Category Archives: Entrepreneur

Classic Dining 玲瓏軒, another concept dining outlet?

Just saw a sponsored post on my Facebook news feed about Classic Dining 玲瓏軒, a fairly new restaurant, having just updated their food menu. If you haven’t heard of Classic Dining, it is a new Chinese restaurant that is located in Fair Park, close to General Hospital (Permaisuri Bainun), in a new row of shop that has just been completed last year.

Facade of Classic Dining
The facade of the restaurant is completely different from the rest of the shops, as you can see in the photo above (nicked from their Facebook page, uploaded by a customer), so it is very difficult to miss it if you are looking out for it. It is very impressive, if I’m honest with you. Just to give you an idea, a nice, big LED signboard can cost you in excess of ten thousand Ringgit. And this facade is three storeys high.. But most importantly, it is nicely done, to make it look like a Chinese restaurant from the olden days, but with a modern feel obviously.

And then they carry this through all the way to the rest of the restaurant (photos nicked from their FB page again, as my own photos couldn’t do it justice).

Interior of Classic Dining

Interior of Classic Dining

Interior of Classic Dining

Interior of Classic Dining
All these took 15 months to complete, before they open for business 5 months ago. A great deal of money, effort, and time have been put in, whichever way you look at it.

But interestingly, despite the superb settings and ambience, the restaurant is criticised for delivering only very average food, and which are commonly available at local eatery, like 大炒 I guess. Basically the Ipoh folks are not willing to pay a premium for average food, regardless of however classy your premise is. Service vice can be a bit of a hit and miss, because of high turnover of staff and high demand, at least initially, with limited tables. But customers can be a lot more forgiving if the price is right and the food is up to their expectation. Like I said before in my other posts, Ipoh folks are a very picky bunch. They are, generally, not quite willing to pay a premium for food, just because you have a nice setting. They will probably still compare this restaurant with the likes of Yum Yum, 孖寶 and even 大炒, rather than Dragon-i 龍的傳人 when it comes to Chinese food. I was just thinking why Dragon-i is always full of customers. Obviously many Ipoh folks can afford paying such money for Chinese food. And in fact they are quite willing to spend on food, perhaps not all the time, but once in a while and according to occasions. You think eating seafood is cheap? But I guess people are limited by the number of choices there are for Chinese food in a shopping mall. And what Dragon-i is offering is much different from other Chinese restaurants in Ipoh.

So back to Classic Dining, I think it needs to be more than just a concept dining outlet, where customers only go for the novelty, in their settings in this case. Novelty wears off quickly. To survive in Ipoh, they need repeat customers, naturally the local Ipoh folks. And to please the locals, they need to back the superb settings with good food, or food that is different from their “competitors”. They have just updated their menu. We shall see if that works out better. Having spent so much money on this restaurant, I am sure the owner will want to make their business work, i.e. profitable.

iMiirage has closed shop or is relocating?

iMiirage, touted as the world’s first ambience dining restaurant (according to their website iMiirage.com), has closed on the 31st March 2017. Whether it is closed for good or is just merely relocating, as they claim on their website, is not clear. One would have thought that if they are relocating, they should be able to provide more details on where they are moving to. Like Marianis, they gave notice to their patrons where they were relocating to before they closed the one at De Garden. And there were rumours where they were relocating to too even before they put up the notice. Because as a business you want continuity, to keep your existing customers, and the staff who are working for you too. Otherwise you’ll essentially be starting your business from scratch, almost, all over again.

Anyway it’s not my business and the owner, apparently same owner as the “mighty” Nam Heong, might have other ideas, for example to cut the loss first whilst finding a more suitable location for the business. Or he might be more keen to just end the business, hence not really thinking much about its subsequent reincarnation. It does seem to me that the latter is more likelier the case.

It is a shame, really. The restaurant was opened with great fanfare about a year and a half ago. It does provide a fairly unique dining experience, with fancy scenery like underwater, skyline of Hong Kong etc. Perhaps Ipoh is too small a market for such fine dining experience. And it’s expensive, by Ipoh standard. Whether their food is up to standard is debatable, perhaps not consistent or good enough for people to want to pay top dollar dining there. Last but not least, the location. I’ve written a piece on Nam Heong, where iMiirage was located. The location of that SOHO area is a complete non-starter for retail business in my opinion. It’s very inconvenient to get to, much worse than De Garden. And now that there are more shop lots built there, finding parking space will be big issue. Lack of planning is so common in Malaysia. Or maybe it was deliberate for SOHO’s case, as developers are mostly only interested in maximing their profit. Building a multi-storey car park costs money. Anyway I think the location is still the killer.

