Shentonista Features: New Extremes — Venture Of A Lifetime



If you think you’ve tried everything our city has to offer, we know someone who’ll beg to differ. Just ask, and he’ll name more than 10 things to do that you’ve likely never thought possible in Singapore, all of which you can experience in his very home. But his abode is anything but humble, and his job(s) anything but ordinary. Meet Clarence—a husband, father, outdoorsman, conservationist, and multi-faceted entrepreneur to say the least.

As for who Clarence is and what he does, precisely—well, where do we even begin? For one, Clarence runs an ecosystem of businesses, including The Sundowner, a nature experience centre. The three-storey terrace sandwiched between a 7-Eleven mart and a music school along the streets of Siglap holds three themed spaces that take on a life of their own, offering unique nature experiences like no other.

On the ground floor is The Secret Pizza Club, a cozy back garden of sorts where pizza- and pasta-making classes are held. The second floor is home to The Nomad’s Tent, where cocktails, coffee, chocolate, mead, and ice cream come to life through hands-on sessions. A luscious rooftop farm occupies the third floor, the beating heart of The Sundowner. Here, Clarence runs his signature farm experiences that range from wildlife interactions to organic farming. The space can be booked for movie-screening and parties too—that’s right, all this and more under one roof (or open skies)!

On a quiet and sunny morning, we paid Clarence a visit at the experience centre which he calls home, when the kids were at school, to learn more about the space. And so began our hours-long conversation.

Before we could ask him how he made this green haven possible, Clarence began chirping excitedly about his new toy, a commercial sugarcane juicer of all things. But more on this later. First, we wanted to find out how Clarence’s entrepreneurial journey started.

“I always wanted to become a business owner,” Clarence tells us. “I started my first job at a boutique designer aquarium company before joining the National Parks Board (NParks) as a Park Manager. There, I continued to design fish tanks on the side for about six years, and after trying, learning, experimenting, and even progressing to larger scale work like landscaping ponds, I started my own landscaping company in 2009.” 

After 10 years, Clarence sold his landscaping company. With funds from the sale, he purchased an Airbnb—The Sundowner Villa—in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with the hopes of building base on foreign soil. However, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, plans for Clarence’s move halted and he remained in Singapore. Fortunately, he was still able to set up his villa remotely, which is still up for rent today, allowing him to channel his energy into a new project.

Call it fate, but it was then that Clarence rented his Siglap terrace as a temporary housing for a handful of workers. There, Clarence gathered the help of his workers once more, this time for a more personal project upstairs. “I initially just wanted to showcase how my landscape company could transform rooftop areas, like a showroom,” explains Clarence, “Then came the bees.”

Having learnt the importance of bees in his time at NParks, bee rescue was Clarence’s next foray, gradually developing into The Sundowner Bee Rescue, an award-winning non-profit initiative that he still leads today, and remains fiercely passionate about.

In turn, the underrated creatures he saves have inadvertently helped to guide the essence of Clarence’s business ventures to this day. “The bees are a strong storytelling element for us,” he says, “Many companies say that they’re sustainable, but sustainability in this day can have nothing to do with the environment. Our bee rescue programme, on the other hand, directly gives back to nature.”

With a thriving rooftop farm and a growing bee sanctuary, everything seemed to fall nicely in place thereafter. Clarence opened his home and started conducting his flagship Rooftop Farm Experience sessions for friends and family; even his former teacher from his junior college came down to show her support. “By the second or third run, we got the attention of The Straits Times and appeared on the front page of the papers! We became very popular after that,” says Clarence.

As we chatted on, we began to notice a running theme in the way Clarence approaches his businesses—he just keeps trying. We couldn’t help but wonder how many setbacks, challenges, and failures have come his way since the very beginning, and how he has managed to tide through them all. To that, Clarence has a rather logical mindset; that is not to avoid failure but, as he puts it, to fail better.

