Is it a cafe, a supermarket or a new age gym? In fact, new hang-outs here are all of those things, and more. Selling an entire lifestyle rather than mere merchandise, the latest integrated spaces draw you in with a slew of novel activities and exclusive products, often bearing little synergy with one another on the first visit. This new form of experience-centric retail encourages shoppers to not just pop in for an impulse buy, but to stay on, explore and – hopefully – spend a little more than they bargained for.
From a trampoline gym that boasts an in-house nail salon in case you messed up your mani performing a backflip, to the ultimate multi-hyphenate space that includes two eateries, a supermarket, a qigong studio, a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) clinic and a preschool; you’d probably need an itinerary the next time you head out to the shops.
1. Mahota Commune
The multi-concept space was conceived by Tan Yong Shao, a law and legal philosophy graduate from the London School of Economics and scion of the Prime Supermarket dynasty – as well as a member of the headline-making Tan family that houses 80 members under one roof in a 32-room multi-generational house.
“When you have a huge group of family members who want to live together, and do so for a good reason, you have to think about sustainability – to the environment, to the business, and to the community,” explains Tan, who is recently married. “The word ‘sustainability’ might have become a cliche, but it truly applies to our family. And whether it is the need for crop rotation in farming, or sustaining a business that will support many generations, diversity is at the heart of sustainability.”
While the space might appear to be a hodgepodge of ideas, each nook and concept is a culmination of Tan’s family’s massive business empire, headed by his father Tan Hong Khoon. When the family’s pig farm in Punggol, the largest in Singapore, was phased out for redevelopment, the elder Tan built the Prime Supermarket chain. But he didn’t stop there, venturing to China to acquire an island upon which a pagoda and lighthouse, called mao ta in Chinese, was situated. This inspired the new retail venue’s name, “Mahota”. Today, Prime Group International operates multiple integrated resorts, international schools, a restaurant, an architecture firm, and a 130-acre (52.6 hectare) farm — employing organic and biodynamic methods implemented by the younger Tan. To assist with merchandising for Mahota Commune, the group has even set up offices in Tokyo and Perth to source for unique and sustainable products.
The idea for Mahota Commune all began when Tan moved to China for several years to run the sprawling farm – fuelled by fertilisers from a compost system that takes up an eighth of the land, and used the pork and produce from the farm for a hot pot restaurant that he started in Shanghai. Mining his experience in sustainable produce and F&B, he created the East-meets-West restaurant concept at Mahota Commune. Think tagliatelle made from spinach puree as an entree, or orh nee (a Teochew yam paste dish) encased within a fried charcoal tofu shell, created by the restaurant’s in-house tofu chef, for dessert. Although not everything is organic, food at the eateries are made from fresh ingredients sourced from sustainable farmers. And for total vertical integration, this delicious menu will be adapted for tots when a Mahota Commune preschool is launched at the end of the year.
Want to replicate the dishes at home? Most of the ingredients used in the kitchen are found in the supermarket, which stocks up to 70 per cent organic products, including produce from the Mahota farm in China and other local organic farms such as Quan Fa. The supermarket also includes a wine section that stocks only organic wines, and varietals from the group’s own winery in China.
Meanwhile, staff enjoy perks such as free qigong sessions, while the public can also take part in free neighbourhood walks led by Mahota Commune staff, meditation classes and yoga practices in a glass-clad studio – all part of the group’s commitment to wellness and health.
“We aren’t concerned about confusion,” admits Tan. “We are happy for customers to engage with the place however they like, whether it is the good coffee or the good food, and hopefully this will grow into a way of life, a sustainable way of living.”
Downing some java before a workout could increase the amount of calories burnt and even make you perceive exercise to be less difficult and more enjoyable, according to research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. So the founders of Yoga Movement and Common Man Coffee Roasters might be on to something when they joined forces to launch a new cafe-yoga studio space at Robertson Quay.
Taking over the space formerly occupied by Argentinian restaurant Bochinche (which has moved to Amoy Street) is the yoga group’s fifth studio and Grounded, an al fresco cafe by the Spa Esprit Group, and Common Man Coffee Roasters and 40 Hands owner Harry Grover.
“I’ve been friends with Alicia (Pan) and Peter (Thew), owners of Yoga Movement, for a while now because 40 Hands is located right across their studio at Tiong Bahru,” says Grover, who kickstarted the specialty coffee trend here with the opening of 40 Hands in 2010.
“We have always talked about starting something together and we were actually considering a new space in the east, but I was struggling with keeping down costs with the slow retail market. Instead, when I realised that Bochinche was moving out because it didn’t need such a big space and was located on the second floor, we decided to pitch to the Spa Esprit Group together to take over the venue.”
Launched just last week, the space on Martin Road is located right above brunch and coffee haven Common Man Coffee Roasters, and houses two yoga studios and the cafe, Grounded. The eatery features a brand-new menu of “nutritional food that doesn’t taste like cardboard” that deviates from the hearty fare served at its sister restaurant. Instead, superfoods star in dishes such as a takeaway Summer Chia Pudding (with honey Greek yoghurt, berry compote and a coconut crunch), while smoothies help fuel yogis before and after their sessions, besides a range of kickass coffees. Oh, and it even has a couple of borderline sinful, hot food options from the Common Man kitchen: Matcha pancakes with dragonfruit jam, berries, whipped mascarpone and lavender honeycomb; and the Balanced Burger, with folded organic eggs, streaky bacon, kale, spring onions and sriracha mayonnaise on a brioche bun.
“Yoga Movement is so not about om-ing and chanting, they are a lot about strength training and power flow classes, so yoga and coffee is a really good marriage,” explains Grover, whose staff enjoy free yoga classes while yoga instructors get free coffee at the joint.
