Of Serving Killer Bagels
When people say “mugshot”, the common association would be an unsavoury character being asked to pose in a rather drab manner – like an unconventional beauty pageant.
However, that word does mean something different when you drop by George Town, Penang. Here, ‘mugshot’ is spelled with a capital ‘M,’ and conjures images of some freshly brewed coffee, with bagels on hand and some yoghurt to end the meal. And… an optician to sort out your eyewear needs.
Also, yes, there is a spot to take your mugshot (got to live up to that name somehow…), with a small booster, for those of you who are vertically challenged.
“We were commenting about how a lot of these cafes have gimmicks, and then we just talked about mugshots. Then, ‘Bing!’ It was like a lightbulb in my head lit up – we had our gimmick, and our name, sorted!” Co-founder N. Tristan recalls his moment of the birth of Mugshot’s concept with his partner Jesse Tan. (Here’s an interesting fact: Jesse operates Rainforest Bakery, which is right next to Mugshot. Coffee on one side, baked goods on the other.)
Loud and booming, Tristan’s voice reverberates across the small table we occupy, his anecdotes and tangents eliciting laughter and huh-now-that-you-mention-it thoughts from us.
In fact, Mugshot is Tristan’s leap of faith – after he quit his job, it was sink-or-swim – no paycheck to fall back on. Mugshot was started with a very small budget, and Tristan comments that those early days shaped the new haunt’s aesthetic; just look at some of Mugshot’s furniture.
“We built some of these tables and chairs by hand, from scrap wood, and they have yet to fall apart! People come in and say that the furniture is earthy and more rustic – they thought we did this intentionally, but to me, it was simply ‘no budget!’” A carpenter offered to lend his hand at helping build the rest of Mugshot’s furniture, and some of his work – puzzles, trinkets and deco pieces – are up for sale in Mugshot.
That “no budget” reasoning also applied to Mugshot’s location. They initially thought of starting it in Kuala Lumpur but rental rates in the country’s capital proved itself a major obstacle, especially for a pair of upstarts. So they started in George Town instead – their familiar home ground.
Mugshot’s offerings, when compared to other cafes and eateries, seem limited, with coffee, bagels and yoghurt being their trinity, but don’t let that fool you. With only three items to focus on and specialise, they’ve perfected the craft of all three.
It’s reminiscent of the quote attributed to Bruce Lee, “I fear not the man who has practised 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practised one kick 10,000 times.” But in this case, it’s a lot less violent, and a lot more tasty.
Just be mindful that the yoghurt served has no added sugar, which can surprise patrons accustomed to store-bought servings.
Of course, talking about Mugshot also requires some mention of the elephant in the room, or rather, the elephant behind. The story goes that the space at the back of Mugshot was unused, and the founders posted a print advert looking for creative individuals with far-out ideas to suggest what they can do with the space.
“We received a call, and he said he wanted to open an optician business. At first, we were like, ‘uh, OK…’ and we were perplexed. However, as it turns out, he has a following of his own, and it’s doing well!”
In fact, if you go through the optician’s Facebook page (Spark Optics), you’ll find satisfied customers taking mugshots on Mugshot’s wall.
Talk about synergy.
As for what the future holds, Tristan is exploring on doing something with Mugshot’s upper floor. Nothing concrete yet, but whatever it is, it’s going to be one exciting addition to the premises.
In the meantime, if you’re ever in George Town, head to Mugshot. Get some coffee, have a bagel and yoghurt.
Of course, you should most definitely get a mugshot.
The Mugshot Café
302 Chulia Street,
George Town, Malaysia.