fairly bullish about prospects here.
DC Comics Super Heroes Cafe's Mr Chu said: "(Themed cafes) usually don't work out because they just believe in the concept, without working hard to develop the menu, retail products and service programme.
"We're trying not to make the same mistake."
ABR Holdings' Mr Khoo said: "We are aware that themed cafes have a shorter life span but we will refresh our products on a regular basis."
Moving forward, the cafe will introduce an afternoon tea set, he added. It will also bring in new retail items, such as Hello Kitty Orchid Garden postcards and stamps in collaboration with SingPost.
A Pokemon cafe, the first of its kind in Singapore, also opened last Friday to a five-hour queue of customers waiting to get their Pokemon fix.
"In a way, the franchise and I grew up together," said Ms Lim Shi Cheng, 20, an undergraduate at Yale-NUS.
Ms Lim recalled being sorely disappointed when she was unable to claim a Pokemon character on her handheld game, as it was only distributed in the US.
"Now, I have the opportunity to rekindle my love for Pokemon," she said.
Situated in Bugis Junction, the pop-up cafe will be open till end July.
"We wanted to introduce the character cafe concept to the market fairly quickly, while having more time to plan for a permanent outlet," said Ms Lai Sau Kuen, general manager of Parco Singapore, which holds the franchise for the Pokemon Cafe in Singapore.
In Japan, Parco owns a permanent cafe - The Guest Cafe and Diner - which changes its showcased character and theme every few months.
"We experienced great success when we brought the Pokemon theme to the cafe. That is why we decided to bring it to Singapore," added Ms Lai.
Professor Gemma Calvert of Nanyang Technological University, who studies comsumer behaviour, said: "It is true that humans have an insatiable appetite for novelty."
She added that venues such as comic-themed cafes are targeted at families with young children, while the recent Sanrio character outlets cater more to young professionals.
"In Singapore, there is a clear 'don't want to miss out' culture and themed cafes play directly into this mindset. Diners are now seeking fully immersive culinary experiences that can be shared though social media," said Prof Calvert.
Mr Chu said: "We have to come back to the food and service, the core of the restaurant. We're trying to achieve a level where even without the superhero logos, we can still do great."
We are aware that themed cafes have a shorter life span but we will refresh our products on a regular basis.
— Mr Andrew Khoo, director of group business development at ABR Holdings