Business in the time of Covid-19: George Town’s iconic Mugshot Cafe adds new dessert table, plans to open new cafe in suburbia

Mugshot’s Jesse Tan with one of the many cakes on display. — Pictures by Steven Ooi KE
Mugshot’s Jesse Tan with one of the many cakes on display. — Pictures by Steven Ooi KE

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GEORGE TOWN, April 3 — 2020 was a gloomy year for the food and beverage sector in Penang, with many small cafes, hawkers and restaurants closing by early 2021. 

Mugshot Cafe, one of the survivors, has eight years of experience under its belt and though also hard hit, took the chance to revamp with plans for a new outlet in another neighbourhood.

Located in the heart of George Town, the cafe saw a drastic dip in customers when the country’s borders and state borders were closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The cafe’s co-founder, Jesse Tan, said their customer-base was mostly made up of visitors and tourists so when tourism dipped, they suffered.

The cafe switched to delivery mode with Tan, who bakes the bread and pastries for the cafe, also taking charge of the delivery. 

“We had to offer delivery of our breads and sandwiches for our regular customers during the first MCO last year to survive,” he said, referring to the movement control order or lockdown which was imposed on March 18.

Once the MCO was lifted, though dine-in resumed, it was not as it was before as the number of customers had dropped.

Tan said they were considering revamping and enhancing their product range when a baker, who had been retrenched, applied to work at the cafe with a delicious proposal.

There are about 20 different types of baked desserts and cakes on offer each day.
There are about 20 different types of baked desserts and cakes on offer each day.

She suggested a range of unique cakes for Mugshot. “We decided to hire her and try out her proposal sometime in June last year,” Tan said.

He gave the freedom to plan out the type of cakes on offer and that was the birth of a dessert table at Mugshot.

Previously, the cafe only offered a limited number of desserts such as cream puffs, carrot cake, butter cake and mole cake but now, it has a separate dessert table displaying a dozen different types of cakes. 

“We have about 20 different types of baked desserts and cakes each day and we change about 40 per cent of the flavours daily,” he said.

Treat yourself to a lamington (left) and a slice of the very popular Onde-onde cake.
Treat yourself to a lamington (left) and a slice of the very popular Onde-onde cake.

There are now pear hazelnut streusels, lemon poppy sour cream, lamington and chocolate bundt but Tan said the most popular has to be their onde-onde cake, a soft, rich creamy concoction infused with gula melaka, pandan and generously covered in coconut shavings. 

The addition of cakes and desserts was not the only change at Mugshot as they are also revamping their range of sandwiches, breads and croissants. 

“We are adding new ingredients and experimenting with high quality imported ingredients like butter and flour to bring out richer and better flavours in our food,” he said.

There are also various types of sandwiches to choose from at Mugshot.
There are also various types of sandwiches to choose from at Mugshot.

Crumbz

While the cafe in the city centre continues to offer sandwiches, bagels, yogurt and dessert with its coffee and teas, they are also brewing up something new in the growing township of Tanjung Tokong.

Plans are underway for the opening of a second outlet in Tanjung Tokong but the new cafe will be called “Crumbz.”

“Mugshot has a rustic image suited to the heritage site but Crumbz will be different because it will be located in a new mall called City Junction,” Tan explained.

He said the decor of the new cafe will be modern contemporary and it will offer an extended food menu.

Mugshot has a rustic image suited to the Heritage Site where it is located.
Mugshot has a rustic image suited to the Heritage Site where it is located.

“It will offer light meals such as finger food, breakfast sets and pasta,” he said.

The new cafe is their way of trying to capture the local market as it is located away from tourism spots such as the Unesco World Heritage Site or the nearby malls, Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon.

He said Mugshot attracted mostly tourists and visitors with some regulars who are locals but they want to focus on attracting a more local market with Crumbz by opening it closer to the residential areas of Tanjung Tokong. 

He said an upscale supermarket, Village Grocer, is also set to open at the new mall soon so it will bring additional traffic to the new cafe. 

Even though Crumbz will be sporting a new menu, it will also offer all of Mugshot’s signature items as well as Rainforest Bakery’s breads. 

“All items that are available in Mugshot will be available in Crumbz and the prices will be the same too,” Tan said. 

Mugshot still accepts orders for delivery through WhatsApp at 011-26447007. A menu of items for delivery each day can be obtained by sending a message to the number. 

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