A Drink With... Leon Foo, CEO Of Papa Palheta

Close Up

November 4, 2018 | BY Chong Seow Wei

The coffee entrepreneur behind Papa Palheta on his daily grind, and making a difference

Don’t call Leon Foo a coffee snob. The founder and CEO of coffee purveyor Papa Palheta, which first started as a roastery in 2009, is in fact “very forgiving” of brews that disagree with his discerning and well-trained palate. The exception: when it comes from Papa Palheta. “I know how hard it is to get every cup right”, says the 36-year-old Generation T 2018 honouree. “Whether someone’s brew is good or not is also subjective, so I don’t fuss if it’s bad. However, if it’s our own, it had better be good!”

On the average, Leon drinks four cups of coffee a day, which include filtered types and espressos. Coffee cupping and reviewing his company’s recently launched range of capsules are also often part of his daily grind. He also makes it a point to keep in close contact with the overseas producers his company works with, visiting their farms about once every two years or inviting them to Singapore to host masterclasses. These days, Leon is also advancing his company’s offerings with a mobile-first approach for its e-retail business, and a new sensory-focused retail store that will open at the revamped Funan mall in 2019.

Something’s brewing
“I didn’t establish Papa Palheta because I had a Eureka moment. It was a more progressive endeavour. The first city I did my research on was Melbourne in 2008. I took a coffee course, which got me thinking about the difference I could make with coffee.”

Human touch    
“What often differentiates one cafe from the next is the experience it brings its customers. I personally enjoy my time in a cafe better when the barista is a bit chattier. Like bartenders, they are the concierge of the city. They can tell you about the country and give you tips on what to eat, drink and see.”

Conscious effort
“As a company, we stick to our beliefs. We only work with producers who are passionate about their work and who run their businesses responsibly, ethically and sustainably, just as we aim to do with ours. Our costs may be higher because of this but we want to stay true to ourselves.” 

Hard truths
“The toughest part about being a coffee entrepreneur is dealing with the amount of competition in the industry and running Papa Palheta’s four business arms—wholesale, cafe, education and equipment distribution—all at the same time. Thankfully, I have a very capable and close-knit team to help me.”

Leon says…

Dream collaborator…
Apple—it’s making a difference with technology

Favourite cafe that isn’t his own…
Clan Cafe at Straits Clan

Passions not many know about…
Running and sailing

Greatest fear…
Not being able to learn fast enough