Okay we shall see if iMiirage will be resurrected somewhere else. If you know any news about it I’ll be interested to know.

The  Bagel Kitchen has closed shop

The other day, probably a week ago I went to the Bagel Kitchen wanted to buy bagels for my wife. But it was closed. At the time I wasn’t sure whether it was closed for good or just for a day. It was a Sunday, so I suspected that they might have closed for good, as Sunday is a normally a good day for business.

Went past again today and saw a “To Rent” sign hanging outside their fence. It is a nice looking place, nicely renovated, and facing the main road. But I guess the Ipoh folks are not so hot on Bagels. Anyway it is going to be a tough year this year so it might not be such a bad idea to cut the loss.

When you are not on the corporate ladder anymore

It’s been over three years now since I stopped climbing the corporate ladder. To be honest I really don’t miss working in a big corporate environment. The pressure to perform just gets more and more intense as you are more and more senior in the company. And I am not one who will always try to seek opportunity to be visible infront of senior management. Hence life gets depressing during appraisal when boss then tries to play down your contribution, because visibility infront of senior management is important in order to justify a glowing review of performance.

Now that I run my business, whilst there is a whole new dimension of stress that comes with it, at least the peer pressure and expectation from bosses are off for me. I need to worry about money (cash flow) a lot more, but at least I do not need to appear like I am intentionally stepping on others to climb up the corporate ladder. That is one aspect I do not like, as I prefer relationship with my colleagues to be less competitive in nature. And I stop worrying about how much I earn (salary) compare to my peers nowadays, because I have taken a very different path. I owe the bank a lot of money (corporate debt) with a business, and income (profit) is a lot more variable when compared to a fixed salary job. But in a way I think I am happier because I don’t need to get stressed out as much going to work with some insufferable colleagues always looking to impress.

Okay I also need to throw in more time running a business, and it can be exhausting too, so I am heading for a rest now. Goodnight!

Boston De Garden has closed shop

Boston De Garden
Another F&B business bites the dust at De Garden. Boston is one of the earliest tenants there. Apparently they stopped doing business since 1st June 2016. It seems that they are a franchise business, because another opened in M-Mall Penang earlier this year. Hence this leaves Daorae as the longest surviving F&B business at De Garden.

Interestingly the furnishing in Boston remains intact. I wonder if they are left there to part settle rental with De Garden? Or maybe there is some arrangements agreed with De Garden to sell on their goodies to the next F&B business? The ground floor of that part of De Garden now has no more F&B outlet. Chatime, Aliyaa and now Boston have vacated. It is tough to keep an F&B business going in Ipoh.

Pitfalls in opening a cafe in Ipoh

Upmarket cafes were very hot in Ipoh for a while 2-3 years ago. Cafes mushroomed almost everywhere out of a sudden. Many were tastefully decorated, quaint looking, cosy, with everyone one of them seemingly trying to outdo one another. Some have “unique” selling points, like offering self made bread, pastry, high speed Internet connectivity etc. But the fever has died down a little lately, to me anyway. Here is an article that offered some insight into what it is like to run a cafe business in Ipoh.

Some of the business owners are fairly honest when asked about the challenges facing them when running their businesses in Ipoh. Some seemed to either just put on a brave face or they didn’t know where they failed, if I’m being honest. I’ll let you figure out who was or were talking rubbish. But I would agree on the following points for the Ipoh market:

  1. Competition from the popular white coffee, both taste and price
  2. Standalone coffee enjoyment without main meals not so popular here
  3. Appettite for western coffee is there, but market is not big enough to sustain so many cafes

I have no problem with the price points of their coffee. They are their premium offerings, and should rightly charged as they are. But I have a lot of issue with the price points of their other offerings, like desserts, light bites (sandwiches included) and even main meals! They are deluded, thinking that the Ipoh folks earn as much as those in KL and Penang. In fact if I go to KL, I get better (much better) value for money, on both coffee and food! Incredible isn’t it? But it is!

