It has been a few years now since I started frequenting The Hangar on Arab Street. Read our original review here. Yes, it is still one of my favourites, a café that I will go out of my way to visit. The food is fab, the coffee is awesome, it is just one of the places that I always enjoy myself at. It doesn’t seem to matter who I’m meeting or if I’m just going on my own.
What is it that draws me back? A major clue to this mystery could be with the owner, Pav Khialani, the person I met on my first visit when I so rudely took a photo of his muesli as it was sitting on the table minding its own business. We struck up a conversation and within a second, I could tell how passionate he was about whatever project he was working on.
It isn’t even just about passion for coffee or sourdough or even his café, it is the amount of effort that he will put into whatever he is doing. And he is always doing something. Recently, he expanded The Hangar and installed a coffee roaster. Roasting day is Monday and you can be sure that I have invited myself down there to see how it all happens. That’s the thing about The Hangar and Pav, there’s this open, welcoming vibe.
My interview with Pav was interesting, educational and completely enjoyable. There were frequent interruptions as he welcomed customers, made someone a coffee (myself included) and looked after different things. That’s part of the life as a small business owner, the different hats you wear at all times.
Everyone I talk to has heard about The Hangar and almost all of them will say, “did you talk to Pav”. I’m pleased to say that I have and every time I’ve been there, I’ve run into someone I know (once it was a person who had moved to the UK months before!) or met a complete stranger and just started a conversation… But don’t take my word for it, head down to The Hangar on Arab Street and find out for yourself.
Thanks for talking to us, Pav! We’ll be there really soon on roasting day 😉
What’s your background and where are you from?
I was raised in North Melbourne, Australia, but then I spent several years at an international school in Kuching, Malaysia. I went back to Melbourne for University. While I was studying, I started running events and that’s how I really got into coffee. It was such a good thing in the morning and I really liked what coffee was about. It was an every day thing for me.
This was back in the old Italian roaster days when you had four to five old school roasters and predominantly, in Melbourne, cafes were run by Italians and Greeks. I worked in a fair few of them. I studied law in University. My parents thought I was a bit crazy but they truly respected and supported me by understanding that I had a keen interest and passion for coffee.
I was running a really cool cafe called Reset on St Kilda Road by the time I was 24. We did really well and served an amazing blend of old school Italian roast. After that, I went travelling and ended up in Singapore. I had a friend living here who said I should come check it out. So I came over to hang out with her and fell in love with staying in Singapore. It was safe and there was a great opportunity to run a business here.
How did it all begin? Why did you open a cafe?
I ended up at Sarnies, which is there on Telok Ayer. I put my heart and soul into Sarnies and it was real, it was free, it was crazy, messy but you’d come in and you’d have someone talking to you, like a mate. I absolutely loved Sarnies because of the reality of it. The ability for us to connect and we all knew everybody’s names.
This is where I started roasting my own beans. The first machine I got was a 200g micro roaster (one that fits on your benchtop) so I could first understand how roasting worked. I read up, researched, talked to people. I would get online and order small batches of green beans from everywhere just because I wanted to try them. Then I would actually spend two hours a day roasting… because you could only do 200 grams at a time, enough for 6 cups of coffee and it was 16 minutes a go. It was two hours of roasting every day. Then I would put them into a mystery hopper at Sarnies and tell people, it’s home roasted, let’s give it a shot. People loved it, we’d talk about it, sometimes I’d give away little bags.
After about a year, my partners and I found ourselves wanting to go in different directions. They wanted something a bit more polished and I loved the grunge. So I started The Hangar. It was 2013 and I really felt like it was time for me to do my own thing.
I was like, I’m going to do it, I’m going run my own café and I’m just going to cover each battle and take it as it comes. That way I know that what I’m doing is because I want to and I’ve tried instead of not doing something because someone is telling me it’s too hard.
So I started The Hangar and really, there were some things I tried that really were too hard… (laughs) we tried making or own croissants and I was like, wow… that really is hard. So then we tried baking sourdough and it was great. It was so much better and fresh. It was easy to maintain. I learned all about bread and how to make starter. We serve that here.
