From a Coffee Cart to Luxury Espresso Bars — Dinner with Sanjay Ponnapa, Founder of Fuel Espresso

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Dinner with Sanjay has raised 130 volunteer hours

Sometimes the most meaningful and inspiring conversations happen over casual meals. The Time Auction Blog is a snippet of our meetings with people who have found passion in their life and career, where we get a glimpse into their mentality behind their ventures.

To Sanjay Ponnapa, Founder of Fuel Espresso, coffee is not merely a drink or a product — it is his heritage. Hailing from a family with 5 generations of coffee-planting history, it is no exaggeration to say that coffee runs in his blood. But instead of just planting coffee, Sanjay took it a step further and built an empire which revolutionized Asia’s premium coffee scene.

Bringing his knowledge in law, psychology and consumer behavior into his business, Sanjay took his heritage and started Fuel from an espresso cart in Wellington in 1996. Within six months, Fuel was serving 600 espresso-based coffees a day. He opened Fuel’s flagship bar in IFC Mall in 2008 which changed the city’s relationship with coffee forever.

With years of hard work, Fuel Espresso now operates in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Wellington, New Zealand.

Is there a life motto you live by?

“Believe in what you do, never say no and never give up, “

I tell my 5-year-old daughter all the time. At home, I read to her every night, and part of the introduction goes like this “We are a part of the such and such family, we live on such and such road, and WE NEVER GIVE UP!”.

She has picked up the catchphrase and is especially excited when we get to the part about “we never give up”. At the age of five and she has already picked that up. Some people ask me if I want my daughter to follow in my footsteps; the truth is she can be whatever she wants to be she wants to be and I’ll support her as long as she believes in herself and does not give up.

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When you feel unfocused or overwhelmed what would you do?

There are a lot of times when I reach a phase where I just can’t think, these times come in waves, usually, for half a year I can think up of multiple ideas — tons of them sometimes. But then comes another half year where I just run out of them.

These are the times when I feel unfocused, and a friend of mine once told me to just take it easy. He said while I might think I am wasting half a year, it actually gives time for the others to catch up with the ideas I came up with previously. So what I do now when I become stuck or overwhelmed is

I take a step back. Only then can you see the big picture.

I take a weekend off, maybe walk around Hong Kong have a look at things and that way, I get a new perspective.

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What advice would you give driven college students who are about to go into the real world and what they should avoid?

Do what you really like to do and have faith in what you do.

Never listen to negative people, believe in what you do.

When I first started out as with coffee cart, people mocked us — business people, media, the entire coffee industry! No one believed that we could sell coffee in paper cups down the windiest streets of Wellington NZ which is also one of the windiest cities in the world. But look at us today. Just don’t listen to the naysayers.

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Thank you Sanjay for taking the time out of your busy schedule to have dinner with us, and thanks to everyone who volunteered and took part in raising 130 volunteer hours to various charities. Also hats off to WeWork Tower 535 for providing us with such a wonderful venue.

These awesome photos are brought to you by Nathan Wu from KaChick — a marketplace where you can book a photographer anywhere, anytime, for anything!

For more amazing opportunities, visit Time Auction to volunteer and meet inspiring mentors!

This article originally appeared on our blog on Medium:

Updated on 8 April, 2021
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