Basically, your business needs to survive and sustain in such competitive environment first, with so many cafes around, and price reasonably. Lower your cost and overhead, target the right audience and offer value to these customers. Ipoh folks always like good bargains, and they will come back to you if you offer them good value. Tourists business is good, but it is often one-off, and there are not that many tourists coming to Ipoh. Businesses in Ipoh need to first and foremost focus on the locals. Otherwise it will be the same old story. You have been warned.

Business picking up again?

Our business just managed to beat the first week of March last year in terms of revenue. Business has not been great, starting from second half of last year, if we compare revenue year-on-year. But interestingly business seems to be picking up again in March.

Just heard from a supplier that Up & Up Restaurant in Ipoh Garden East is losing money. We have dined there twice, I think, within the first two or three months after they open business. They had a good crowd on both times we were there. But apparently business has slipped since. Their overhead is high, with lots of workers (over 20 of them?). Probably inevitable in restaurant business. It is difficult to gauge when you are going to have lots of hungry customers turned up on your door steps.

Anyway it is most important for our business to stay in the black, and maintain a healthy cash flow, at least until the economy turns the corner. If we can do just that then our business is definitely here to stay.

Something’s Brewing has closed shop

Something’s Brewing opposite Festival Walk
Saw on Facebook that this cafe has packed up shop after Chinese New Year, and the owner is trying to sell off various things in the shop, if not the business itself. Was initially interested in the coffee machine and the deep freezers. But I don’t suppose these are absolute necessities for our business at the moment so I would rather keep our cash. In difficult times like this cash is king. In fact I am thinking of raising some working capital for our business. But need to get our second year financial account audited and filed first. Without at least two years financial history the banks won’t look at our application.

Back to Something’s Brewing. It is a cafe that serves various types of tea, e.g. fruit tea. I haven’t been there before, but it is similar to the one in De Garden, Tea & Tattle. In fact Tea & Tattle is a result of a business partnership break up in Something’s Brewing some time ago. I’m not sure if I enjoy drinking such tea, as I’m more the traditional black tea with milk type of drinker. It is hard to tell whether Something’s Brewing would survive if there is not a Tea & Tattle that tries to compete for the same pie. It is a niche market, which is fine. But it does look like the market is so small that it can’t sustain both cafes. We’ll see if Tea & Tattle can survive in the long run. They do have a unique offering, I think, but customer base takes a long time to build. Unlike coffee drinking which is heavily marketed around the world, fruit tea is relatively unknown here. If you haven’t a big marketing budget then you can only build your market up organically. And you need to prepare yourself for competition. And that is not just from potentially new tea drinking cafes… It is a tough business. It really baffles me why so many entrepreneurs still try to get into the cafe business.

Chatime De Garden moving to AEON Big Falim

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Chatime De Garden

Saw the above notice when on my way to change my wife’s and my mobile phone plans at DiGi De Garden. Not going to miss it since I seldom drink their expensive milk tea anyway. Heard that their first Chatime in Ipoh, located at Greentown, opposite Subway, has closed too. So all the Chatime outlets in Ipoh can now only be found in shopping malls. Milk tea or drinks business is more profitable in shopping malls then I guess?

Ben’s Burger has closed shop in Ipoh Parade

Haven’t eaten at Ben’s Burger before. It was very visible from the road and located next to one of the main entrances to Ipoh Parade (opposite of Sam Tet secondary school).

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Drove past it about a week ago, and it looked rather dim from the outside. Suspected that it is no longer in business. Happened to be in Ipoh Parade yesterday. Took the effort to walk over there just to confirm (there is actually no entrance to Ben’s Burger from Ipoh Parade). Saw a few Snow Mountain workers outside. They were there to take an extractor fan away.

So Ben’s Burger is indeed closed. Tables, chairs and other bits and pieces are still there. From what I heard, it was closed about a month ago. Ben and Lynette however is still in business, located on ground floor, inside Ipoh Parade. BTW both of them belong to the same company, The Secret Garden (TSG) group. The take up of vacated lot in Ipoh Parade seems rather quick, as there is already a banner outside Ben’s Burger indicating an ice cream shop, it seems, is going to take up the space. Better than any of the AEON it seems.