From consultancy to F&B: How Jigger & Pony’s Indra Kantono pioneered Singapore’s cocktail bar scene using great corporate culture to set the foundations

Set the Tables
“The characteristics that encapsulate the Jigger & Pony experience are moulded by our mission statement that is to provide a place in this community where people can find comfort, forge friendships, and share happiness.” – Indra Kantono and his wife, Gan Guoyi are well-known as the pioneering entrepreneurs who set the stage for cocktail bars to follow in Singapore.

In 2012, without any prior industry experience, power couple Indra Kantono and Gan Guoyi, ventured boldly into the challenging world of F&B to open Jigger & Pony, a definitive step into Singapore’s budding cocktail scene. Since then, this dynamic couple is well-known as the pioneering entrepreneurs who set the stage for cocktail bars to follow. Located in the world’s most competitive and expensive city, they now have 5 distinct concepts that are flourishing. Jigger & Pony Group consists of Jigger & Pony (No. 29 on World’s 50 Best Bars 2019, No.1 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020 and Bar of The Year for The Bar Awards Singapore 2019), Humpback, Gibson, The Flagship, Caffe Fernet.

We speak with Indra, co-founder and director of the Jigger & Pony Group. Coming from a consultancy background, he truly believes that an essential component in running a successful F&B business is to cultivate the right culture within the Group by inculcating a solid mission and set of core values in order to deliver the best Jigger & Pony experience to customers through hospitality. It is no wonder that Jigger & Pony rose to high acclaim coming in No. 29 on World’s 50 Best Bars 2019, No.9 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2019 and Bar of The Year for The Bar Awards Singapore 2019. 

Key learnings 

  1. You must have a defined mission statement and a set of core values to cultivate a cohesive company culture within your team. This applies across the board to businesses of any size, even those just starting out with their first outlet. In the current competitive F&B climate, you are not only selling a product but an experience.
  2. The Jigger & Pony Purpose is to provide a place in this community where people can find comfort, forge friendships and share happiness. 
  3. Develop a great set of shared values and actively reinforce it through regular initiatives. In Indra’s own words, If you want to get a pay raise or a promotion in this company, you better demonstrate the Jigger & Pony values.”
  4. The Jigger & Pony experience is all about convivial hospitality, a showcase of craft, and a hub for inventive concepts.

You were a consultant before this, how did you land yourself in F&B?

My wife was a former SIA flight attendant, and having worked there for 6 years she didn’t want to travel anymore but loved the business of hospitality. Without any F&B experiences, she opened Jigger & Pony. 

Singapore is infamous for being tough hiring ground and since no one knew who we were nor was familiar with the cocktail bar format, it was a difficult start. Besides working on the financial budget, I was helping out at the bar on the weekends and weekday nights. I was still employed at Bain & Company as a consultant at the time. I really enjoyed the F&B life and started going into the office a lot later and leaving earlier to help out at the bar. I left my job under a year after Jigger & Pony opened. Guoyi and I have been working together ever since. 

How much was your starting capital? 

We started with 400,000 SGD. All our brands are self-funded with the support of a couple of friends. I and my wife are still the majority and managing active partners. 

Set the Tables
The first Jigger & Pony at Amoy Street (2012 – 2018)
Set the Tables
In 2018, the first Jigger & Pony (2012) and Sugarhall (2014) outlets were closed as the landlord intended to redevelop the entire property. Indra and Guoyi grabbed the opportunity to take the core brand of the Group to the next level. The relaunched Jigger & Pony is currently located in Amara Hotel, Tanjong Pagar.

Jigger & Pony operated in a shophouse with its first outlet opened in 2012. 2018 spelled a year of change with the closure of the original Jigger & Pony and its newly opened outlet in Amara Hotel. What are the notable differences between running a bar in a shophouse and in a hotel? 

The main reason we relocated to our current address is that we wanted to build a bar with a larger seating capacity with a 2-storey format. We also wanted to stay in the heart of the city. We are actually just 1km away from our previous location. Being in a hotel gives us flexibility in terms of operating hours and licensing, and also with construction when compared to a shophouse which has to abide by building code restrictions.