“Besides, the challenges of high rent and shortage of manpower here force businesses to be more creative. Pete has been pitching modern fitness as a destination lifestyle experience rather than taking place in commercial gym chains, while we know we have to go beyond serving great coffee within four walls.”
While the idea of wolfing down a hot meal or even a cocktail after a 90-minute Monster Hot class might not be the most obvious post-workout activity, Grover says that yoga students are already getting excited about the cafe next door.
“You’re usually pretty sweaty after a Yoga Movement class and want to rush off home,” says Grover. “But we have had yoga students mention that they will bring a change of clothes the next time they come for class so they can have a shower and hang out with us.”
3. Hotel Jen Tanglin
“Hotel Jen caters to business and leisure travellers who have the ‘millennial mindset’,” says Vathsala Subramaniam, general manager of Hotel Jen Tanglin Singapore. “This typically means that when it comes to travel, our guests value experience and authenticity, and they want to actually get to know Singapore, even if they are here for the night on a business trip or stopover.”
And if you were passing through the establishment on Oct 22, you might think that Singaporeans are a fitness-obsessed, eco-conscious lot. The hotel is organising Green Is The New Black, a one-day festival that gathers 80 conscious and mindful local brands and influencers. Its restaurant, J65, will transform into a marketplace where local brands and start-ups will set up shop and showcase their produce throughout the day.
“We will be holding workshops dotted around the hotel, available to the public who can learn about nature, consciousness, health and wellbeing – the day will start off with early morning yoga by the pool, for instance,” says Subramaniam. “We will also have a line-up of speakers and experts who will be speaking on stage throughout the day.”
The event is just the latest in a series of activities curated by the hotel to enhance the experience of guests and local visitors. This includes the Superlife Affair, a mini market of natural products such as organic cotton clothing, probiotic water kefir, and chemical-free skincare by 15 local start-ups, held at the hotel’s Kitchen On-the-Go cafe earlier this month. Another particularly popular event was the Next Jen Coffee: Latte Art Throwdown, in which 32 local baristas battled it out to develop the most creative latte; as well as #NextJenCraft, which saw the hotel transformed into a creative enclave through a fair of handcrafted goods, artisanal snacks, specialty coffees and calligraphic art.
“This event formed part of our wider #NextJen campaign, which aims to support local talents from artists to artisan products,” adds Subramaniam. “The hotel provides a platform for these local entrepreneurs to showcase their passion to an international audience. For our business guests, we provide a welcome distraction to the otherwise busy schedules they often keep, and introduce them to a side of Singapore they may not have found on their own by bringing the local Singaporean community to them.”
Besides providing luxe accommodation for travellers, the hotel also serves as a kind of creative platform for visitors and locals alike. As much as it is a typical hotel with plush rooms, function spaces and restaurants, it is also a sometime flea market and even full-time art gallery.
“We look to enrich the experience of our guests, and leave them with a feeling that they have seen a more authentic side of Singapore beyond the tall buildings and MRT system,” says Subramaniam. “Singapore is bursting with talent, entrepreneurship and creativity, from self-made baristas, to social enterprise fashionistas looking to combat human trafficking through fashion; to artists who love nothing better than to paint beautiful designs on walls (check out the mural The Parents Parents created for us by the swimming pool), and we aim to be a platform through which they can reach a wider audience.”
4. The Yard
The worst part about signing your kid up for a class might be the hole in your pocket, but the next most painful bit is the waiting. The duration of an enrichment lesson is not long enough for folks to pop off for a movie, but way too long to spend catching up on listicles that have gone viral.
Say “hello” to The Yard, a brand-new 20,000 square foot integrated sports centre with a lifestyle twist. It combines gymnastics; trampolining; parkour; a studio for yoga, pilates, TRX and Zumba; a nail salon, a member’s lounge, and eventually a personal training studio and a physiotherapy studio under one roof.
“I noticed that parents would often be hanging around the gym for one, two, or three hours at a time on a Saturday while their kids took gymnastics classes – and they wouldn’t have anything to do except wait around,” says The Yard founder Rosanna Trigg, who also runs specialist gymnastics programmes for international schools.
“The Yard exists to give families options and a comfortable space to join in on the fun. Families can stay active and spend more time together, whether it’s getting active in our classes, getting themselves pampered or simply relaxing over a cuppa at our lounge.”
Touted as a state-of-the-art sporting arena, The Yard caters to sports enthusiasts of all ages, starting from gymnastics classes for mums and six-month-old babies, or drop-in gym sessions for adults, to training students to get into competitive gymnastics squads and competing around the country and the region. All classes are conducted by qualified, experienced coaches and trainers.
“This is hugely important, and something I am personally very passionate about,” explains Trigg, a graduate in sports science and mother of one. “I think it’s very easy to forget that doing something like jumping on a trampoline actually requires a certain level of skill, and therefore you need experienced, trained professionals to guide you and support you to ensure that what you’re doing is safe.”
But while The Yard is very much geared towards serious fitness and adrenaline junkies, with equipment such as Olympic-quality trampolines that are extra bouncy, it does not shy away from lifestyle services in the fear of putting off sports junkies.
“A parkour enthusiast might never set foot in the nail bar, and that’s okay – they have 13,000 sq ft of space to get their fix,” says Trigg. “A parent waiting around for their child to do a class might have a mani-pedi or spend an hour drinking coffee and watching their son or daughter from the member’s lounge. I don’t believe this variety dilutes our branding – it’s what we’re all about. The Yard is a venue for absolutely everyone, and a place where the wider community can convene.”
Adapted from The Business Times.