By Ian Michael Yam (20A01A), Rachael Koh (20S07C), Sarah Lok (20A03A) and Michele Pek (20A01A)
Special thanks to Damien Yau for taking time to let us interview him and share his insights; without him, this story would not have been brought to light.
5km² aims to discover the unexplored places and untold stories of the Bishan community, spoken through words and photographs. Raffles Institution has been rooted here for 29 years, and many of us spend disproportionately more time in school than at home; yet, most of us don’t really explore the places around us past Junction 8, or maybe even S11. This begs the question: as residents, how much do we actually know about Bishan? What hidden gems does the unassuming 5km² area around us hold?
Tucked away in a corner, not far from S11, is a tiny homegrown gelato shop that most wouldn’t expect to be there. The unobservant eye would gleefully glance over one of Bishan’s finest gems: Denzy.
Make no mistake of this store’s minimalist decor for an impersonal frigidity. While a little cold at first glance, the shop’s warmth and fuzziness quickly unfurled themselves as we settled into our seats: a jazzy cafe soundtrack, the slight buzz of regulars, and the graciously welcoming smile Damien wears all embrace us in a cheerful intimacy. Behind the counter, chances are that you will see Damien—and his loved ones, be it mother or girlfriend—whipping out scoops of gelato, evidently mesmerised in the joy of their work as much as we savoured it.
His story is one of a three-decade-old Bishan Boy trying to grow his Bishan Business while tending to his neighbourhood. After opting to study culinary arts in Italy, he boldly decided to venture into this gelato business before he got too much older. Starting a business was tough in the beginning, but Damien quickly learnt the important lessons of being humble, listening to feedback, and understanding his customers’ needs better. Despite the steep learning curve, Damien had this to say:
“If I start a business, I might as well give it the best shot I can.”
Damien sees gelato as a canvas: a creative space for him to freely create refreshingly novel flavours derived from a multitude of cultures. Borne out of his innate desire to bring new combinations to Singapore, he stays away from the flavours that Singaporeans have been accustomed to eating; for example, the flavours “Bondi Beach” and “Persian Prince” were derived from his culinary escapades in Milan whilst “Elderflower Mojito” was inspired by the Balinese.
Each flavour, having its own story, has its own character. When asked to describe his gelatos if they were people, Damien affectionately stated that they were “unafraid to stand out”, and “loved their unique selves”, perhaps reflecting his hopes for the brand and its future creations. As his brand’s three-striped logo signifies his quest for constant progress, Damien aims to continue developing new flavours based on “trends and whatnot”, most recently being the incoming vegan and low sugar trends.
Other than his flavours, another unique feature of Denzy is its role in the neighbourhood. Despite Bishan’s centralised location, we often find ourselves holing up in Junction 8, or travelling away from Bishan to the greener pastures of NEX or The Star Vista; it is often with joy in our hearts and hunger in our stomachs that we see a unique, homegrown cafe. Damien agreed with us on this: as a Bishan resident for the past thirty years, he didn’t understand why people had to travel outside to go to a cafe. His strong connections to the area thus inspired him to create something that made Bishan special.
“The F&B industry in Singapore is quite competitive, and we have only been around for 4 months… for people to tell us that we are on par with established brands is one major milestone for us.”Damien
Damien prides himself in being the ice-cream parlour in the neighbourhood, and tries to go above and beyond to be a neighbour to everyone: he balances keeping prices competitive with keeping them friendly to customers. It therefore comes as no surprise that Denzy has a strong following—one customer even came all the way from Jurong just to eat his gelato!
When we asked him “why Bishan?”, we expected an answer about Bishan’s prime location, or customer base, or some other dry Economics concept.
Instead, he pointed to the block outside the window, and said: “I live there.”