Quoting Voltaire, Clarence says, “As Singaporeans, we like to overthink and worry about the what if’s. But for me, I don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. If I want to do something, I’ll try first, give it my best shot, and make small improvements along the way.”

In this vein time and time again, Clarence’s ventures take him far beyond his compound, and our shores. As an award-winning tourism professional, he also runs Ninja Kayakers & Foilers, a water sports operator that long precedes The Sundowner. With years of water sports experience under his belt, he takes paddlers of all levels on adventurous tours along Singapore’s waterways, from rural mangroves to the open sea.

While unconventional, the path Clarence has laid is not all that surprising considering how he grew up. “My father imparted an appreciation for nature to myself and my two siblings growing up,” he recalls. “As kids, we’d spend most of our time outdoors. We even had an annual kayaking tradition where we’d open up a map the night before, choose a spot, and go exploring every New Year’s Day.” That was how the company came about, again starting with trips with friends and family.

True to the latter part of their name, Ninja Kayakers & Foilers is also the first and only operator in the country to offer e-Foiling (foil surfing using a battery-powered surfboard). When Clarence chanced upon the futuristic-looking device out at sea for the first time, he immediately wanted in. “I thought it was so cool!” he exclaims, “Once I found out what eFoils were, I ordered a few sets for myself. It took me about three sessions before I could glide out of the water, but the feeling was magical! By then, I was already teaching others, and it’s now become more popular than our kayaking tours.”

Between running several businesses, hosting experiences, and the occasional bee rescue operations, Clarence is a father of two. “Doing business is easy stuff man,” he says, laughing. “The hard part is raising the kids!” Thankfully, he has wife and partner-in-crime, Candice, by his side be it at work or at home, not forgetting a team of part-time staff that help run most of The Sundowner’s operations, including hosting.

As for their specific roles at The Sundowner, Clarence handles the farm while Candice is the master chef behind most food-related offerings, including their top-selling pizza-making class.“On the backend, though, we both do pretty much the same things,” Clarence adds, “During the weekdays, when we have no workshops going on, we’re busy taking in bookings and doing table management.”

It’s no doubt that this family marches to a beat of their own, from their unusual home-business right down to the naming of the children—Midnight, who just started primary school, and his little brother River, who’s four—which is a story for another time.

It seems like Clarence is following in his fathers’ footsteps, ensuring that his own children grow up close to nature. “Very few people have a food garden at home like our rooftop farm, which we harvest from for our own home cooking too,” he says. “It gives us a chance to teach our kids about nature. And I’m quite sure no other kid has a room full of sand in their house,” he chuckles, referring to The Nomad’s Tent; we concur.

So what’s next for a serial entrepreneur? New ventures, of course.

As he enters a new decade, Clarence has his eyes set on the next big thing. “People say that the 40s is the best decade of life, so I really want to do amazing things in the next 10 years,” he shares, “We’re now working on creating a boutique hotel stay in Changi Village, where guests can get a taste of what it’s like to procure their own food. That means harvesting veggies, digging up potatoes, slaughtering a chicken, or catching a fish from a kelong (offshore fishing platform).” Jarring as it sounds, it goes back to the motivation behind his work: to connect people back to their food source. Ultimately, Clarence wants to provide people in Singapore an avenue to try new and unexpected things, while playing his small part for the environment.

Closer to home, Clarence already has his hands full with his next project—Sugarcane and Salad. “Did you see my sugarcane plants outside? I bought a sugarcane machine! Do you guys want to crush your own sugarcane? It’s damn fun!” Turns out, we weren’t the only ones to share his enthusiasm. When the boys returned home from school, the whole family got to test out the new sugarcane juicer for the first time. After sharing a few laughs over cups of refreshing sugarcane juice after a sweltering day, it was time for us to say goodbye.

We stumbled out of The Sundowner, sweat-drenched yet giddy with excitement, feeling inspired to take on a new adventure of our own.

The Sundowner
Website | Instagram

Ninja Kayakers & Foilers
Website | Instagram

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