(Editor’s note: one of the best sourdoughs in Singapore. I can’t get enough of the smashed avocado and feta on The Hangar sourdough. Once I bought half a loaf from them because I loved it so much. They needed the rest for their customers otherwise I would have taken the lot.)
I love it. I love our culture here. People feel like they belong. We have people who have moved overseas and when they come back, they call me and they say we’re coming in. People have their marriage ceremonies here, going away parties, birthday parties because they say there is nowhere else they’d rather have it. We have a community going here that is amazing.
Tell us about your coffee. You’re completely self-taught so how did you find out so much about it?
I just kept roasting and trying. Eventually I figured it out. If you do something enough, you come to understand what you are looking for.
If you do something enough, you come to understand what you are looking for.
I figured out what regions had the sort of beans I was looking for. The ones that made you feel good, were balanced in acidity, well processed… then I started to take little trips. I got involved in the green coffee bean community. I met a guy named Henry Yeo, a Singaporean who started when he was young, had lots of street smarts and figured out how to import green coffee beans. He loved his coffee and eventually started his business supplying roasters and bringing in green coffee as well as spices. To be a local business and compete with the big coffee providers, that’s admirable so I’m always happy to support him.
For my beans, I sample everything. I never take awards or what people tell me at face value. For me, I have to taste and try everything and see how it stacks up. That’s the only way to find out how good a coffee is. You have to roast it for yourself, try it for yourself, enjoy the experience and then share that experience. That’s the only way to determine if the bean is as good as people say it is.
We only use single origin here because the whole blending thing, logically, doesn’t make sense to me. Some of the processes involved in getting a coffee bean can take nine months… There is so much involved just to get that little green bean. So we use single origin because I like people to taste the coffee for what it is. To try the original flavour so the significance of it and hit you get from it is clear. Each bean is different and has different characteristics so I wouldn’t want to blend multiple types of beans together.
Who are your regulars?
We get everyone. People who work in the area or live in the area. People who love their coffee. We get tourists, the brunch crowd looking for a bit of energy. We get everyone. Then at night, we get the party crowd, the people who want great music, good drinks and great craft beer.
What’s in your hopper?
We have our own roasts. We change it all the time and everything is roasted here. I don’t like buying roasted beans from other places because here, I have the ability to control all the elements that bring out great tasting, fresh, well-bodied beans. I can push out what I love and the whole experience is one of sharing and being able to share what I love with other people.
Describe your menu.
It’s all fresh and raw (not literally), good, home-cooking, Aussie style. I design our own menu and we do everything in house. It’s good, hearty food that’s real and you look at it on a plate and are like wow, I want to eat that.
What’s your favorite part of having a cafe?
Coming in here when there’s a good vibe. It’s filled with heaps of people. You can enjoy a great cup of coffee, good conversation. It’s like a magical feeling that I get from this great community and the energy people get from being here. That’s what I love. It takes two hands to clap so we love the interaction. We’re just who we are and we love the conversation. That’s what makes The Hangar.
It’s like a magical feeling that I get from this great community and the energy people get from being here.
I feel like The Hangar is an extension of myself and my personality. It goes for my staff as well. If our personalities fit, I’d like them to be here and work here. They carry on the culture and keep it all going even if I’m not here all the time.
Any interesting things you’re working on at the moment?
We’re totally looking to create a jazz and blues scene here. There are lots of original artists and musicians who don’t have a location or avenue to do their music. Most of it’s geared to mainstreem… At The Hangar, no matter who you come with, you’ll meet someone else here. Someone will start talking to you and before you know it, you’re part of the party. That’s probably what we do the best.
What would you say to anyone opening an independent cafe or wanting to be a barista?
I would say, if you really love people, being creative and are keen to produce an extension of yourself then definitely do it. It creates so much joy and love that it overshoots all the tough times we have just trying to run a business… If you believe in something and love it, you’ll do well.
For more information visit their Facebook page thehangarsg
25 Arab Street, Singapore 199724
Phone: +65 6291 0127
Everyday from 9am to 10pm
This article originally appeared on vanillabeige.com and may have been edited for this platform.