Bread And Pasta Cafe In Penang
“People called me to scold me for why I sent them bread that was already spoiled,” recalls Chan Su Yin from the early days of Yin’s Sourdough Bakery.
Not many people knew what sourdough was in 2012. Yin was one of three commercial bakers making it across Malaysia at the time. Tommy Le Baker and White Brick Oven (aka Mr. Mustaffa), both at KL, were the other two.
My first encounter with sourdough bread was with Table & Apron in my neighborhood. I didn’t get a good first impression either as the bite was hard, chewy, and well, sour. I, too, thought it was spoiled.
After a year of struggling, Yin and her husband were about to stop. However, they have crossed over and advanced 9 years, the bakery now has 6 outlets all over Malaysia that operate alongside their own wholemeal food store and cafe.
A slow climb
Speaking to Vulcan Post, Yin said it was extremely difficult to get his business up and running when it was just starting out.
At the time, she and her husband had left the United States to care for her ailing father in Penang. It was in the United States that Yin started making sourdough bread as a housewife.
Back in Penang, Yin was at a crossroads. She could either go back to her old job in a multinational pharmaceutical company and make a comfortable living for her 3 children, or start her own bakery.
Attracted to the latter, she had one mission in mind: to disseminate the benefits of the traditional technique of baking to a wider audience. Indeed, she discovered that it could help control a person’s sugar levels, proven by the results of her diabetic mother during a visit to the doctor.
She shared that baking sourdough bread was the main method used long before the advent of commercial yeast. Its dough would rise and rise naturally for 2 days from a fermented culture without the aid of yeast (which takes 3 hours for the same result).
The bacteria in the culture, lactobacilli, emit lactic acid as a waste of their metabolism. This is where the bread gets its bitter taste. Meanwhile, the long fermentation process is where wheat and gluten break down, making it a better choice for people with gluten intolerance.
Passionate about the health benefits of bread, the couple took a leap of faith to open a sourdough bakery in Balik Pulau, Penang. His customers then included other shops and cafes that sold his bread.
The B2C segment could also order their sweets online and request to pick them up at their convenience.
It was a groundbreaking initiative for the time and is what then helped the company throughout AGC alongside its own delivery app.
Bring bread to people
As mentioned above, Yin was a bit too clairvoyant. Most Malaysians were used to eating soft, sweet commercial bread and could not appreciate the taste of the freshly made alternatives. So she had to find a way to persuade the Malays.
With that, the couple decided to move their bakery to Georgetown, a larger city with a market more open to trying out new concepts. Not to mention the tourists already familiar with fresh bread.
They opened a small cafe where they could serve coffee and sourdough sandwiches. Here, Yin could also interact with customers and share the reasons behind the “foul” taste.
She explained to diners, “Try to eat real runny kampung chicken compared to the chickens we buy in the markets. The kampung chicken will be soft and tough. It’s the same analogy.
The more she cooked and sold, the more her obsession grew. She began to experiment with other things that could be made with leaven. They ranged from lasagna sheets to slices of pasta and even cookies.
These experiences are now staple foods served in Yin’s Sourdough Bakery cafes and as raw ingredients in their whole food section.
Curious, I bought myself some sourdough pasta with spinach and pumpkin flavors. Because it’s made without preservatives, it only took about 4 minutes to boil and had an al-dente texture.
But, I didn’t taste any hint of spinach or pumpkin in them and Yin made it clear that was not the point.
“There’s a mixture in the sourdough that dominates the flavor of the spinach and the pumpkin, and it’s mainly there for its nutritional value,” she says.
The store also sells the sourdough dough in its original form and the team is in the process of introducing a beet variant.
For now, Yin and his family are staying in Penang to keep their 4 outlets there. With one in Ipoh and another in KL, she makes it her short-term goal to open more outlets in the Klang Valley.
“However, the pandemic threw a wrench into the works. Now like all other businesses, especially F & Bs, we are just trying to survive this tough time, ”she said.
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With the craze for sourdough gaining ground in recent years, I think it will be a serious competitor for new KL players if it expands its points of sale.
The company could also capitalize on the offer of masterclasses and workshops on how to make sourdough at home.
This is especially since it is a fairly difficult trade for beginners and most would be willing to try under the supervision of a seasoned baker.
- You can read more about Yin Sourdough Bakery here.
- You can read more about other Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Chan Su Yin, Founder and Head Baker of Yin’s Sourdough Bakery
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