The enticing aroma of freshly brewed coffee and homemade pastries envelopes the air, greeting customers who enter the red door of the home-based café, Elevate.
On the weekends, business founder Mohd Ariff Mohd Arriffin can be seen working behind the counter brewing a few cups of coffee and chatting with customers.
At the same time, running the café is very much a family affair with the 33-year-old working alongside his mother, who also helps with managing the business.
“Every family member brings value to the café. Most of the café’s baked offerings are made in-house by my mum. Coffee and the training and workshop side are done by my sister. Additionally, the matcha, Teh Tarik are by my uncle and sister-in-law,” he shared.
The homegrown café was first opened during the height of the pandemic in November 2021. According to Ariff, their original plan was to open up a takeaway coffee shop in Kuala Belait.
“As soon as the endemic phase started, customers were looking for a place to hang out and catch up with family and friends. So we closed down the takeaway concept in Kuala Belait and diverted our resources to Red Door Haus,” he shared.
By June 2022, the family officially opened its doors to customers at the Red Door Haus.
“Red Door Haus is actually my parents’ residential house. You can say Elevate is a home-based business. For now, we find that operating only during the weekends works for us as it lets people have something to look forward to. But Insyallah definitely down the pipeline there are other business opportunities for Elevate and we may need to relocate to more suitable premises.”
When asked why he chose the location, Ariff shared that the decision to have the cafe at Red Door Haus was also to reduce costs.
“We saw the potential and cost efficiency in having the café at our home (Red Door Haus) as it will greatly save us on operational cost (rent) and a good way to test the market,” he added.
Since its opening, the coffee business has been getting positive responses and amazing support.
“Alhamdulillah the reception from customers has been great and inspiring,” he said.
“We started as a pop-up concept with limited seating of 12 pax. We did not expect a good turnout and response from the crowd. Currently, we have 45 seats for people to dine-in,” he further added.
With Elevate, the family wanted to create a sense of community and a comforting atmosphere as they want people to feel right at home when they come through the doors.
“At Elevate we believe in building good relationships with customers and the coffee community. The café and education side of the business is a vehicle for us to develop ourselves and the community as a whole to reach the global coffee standards,” he shared.
“We do this first by consistently serving good tasting quality coffee in a comfortable modern ambience and continuously learning and supporting each other in the community,” he added.
According to the 33-year-old, striving to offer the best possible service and quality coffee was also the inspiration for the business name, ‘Elevate’.
Elevate’s menu features specialty coffee for both espresso-based and manual brew selections.
The local business introduced a variety of crowd-pleasing drinks including their signature Freddo Cappuccino, Freddo Cappuccino, Rao Allong (Fruit bomb), Aerocano and many more.
Beyond the coffee selection, hand-made baked goods are also a big element of Elevate’s menu, following his mother and sister’s passion for baking.
Collaborating with the family’s baking business, Baked by RDH and Kuehku.bn, Elevate offers a variety cakes and pastries to choose from Victoria sandwich cake to nostalgic tiramisu.
“Our coffee menu is a typical specialty coffee shop menu that highlights the quality of the coffee beans. For the bakes we try to switch it up every weekend, to make it more exciting for the customers,” he shared
Aside from that, Elevate also organises barista, latte art and coffee workshops and training.
“At least twice a month, we have a coffee cupping session that is open for the public to experience at least 5 different types of coffee side by side, this comparative tasting will allow cuppers to understand and develop their coffee tasting skills,” he said.
“Furthermore, we do run basic latte art workshops and Foundations for Barista trainings,” he added
Recently, the coffee shop hosted several workshops including a coffee cupping and manual brew session with Marketing Manager of Nana Coffee Roasters and National Brewer’s Cup second Runner-up, Wasin Kusakabe and Moonstone Specialty Coffee.
Brewing a dream come true with Elevate
Ariff always dreamed of opening his own coffee shop. A big part of keeping that dream alive was his family, who have been a continued source of support over the years in establishing Elevate.
The homegrown business was not only a dream for the 33-year-old but also born out of the family’s genuine love for coffee and connecting with people.
“Coffee has always been a passion not just for me but the family as well. The idea of having a coffee shop has always been in the pipeline. I believe it started to materialised when both my sister and I went for Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Barista Training Course,” he shared
In addition to working full-time in the private sector, both Ariff and his sister have taken the time to learn about all things coffee. From the dark to fruity flavours, to the roasting and grinding of the drink.
To prepare themselves for running their own coffee shop, the siblings attended the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Barista Training Course in Malaysia, where they went for a series of training that ranged from the introduction to coffee to mastering the art of brewing.
“It provided us the foundation to run a coffee shop while ensuring serving good quality coffee up to SCA standards to our customers,” he added.
He came up with the inspiration of opening his very own cafe after enjoying his days grinding and mastering the art of making the perfect cup of joe during his course.
“I have been into specialty coffee since 2019, self-trained by watching videos on youtube. Later on, trained by Discover Coffee Co in Malaysia, an SCA-approved training facility for brewing and sensory in 2020,” he explained.
Elevate’s journey however had its challenges, but the family soon learned that building a business takes time and patience. Ariff noted how the transition from takeaway shop to dine-in has been a learning curve for the family business.
According to the 33-year-old, in two days, Elevate would receive around an average of four kilogramme bags of coffee beans orders.
“I think our main challenge was trying to get the ordering system and workflow right, because getting an order wrong, missing out an order or long waiting time is a turn-off for customers in general,” he said.
“There was a lot of learning curve on the ordering and workflow system. We have also improved on that and now it is better, as we have cut significantly on the waiting time,” said the business owner.
It takes teamwork to overcome the challenges, he said, highlighting their staff as the backbone of the business. “One of the ways we overcame that challenge is by having two baristas working, especially during the peak hours,” he added.
During their almost two years in the coffee business, the founders also learned the ins-and-outs of the growing coffee culture in addition to running their own café.
Ariff shared that there has been an influx of independent coffee businesses in the country over the past few weeks.
“For the past two years, I would say it has been growing exponentially. I believe during the pandemic, there was a rise in home-brewers now they have transitioned to a home-based café business. As you can see, at least every two weeks there would be a new café opening up,” the 33-year-old said.
“I totally support it because each café brings its own flair and concept. It gives customers choices to go café hopping. And what it does to the coffee market in Brunei is that now every café would up their standard and try to find that competitive edge, overall it would definitely increase the standard of cafés in Brunei overall,” he added.
When asked about future plans for Elevate, Ariff said that they are eyeing exploring more on the education side of the business including introducing more coffee classes and workshops.
“In the next few years, we envisioned Elevate to be a full-on end to end coffeeshop, meaning we would love to do green bean sourcing, roasting, coffee education, workshops and obviously café. Like a one-stop shop for customers to experience specialty coffee,” he said.
He also gave them some advice for starting up a business, highlighting the importance of focusing on the business purpose.
“You need to find your “Why” when you are opening your business. Making money is important obviously but it should be just the by-product of your business towards a greater goal,” he concluded.’
THE BRUNEIAN | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN