Firsthand: Best friends, 17, open café at Bugis while still studying in polytechnic

What were you doing at 17?

Mothership | January 09, 2024, 07:04 PM

By Hazim Didie, Iman Akidah, and Noor Ashika

Do you remember your dreams and aspirations when you were 17?

For most of us, our dreams often stay dreams. But that wasn’t the case for two best friends, who opened a café at Bugis while still studying at polytechnic.

Shortly after its opening, the café (dubbed Siësta, or “rest” in Spanish — a reference to its cozy-chill concept) went semi-viral on TikTok.

But there’s more to this project than Gen Z gimmicks and brunch fare.

Image from Siesta

A place to chill

“Ever since I was young, I've always tried to find ways to make money,” said Qays Zara Muhammad Fariq, one of the café’s founders.

The Year 1 student from Republic Polytechnic who comes from a humble background had been working part-time at Overrice, an eatery in Kampong Glam, to fund her studies.

There, she excelled for a year and a half and her hard work got her recognised as one of the eatery’s top employees.

Her diligence and passion caught the attention of Overrice’s owner, Megan Lim. Lim had been looking for an opportunity to design and revamp the unoccupied space located right above Overrice on the second level.

It wasn’t long before she decided that Qays — despite her youth — was the right person for the job.

“I could see that she is very smart and not just a person on my team, but possibly someone who could do much more,” said Lim.

Qays, who already had plans of starting her own business but lacked the resources to do so, jumped at the opportunity.

“It is a dream of mine to be a boss of my own, and it just felt that all my effort and time I have put in my career finally paid off,” she said.

As the owner of Overrice, Lim made the decision to fund Qays’ business idea, leveraging Overrice's capital.

Several months later, Siësta opened its doors.

Image from Siësta

A bumpy road

Before giving the green light on the business, Megan advised Qays to find a trusted companion to accompany her on her journey of entrepreneurship.

“Nobody can do a business alone,” she told Qays. Enter Aesha Ai Jia Patel, a Year 1 student at Singapore Polytechnic and Qays’ best friend.

From left to right, Aesha Ai Jia Patel and Qays Zara Muhammad Fariq. Image from

“I will do anything she asks me to do,” Patel joked.

Together, the pair came up with the concept of Siësta: to bring customers of different backgrounds together and provide them with a friendly environment to relax and interact with others.

“For me, I love to talk to people, but I find it hard to do so, especially in Singapore,” Qays said.

In Singapore’s fast-paced environment, Qays wanted a space where people could get together, eat food and relax.

“[So] we made the place an environment where we are able to approach anyone and start a conversation."

While Qays took to planning how the business would operate, Patel — who studies Digital Media Communications — took charge of design, from the menu to the social media posts that eventually led to the café getting attention on TikTok.

Together, they experimented with the menu, learned how to do tasks like cashiering and managing inventory, and spent their school holidays brainstorming how to bring their ideas to life.

“The grind was really hard. We were here every day, morning to night. We came at 10am and left at 12am,” said Qays.

But the opening of Siësta itself was pleasantly successful. When the duo announced the launch of their café on TikTok, their posts garnered more than 25,000 views.

The buzz led to a successful first day with enthusiastic customers waiting at their doors.

The customers weren’t the only eager ones. “I was excited to start a new chapter of my life with my best friend,” said Qays.

Running the cafe

More than the initial challenge of opening the café, the girls also had to juggle work with their number one priority: school.

Patel’s parents do not allow her to work on school days. Since Siësta is also up and running on the weekdays, Qays manages the café alone on weekdays.

Weekdays are pretty hectic for Qays. After school ends, she heads straight to Kampong Glam to work.

This often leads to her doing her daily school work during her commute between school and the café.

With the café’s popularity on the rise — they agreed that they have been getting “a lot of customers” recently — the girls also have to sacrifice a chunk of their leisure time to keep the business going strong.

But Qays is passionate about the project; after graduating, she hopes to continue running Siësta.

Expansion is also in the books. “I would definitely like to see how this place can grow,” she said.

Patel is more cautious. While she is open to continue designing for Siësta, she shared that she “hasn’t thought about the future yet because [she] feels like [she] hasn’t processed it yet”.

“It's just nice to see the growth that we had from the start to where we are now.”

A journey of growth

Apart from business expansion, Lim speaks proudly of the personal development she’s seen in the girls since Siësta’s opening.

It’s especially evident with Qays. Lim shared that the student has become more resilient and confident since opening her own café.

“In the beginning, I think I once scolded her for not clearing plates, and she cried,” Lim recalled.

“But now she takes charge and monitors things such as revenue, inventory, wastage, and customers.”

From left to right, Qays Zara Muhammad Fariq, Megan Lim (owner of Overrice) and Aesha Ai Jia Patel. Photo from Siësta

It’s clear that the girls see her as a guide and mentor. If you pay a visit to Siësta, you’ll see the tongue-in-cheek way they’ve paid tribute to Lim: the “Suparwoman Energy Drink”.

They named the drink after her because according to the girls, Lim is a girl boss.

“She’s a woman who is always on her feet and does everything at once. She is literally like Superwoman!” Qays quipped.

The energy drink is not the only quirkily-named menu item. In true Gen Z fashion, Qays and Patel decided to christen nearly all their dishes (comprising toasties, sides, and drinks) with witty, pop-culture-referencing names.

Most interestingly, however, is an item mysteriously dubbed “Uh... Anything”.

‘Anything’ is a menu item that consists of a dish and a drink for the indecisive, where the girls will whip up a mystery item for the customer.

“Teenagers often say ‘anything’ when deciding what to eat, so we decided to make ‘anything’ a menu item,” joked Patel.

“But sometimes, we don’t know what to make for the customers either!”


Address: 41 Sultan Gate, Level 2

Opening hours: Monday to Friday 5-9pm, Saturday 12-9pm, Sunday 12-6pm

This article was produced as part of Republic Polytechnic's media practicum module collaboration with Mothership.

Top image from Siësta