“But I do want to become a better barista,” adds Douglas. “Talking to customers and connecting with them lets me understand their drinking taste and preference.”
A self-taught barista, Douglas learned to make coffee not from any coffee houses and or established coffee chains, but at Tolido’s Espresso Nook when he was still in school. Then a snack bar of the same name run by his mother at the Omni Theatre, Douglas would help out by making coffee whenever he’s free. He says that latte art fascinates him and he would try brew a cuppa with the tiny coffee machine his mum had at her snack bar. “Eventually, I got hooked on coffee and its flavor and started to take the craft more seriously.”
Of Tolido’s Espresso Nook, which he took over from his mother in 2011, he says: “Tolido’s is all about coffee and food made from the heart and bringing people closer to each other. We’ve also sheltered a rescue cat named Lucky and our customers are fond of its presence.”
Eastie Brekkie susses up with Douglas over a warm cup of artisanal latte to learn more about Lucky’s presence and how coffee turns strangers into friends.
Q: Let’s talk about Tolido’s Espresso Nook. What is the concept behind the café?
Tolido’s is all about comfort food and good coffee made with passion, love and attention. No frills, no pretense. It’s all about having good vibes, reminiscent of the good old times.
Tolido’s started out as a snack bar run by my mother at the Omni Theatre at the Singapore Science Centre. We used to serve over-the-counter snacks like hot dogs and popcorn – food we think are suitable for moviegoers and travelers.
Then, one day, we were told that the Omni Theatre had to be revamped into a children's museum and were given six months’ to move out. At that point in time, I considered myself to be a self-taught barista, so I partnered with two other chefs and started Tolido's Espresso Nook at Crawford Lane.
Q: What sparked your interest in coffee making?
Back during our Omni Theatre days, I used to make coffee from the tiny coffee machine my mum had in her snack bar. I found the process of making latte interesting, particularly pouring steamed milk into a shot of espresso and resulting in a nice pattern or design on the surface of the drink. During my free time, I helped out at my mum’s snack bar, making coffee and serving customers. Eventually, I got hooked on coffee and its flavor and started to take the craft more seriously.
Q: Coffee-wise, what were your growing up years like?
I didn’t like coffee but I fancied latte art. Slowly I began to discover that latte art is only the tip of the iceberg in learning how to make a good cup of coffee...that’s how I started to fall in love with the craft.
As I became more exposed to latte art, I also made some great friends who helped me to fine tune my craft. That’s how I moved from being just a self-taught barista to a semi-professional. All in all, it has been years of continuous learning on the job and there is definitely no end to it.
Q: Describe your community-building strategy.
Being a simpleton, I never strategized. What I planned, though, was for Tolido’s Espresso Nook to really be a place that people can call “home”.
It all started some years back when my mom and I were frustrated about finding a decent place for breakfast in Singapore that wasn’t too expensive. McDonald’s seemed to be the best option. That’s how we got started making breakfast that’s tasty and affordable not for ourselves, but for everyone. We wanted to give people a nice ambiance along with solid dishes without charging atas (Malay for ‘high end’) prices. So we put our plan into action and turned it into a community of regulars who come to us like they’re returning home from outside, and the base just kept growing.
Q: What’s the story behind Lucky’s appearance at Tolido’s Espresso Nook?
Lucky’s a neighborhood cat and a victim of severe abuse from some mad cat abuser living in the area. The guy – whoever he is – would burn and scar Lucky with cigarette butts (I know, right?). It’s heart-wrenching seeing Lucky getting tortured, so we took it upon ourselves to bring Luck to the SPCA because we felt that he needed immediate medical attention and, ideally, TLC from a loving owner.
When we brought Lucky to SPCA, staff told us that they could only keep Lucky for seven days, or they’ll put him to sleep if no-one adopts him. We were thinking, ‘Nope, that’s not going to happen!’ We bought antiseptic cream and make sure that Luck’s kept clean and only around when the café’s almost empty, in case there are any customers who’re uncomfortable and or allergic to cats.
Q: Name one dish/coffee drink that you are proud of. Is/Are there seasonal must-haves that you would like to recommend to our readers?
Okay, I think I’ve shared enough about myself… So I’m going to give my partners the glory. I’m proud of their signature 426 Prawn Laksa Pasta.
In keeping in line with Eastie Brekkie’s motto, I’ll go ahead and say that I’m proud of our Truffle Scrambled Eggs and Sea-salt Caramel Latte.
We don’t exactly have a seasonal menu; whatever’s on our menu is there due to popular demand. But the three dishes I’d recommend you try are the 426 Prawn Laksa Pasta, Rosti with Smoked Bratwurst and Pandan Pancakes. Top it off with a cup of coffee of your choice and you’ll get a flavorful combination of exquisite local tastes – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We have loads of other awesome stuff on the menu you must try!
Q: Why the name “462 Prawn Laksa Pasta”?
462 is the block number Tolido’s Espresso Nook is located at. The team put in a lot of effort into making this dish great and we wanted to give the dish a name that represents us, like the 328 Katong Laksa. Besides, we wanted a name that’s close to home because home is where the heart is. So we thought, hey, how about calling our dish 462 Prawn Laksa Pasta?
Q: Any expansion plans – and why?
There’s not going to be any expansion plans - well, not at the moment - because we want to focus on sustainability and polish the rough edges of this uncut diamond. We want to make our food and drinks better for our customers because that’s what makes us happy. Additionally, I’m currently studying for my degree part-time and have two more years to go before graduation. Any plans for expansion would be suicide.
Q: Please complete this sentence. Home is…
Tolido’s Espresso Nook! We try to make our place as cozy as possible for people.
Tolido's Espresso Nook is located at #01-63, 462 Crawford Lane, Singapore 190462.