He owns a culture-forward cocktail bar which opened its doors less than a year before Covid-19 hit.

During the circuit breaker and in Phase 2, when dining in at F&B outlets were not allowed in Singapore, and many bars and restaurants were struggling to survive amid Covid-19 restrictions, he decided to rally his team to give back to the community.

Yugnes Susela, founder of The Elephant Room, tells The Pride in a video: “When we were going through circuit breaker, one thing I realised was that the dormitories were locked up and the migrant workers couldn’t leave.”

As Hari Raya was approaching, the team wanted to do something for the migrant workers as a gesture of appreciation. They bought Milo packet drinks and pineapple tarts and delivered them to the dormitories.

He says: “These guys built this bar. In this period of time, we need to give back to society, especially to these people who build our nation.”

“That felt very good, not only for me, but for the whole team.”

Situated in the Keong Saik Road nightlife enclave, The Elephant Room draws its inspiration from the sights, sounds and flavours of Singapore’s Little India.

Susela says that it wasn’t easy keeping the bar afloat, and told his team the harsh truth right from the get-go: “I told them that businesses are going to close down, some people will go out of jobs, people are not going to buy our food and drinks.”

“We made everyone realise the most important thing right now is to stay alive. And I told them, my goal is that at the end of the month, they are still surviving.”

Adapting to survive

The Elephant Room had to adapt quickly in order to survive, building an e-commerce platform with an easily accessible ordering system. Susela even roped in a team member’s father, a Grab driver who wasn’t getting enough rides, to help with deliveries, which allowed him to earn some extra income.

Susela treats his team like family, and his customers like extended family.

He says that on top of the usual food delivery, The Elephant Room made chocolates and welcome drinks and gave it to customers complimentary with their orders.

He adds that they also regularly check in with their customers: “We ask them ‘how are you coping in this current period? Do you need anything from us?’ We kept that conversation going and a lot of our customers were really touched by that.”

Even though things continue to look bleak for the F&B industry in Phase 3 and beyond, Susela says that it is important to be realistic and communicate closely with his team, allowing them to have a sense of belonging.

“If you are able to make your team members think that this business is not only mine, but yours, things will change,” he says.

“You can be a part-timer coming in here and work four hours a day. But if you feel a bit of ownership, that four hours is golden for everyone.”

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