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Jan 19, 2022
Michelle Liu

Welcome Back, Snackfood 3.0: Adeline Chong on Authenticity, Happiness and Starting Fresh


“The idea here is to enjoy the smaller things, for a longer time.” muses Adeline Chong, (Co-founder and Chief Curator of Snackfood) about their newly opened space at Centrio Pantai Hillpark. It’s a full circle moment – this was the same place where they began their journey in 2009, where Adeline and partner-in-crime Khoo Wei Yeng sold charming vintage finds and secondhand items.

A few years later, Snackfood moved to Bangsar, Telawi and became a celebrated destination – a gift emporium, a space for workshops and local artisans, the weird and wonderful, and a respite from humdrum shopping. 2020 saw its closure, but their ethos up until this day remains, in the words of Adeline: “We make ordinary things come alive, and provide excellent hospitality. We never sell to customers, but rather assist in their discovery of things in Snackfood.”

Here’s a deep dive into the world of Snackfood, through Adeline’s eyes.

Tell us about the early days of Snackfood.

2009: “My first office in the third room of our apartment - where it all began”. Source: Adeline Chong

I worked in corporate branding, which was taxing because I felt like I wasn’t growing. I had so many colourful ideas, so I took a sabbatical in 2009. I wasn’t crafty and didn’t have a design background, but I realized that people liked the things I had or bought. Those things are not the super canggih kind. So I started reselling second-hand or vintage items, and I got deeper into it. We started out as a block shop, and our first space was at Centrio Soho by appointment.

At that time, I was an established vintage collector, so I was helping a lot of businesses and cafes to style their space. Then we moved to Telawi in 2013!

What are your guiding principles and values for running Snackfood? Has it changed over the years?

Snackfood tucked upstairs from the streets of Telawi. Source: Cebu Pacific Air

Snackfood is not in the business of retail, but rather hospitality. I like it to be an experience store, and agile to be whatever we want to do. That’s why we’re always pushing - can we sell soy sauce? What about cat litter? Can we do meditation?

Retailing to me is a small component of the bigger picture. I established to the team that we never sell, but just assist. The buying at Snackfood should be a discovery. I know it’s hard not to sell when you’re running a business, and of course, sometimes we’re desperate, but we try to be mindful.

Previously, our space was inspired by natsukashi, a concept adopted from a unique Japanese take on nostalgia. Senses are deliberately heightened to bring you back to childhood memories of things. When we were wrapping up the Telawi store, I realized we had so many things and I felt so burdened…I felt too heavy to create. In the last week of operations, I put my best collectibles out for sale with “name your price” (I couldn’t put a price, it was too precious!). I could feel that making people happy and delighting them was my goal – and I let it all go. In an empty store, I felt so relieved. I couldn’t remember anything I owned, except for the memories I had.

Snackfood 3.0’s approach is a lot lighter, led by our current surroundings and people – to be more present.

In the reopening announcement, you poignantly wrote “If the universe is giving me a third chance to get it right, I will still keep trying.” Could you tell us more about the revival of Snackfood?

I’m glad it intrigued you! I try to be as authentic as possible for our social media posts. It’s about the spirit of keep trying and keep getting better. I want to make sure this time that I have a proper plan of succession (I don’t have that yet…). In business, it’s all about sustenance. When people ask me how I’m going to scale, I don’t think about that – it’s more about sustenance and the long run. That’s how we’ve made it to the 10th year. I don’t need to be the brand of the town, nor the loudest, strongest or coolest - I just need to know we are sustainable. My priority is succession - what it means to my team, to the community, to my daughter in the next 10 years. If the universe is giving me a third chance, I want to try to get to this.

Adeline and her daughter, Jade (Left). Snackfood cards by Dianne T (Right).

What can guests expect to see and experience at Snackfood 3.0? How is it different from the previous store?

I want my curation to have a sense of balance and good timing: “to enjoy the small things for a longer time”. We also want to put more time, money and effort into developing Snackfood souvenirs, which are all lived experiences and stories. This could be a rainbow “Pride” cat brooch drawn by Jade [Adeline’s daughter], bespoke scented candles inspired by secret hideouts, sweaters and greeting cards. I know people will expect an array of stuff like the previous store, but I’m prepared to take that risk!

We’re becoming a family-driven, concept store, where it’s a safe and gentle space for families and children to explore. I’m very much inspired by Jade, she pretty much grew up in Snackfood!

Has the pandemic changed your perspective of operating Snackfood?

From a business perspective, I know the general opinion is that we have to sell online to be sustainable. We have a website, which is purely an avenue, a second business unit of things. I didn’t enjoy the transaction online, as it can’t represent Snackfood fully.

I don’t feel the need to fit into a post-pandemic model. I think the model we’ve designed for Snackfood all this while - to delight customers, the approachable aspect, gentleness, and how we handle service - has been greatly appreciated after a pandemic.