Dave Lim – Founder of Sun Ray Cafe Dreamworks Private Limited

Opening a cafe without knowing how to cook is not necessarily a good start but it has not prevented Dave Lim from producing a success story.

What’s your story?

I started Sun Ray Cafe ten years ago with my eyes wide shut. To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting into. I was a vegetarian. I grew up with domestic help. I didn’t even know how to boil an egg.

Fast forward a decade in time, and we’re not just any regular cafe, but one of the few pet-friendly cafes who roasts its own coffee beans three times a week and bakes its bread in-house. Meanwhile, we’ve also started an e-commerce business selling our selection of coffees and teas, and are now looking to expand.

What excites you most about your industry?

Recently, I’ve noticed a growing number of younger Singaporeans who are not just interested in frequenting cafes but learning more about the industry. They don’t want to just snap pictures of the latte art. They want to get hands-on learning how to make good-quality, delicious and ethically-sourced pour-over. As someone who has always believed in competency over branding, this is very heartening. I think we’re witnessing a slow but steady change in consumer mindsets.

dave stolen

What drives you in business to push beyond what other people consider normal?

Singapore, as a rule, is a very harsh place for any SME. The rent is high, and constantly growing higher. There are about 9467 different regulations that must be followed at all times.

What I want to do is to create a business that’s not merely transactional. I want to pursue social good, by finding under-the-radar coffee farmers, showcasing quality products or nurturing the next generation of baristas/tea masters.

What have been the most useful skills you have learnt and applied in your journey?

The most useful skill you can have is curiosity. As a business owner, you should never stop learning and questioning conventional wisdom.

When I started in the business, everyone told me there was no market for specialty teas. You either make syrupy fruit-flavoured iced teas or not at all. However, through a mix of persistence and education, we’ve realised that many Singaporeans do appreciate a good quality pot of Wulong or Pu’er. You just need to get them to try.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?

守破離 (Shuhari) is a Japanese martial arts proverb which I always try to keep in mind.

First, you learn or adhere to the fundamentals. (守) Then you break/subvert the rules and forge your own way. (破) Finally, you leave or depart from the system entirely. (離)

Who inspires you?

The countless craftsmen who are still constantly and tirelessly honing their skill. The sushi chef who’s up every morning at 4 to get the freshest product. The brewer who still watches every batch personally.

What have you learnt recently that blew you away?

Learning about Sake for my Certified Sake Professional course has been an eye-opening experience. In Singapore, we measure a business in dollars and cents. In Japan, they do it with centuries. Some of the oldest Sake breweries have been going strong for more than 800 years. Their recipes are older than most countries!

We need to cultivate such a culture in Singapore. For the F&B industry to thrive, we need a community who is willing to share knowledge, to pass on skills and knowledge to the next generation.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?

I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I would not be here today if not for the lessons I learnt–painful or otherwise.

That being said, if I had a chance to start over, I would have sought out a good mentor. As much as I love charging ahead and defying expectations, many of the mistakes I made could have been avoided if I took a step back and sought out solid advice from solid people.

How do you unwind?

Dim Sum, Pu’er Tea and the company of good friends. When they come together, I feel refreshed and ready for anything.

What is a major mindset change, belief shift or ‘ah ha’ moment that you’ve experienced in relation to your business?

The biggest game-changer was when we began sourcing our own coffee beans across Asia. Firstly, we were able to reduce our costs and pass on the savings to consumers.

Secondly and more importantly, getting into contact with coffee farmers drastically improved our knowledge of the product. It helped us to understand the challenges facing various coffee-growing communities and how they affect quality, prices, availability. Thanks to this knowledge, we could constantly improve our coffee whilst keeping prices democratic in an undemocratic time.

Everyone in business should read this book:

Armies of Sand: The Past, Present, and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness by Kenneth M. Pollack. It’s a fascinating study of how cultural attitudes and mindsets can shape organisations–military, corporate or otherwise.

dave candid

Shameless plug for your business:

We are the only cafe which sources its own beans, roasts them 3 times a week and sells you a cuppa for just $3.00. Come in and sample an ice-drip, first-flush Darjeeling whilst your dog enjoys a bento set. If you are looking for a solid F&B mentor, join us as a franchisee!

How can people connect with you?


Social Media Links?


This interview is part of the CallumConnects series.

About The EnterpriseZone Writing Team

Shining A Light on the Small Business World and highlighting Entrepreneurial Investing Opportunities.