The majority of bars nowadays prefer small, compact spaces. What made you decide to go against the grain and take up such a large space? 

Big is beautiful, small is bliss. There are pros and cons with every format. I believe that the bigger space is good for Jigger & Pony.

Indra Kantono, Jigger & Pony Group

  • Tackling a human resource problem

It is undeniable that with a small space, I won’t need to hire so many people. However, in the long run, having a big space helps because of the high turnover in this industry. When you have 10 people and 1 leaves, this is only 10% of the workforce. When you have 5 people and 1 leaves, that is 20% of the workforce. It is actually tougher to maintain a strong team within a small space. 

  • Building resources for long term growth

With a bigger team, you would need to develop training programs and a recruitment system, which will further propel your business forward. 

  • Team diversity that gives the brand a unique edge 
Set the Tables
“I am a big believer in having diversity. We have 10 different nationalities at Jigger & Pony.  Some are creative and humorous, some are technical geeks – and we put this all together and create something that is hard to replicate elsewhere.” – Indra Kantono
  • Accommodate customer’s needs 

We used to turn down people because of our limited seating capacity so, the bigger your bar the more seating configuration you can do. Bars are different from restaurants as people tend to drink in big groups in this culture and tend to be a little unpredictable. For example, when you make plans to dine in a restaurant, you typically show up on time and with the expected number of people, give or take. When planning for drinks, however, the scenarios typically play out like this:

Scenario 1

A:  “What time are you coming tonight?”  B: “After dinner.”  A: “What time is ‘after dinner’?”  B: “…well, around 10.30pm, maybe closer to 11pm but surely before 12am.”

Scenario 2

A:” What are you doing tonight?” B: “I have dinner but I can meet you after, say 10pm or 11pm? I have friends who want to join us too. Do you mind?” 

The turnout from scenario 2 can range from 5 to 15 people, and that is the unpredictable nature of the drinking culture here. 

You need to observe the way people in the city drinks, the way customers consume your products in different scenarios. I can accommodate all sorts of permutations in a bigger bar.

What do you think are the building blocks that make up the Jigger & Pony Group? 

My role in the Group is to cultivate a great community culture. Company culture exists no matter what you do and the challenge is to create the type of culture you want to have.   

It is understood that the turnover rate in this industry is high, and just before our 1st anniversary, the entire team that was with us from the day of our opening left us. My wife and I decided that we couldn’t carry on like this. We flew the core management team to Jakarta for a few days and created a set of shared values and a corporate purpose that guides us up until today. The Jigger & Pony Purpose is to provide a place in this community where people can: 

Find comfort

Regardless of the concept, the design of the outlet is crafted with the guest’s comfort in mind.

Forge friendships 

We are a place that brings different pockets of communities together. This also means that we are here not just to serve you food and drinks but here to build a relationship with you. 

Share happiness 

We want to be a place where people share in each other’s happiness and celebrate significant moments in their lives. 

The way we achieve this is through our shared values to: 

Deliver WOW through hospitality

Hospitality is an action in how we make people feel. My wife loves occasions where things do not go according to plan. For example, 8 people arrive with no reservation and the place is full. Instead of turning them away, we turn this into an opportunity by helping to make a reservation at Gibson, or by calling the restaurant next door, or we could find a standing area. We always look for opportunities to deliver WOW through hospitality. 

Work hard to go further 

This is a very important lesson in the way we see ourselves in a professional setting. We have a lot of talented bartenders who have won competitions and it’s easy for them to feel like their job is done because they’ve reached a high point in their career. What we want them to learn is that winning is a stepping stone towards greater career heights. You need to continue to work hard to go even further. Or say, a cocktail recipe is missing a few elements; we say keep working on it instead of giving up to work on something else. 

Act on it first

If you see something that needs to be done and feel it is the right thing to do, just do it. Whether you’re a junior staff or in management, it is about not waiting for protocol if you see something is wrong. 

Be professional and do the right thing 

Occasionally customers will buy us drinks and we do not have a hard and fast rule for or against this. All we say is that you have to be professional and do the right thing. We won’t tolerate situations where “I am getting too drunk and I can’t deliver hospitality”. 

