You might walk past Calia in the Kuala Lumpur pavilion and think it was just a little organic perishables and wine store, and I wouldn’t blame you.
Hidden deeper into the store is the hustle and bustle of customers for the Australian retail restaurant brand, hidden from the prying eyes of passers-by with neatly placed shelves and staff counters in the foreground.
On a Monday afternoon well spent lunch time, the store was always as crowded as it gets during the RMCO.
The reservation-based restaurant finally opened on June 19, 2020 after a 6-month delay due to the pandemic, with some apprehension about the response it would get.
However, in the first month of its opening, Calia served almost 12,000 customers as its sales and number of customers increased to the point that online reservations were full 2 weeks in advance.
492 reservations made in 1 hour
Jason Chang, CEO and co-founder of Calia told us, “Initially we didn’t have a reservation system because we didn’t know what the response would be for our opening during a pandemic, but we had lists of wait and queues between 2-3 hours, so we decided that a reservation system would be best to implement. “
“When we launched our reservation system at 9pm on Thursday, July 2, we had 492 reservations in less than an hour.”
As impressive as the numbers above may sound, they still have plenty of room to grow, as Calia stores in Melbourne were serving around 10,000 customers per week, before the lockdown.
Before that, Calia typically received 50-100 license contract requests per month to open outlets in cities around the world.
20% of them were from Malaysia, which gave Jason and his team the assurance that there was a demand for this product in KL.
When they finally decided to open their first international outlet, the last two candidates on their shortlist were Singapore and Malaysia.
“We were looking more for a phased global rollout and expansion rather than one where we instantly opened multiple international stores,” Jason said.
“At the end of the day, it’s about the caliber of partners we have in Malaysia.”
To bring Calia Malaysia to fruition, they teamed up with Michael Fong of CPI Food Concept which boasts brands like Rocku Yakiniku and Fei Fan Hotpot, and Lyn Siew of Ruyi & Lyn and YU by Ruyi.
“Michael and Lyn are experts in their hospitality field in KL and Malaysia, and I couldn’t think of better partners to work with to launch Calia in Malaysia,” Jason praised.
Plan to stop the pandemic
One thing Jason lamented about opening Calia Malaysia was that he couldn’t mingle with customers and staff on the floor.
Ideally, he would also have loved to fly over their Melbourne squad to work with the Malaysian squad, but travel restrictions made it impossible.
Their Michelin-starred chef Francisco Araya was also unable to help the team here with training and opening preparations according to their original plans.
These are not the only problems in their operations that COVID-19 has caused, as their current supply of international products such as fish, uni and wagyu from Japan has also been reduced. Thus, they have already sold wagyu many times.
But there is better news en route, as Jason shared: “We have been informed by our suppliers that things should hopefully start to return to normal around October with more scheduled flights and more. freight from Japan and Australia. “
“I would ask our customers to give us a bit of patience as our team has certainly received a great and overwhelming response, but they are also new, so there may be some startup and operational issues at this time.
Don’t let the scenery fool you
Contrary to my initial assumption, Calia is not a luxury or fine dining establishment. The decor might fool you, but the food held the truth.
The portions were generous and I could see why Jason described it more as an upscale casual dining destination.
With dishes like Baked Scallops (RM33), New Zealand Saikyo Rack of Lamb (RM68), and Calia Wagyu Bowl (RM78), the menu is accessible and familiar with just a touch of premium.
Due to a difference in products, the menu at Calia Malaysia differs slightly from that in Melbourne, and one example is the Japanese-inspired Nasi Lemak Donburi it serves (RM28).
Melissa, who oversees Calia Malaysia’s operations on Jason’s behalf, informed us that whenever they put a new dish on the menu, they will run a training called product training.
“During our product training, we have all of our products prepared the way they should be served to our customers,” she said.
“Our chefs will explain the ingredients and the specialty of each meal to you, and our Calians will also be able to taste the food.”
Overall the ingredients at Calia were fresh and well cooked with care, but I don’t see myself going there frequently with family or friends as it is out of my current budget.
On the other hand, they have customers in Melbourne who dine with them 3-4 times a week, usually eating the same dish and earning Calia the nickname “our regular canteen”.
“We even had a guest who had eaten at Calia Melbourne 52 times in 3 months!” Jason shared.
While the response from Calia Malaysia has been good so far, it is still a bit early to say whether they will see the same customer loyalty here.
To reinforce this, they plan to launch a loyalty program soon to reward customers and repeat buyers.
Towards the next phases of growth
After the positive response they received in Malaysia, they would like to further develop the brand internationally.
They are currently in discussions to open their next store in Indonesia, Singapore or Vietnam, as well as to open more in Malaysia.
What could come first could be their online store in Malaysia, which they hope would bring in 30% of Calia’s annual revenue.
“We have been approached by many owners to open, so we will be conducting additional market research to ensure we choose the right destinations for future Calia Malaysia stores, and we look forward to welcoming our new Calia concepts to Malaysia as well. Jason said.
And in 2021, when the restrictions ease, he can finally get the chance to make a personal visit here too.
- You can read more about what we wrote about F&B here.
Featured Image Credit: Vulcan Post
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