A Pony never lets another Pony fail 

We watch each others’ back. We put new people or newly promoted people in a position to succeed. When new apprentices join, it’s quite common in the industry for them to go through hazing rituals. We do not promote this culture. It is our job to make life easier for the juniors. When you get promoted, it can be a challenge as you now manage a team that used to be your peers, so here again, a Pony never lets another Pony fail – we are not here to sabotage someone’s career development, we should not have this culture. 

And finally, we reinforce these shared values and purpose with our staff of 60 by: 

  1. Having these statements printed and posted up in all of our outlets, in our BOH areas, and anywhere else we can.
  2. Have Annual Shared Values Awards ceremony whereby 5 standout staff will be the recipients for individual values, and 1-star individual that embodies all 5 values will be crowned Pony of the Year.
  3. Incorporated into our review system. We do semi-annual performance reviews with the first section all about how well you deliver these values.

You must believe in it more than other people believe in it. And you must risk more than other people are willing to risk it. And you must work harder than other people willing to work hard to build . If you turn out to be right, you are rewarded. If you lose, you lose your shirt. This is entrepreneurship

Indra Kantono, Jigger & Pony Group

What is the Jigger & Pony experience?

What we serve at our outlets are just products. However, the characteristics that encapsulate the Jigger & Pony experience are moulded by our mission statement that is to provide a place in this community where people can find comfort, forge friendships, and share happiness. 

Convivial hospitality 

This is about how we make you feel. Convivial means “with life”, a word derived from the Latin convīvium to mean “a feast”. It best describes our outlets that are always lively and with high energy.

Showcase of craft 

We want to get you up close and personal with the action. At Jigger & Pony, it’s the craft of bartending; every single seat has a view of the bar, and that was my top priority during my brief to my interior designer. At Humpback, the first thing you’ll see welcoming you is the oyster section, where the chefs are seen live-shucking at the bar. 

I put my main concept at the forefront so that customers can experience the brand essence. That goes also with our bar counter design, it is designed in a way that the distance between the guest and the bartender is minimum possible, while still giving functionality and comfort. 

Indra Kantono, Jigger & Pony Group

Inventive concepts 

We are not necessarily doing something that is tried and tested in this city. We try to create intrigue with something that is somewhat new, somewhat different. Our goal is to never do the same thing that’s been done before in the city 

 With Caffe Fernet, some people would argue that there’s nothing too inventive about Italian cuisine as it is one of the most tried and proven-to-work concepts in the world. This is true, but when we look at the Italian restaurants in Singapore, everyone seems to be marketing it the same way: “I am the most authentic Italian restaurant”, “my Italian chef is cooking his grandma’s Italian recipe” and so on. That is all great but it’s also common.

Here, we are upfront that we ourselves are not Italian. My chef is American and we are not exactly cooking authentic Italian. However, we are using high-quality Italian ingredients adding our own touch to our recipes. We are also located in the middle of the CBD, in Customs House. This is a prime location with a demographic that is majority post-work crowd. This demographic wants 2 things: draft beer and white wine, and we decided to sell cocktails instead with a whole program crafted around the Italian Spritz and Negroni. Our bestseller is the Aperol Spritz however, we also receive critical feedback such as, “What kind of CBD bar are you?” 


With inventiveness, you have to get comfortable with rejection. You have to be steadfast. Of course, it requires taking a risk. How do you know whether the market will be ready for it? You don’t. That is the risk of an entrepreneur. 

Indra Kantono, Jigger & Pony Group

What is next for you and the Jigger & Pony Group? 

Last year was an exhausting year for us! We launched two of our biggest and most expensive projects: Jigger & Pony and Caffe Fernet. We also closed two outlets, the previous Jigger & Pony and Sugarhall. This year we want to focus on the fundamentals by setting the right groundwork for the new projects and making sure they are reaching their full potential. Currently, all venues are doing very well. We are happy. 


This interview has been edited for clarity. Words by Theri Burhan. Edited by Lim Ai Leen. All images by Jigger & Pony Group.  

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