Chris Chin is part of a family of established cooks, chefs and amateur bakers. In fact, he’s the cousin of Brian Chin, Managing Director of Dave’s Deli and owner of The Naked Lunchbox.
“In the early 90s, my parents were shareholders in a chain of western restaurants. Then in 2005 my sister and I ventured into school canteen operations at KDU College, Sri KDU, Tenby International School and Wesley Methodist International School, ”explained Chris.
Soon after, the siblings established a neighborhood restaurant serving comforting Malaysian cuisine in Damansara Jaya (DJ) called CintaRia @ DJ (CintaRia) in 2007. With an average turnover of RM60-80,000 per month, income dropped to less than 20% when MCO 1.0 went into effect in March 2020.
“With frequent school closings, zero catering and a huge payroll, we had to make a drastic decision to downsize the team and even close our restaurant as a DJ,” said the man from 42 years at Vulcan Post.
“We have certainly matched the saying ‘zero to hero’, but the opposite, for now. ”
Losing their grip
CintaRia has been on the food delivery train even before the pandemic, but with its own fleet which then had to be auctioned off to increase the company’s cash reserves.
Hopping on food delivery platforms was also a futile endeavor. Most of its customers consist of the older population of the neighborhood who tend not to be able to afford the high delivery costs and prefer to pass for take out.
The fierce competition on GrabFood and foodpanda didn’t help either, nor did the many options offered by fulfilled moms and home cooks selling their meals online.
In a desperate attempt, the team began approaching residents of nearby condominiums, offering meal packages through group buying. But all these efforts only brought Cintatia’s average monthly income to RM1,000.
Struggling to keep the lights on, CintaRia waved its one-year white flag in lockdowns in Malaysia. On March 21, 2021, the company officially closed its doors.
Chris’ school canteen operations have also suffered from bringing education online. “Without grants from the government or the school administration, we ended up with sufficient inventory, job cuts and zero income from all angles,” he said. This led their partner schools to terminate their contracts as it did not make sense for educational institutions to bear such costs either.
If you can’t beat them, join them
With over a decade of experience in the F&B industry, the Chin family don’t let their expertise go to waste. Seeing the rise and market acceptance of small home cooks and bakers selling their food online, Chris’ wife Nichole decided to join the trend by launching mynicholescakery (Nichole’s Cakery Cafe).
The only problem was that neither Chris nor Nichole were savvy enough to run a business solely online. “I only recently created our page. You see, we’re coming from the fashion age and things online are still very new to us, ”Chris admitted.
“I was somewhat pessimistic and traditional about social media apps at first. But as I inquired, I discovered that it was no longer a desire, but a need.
Chris personally described his social media skills as “terrible and a lot to improve.” [on]During our interview. Being at the heart of his restaurant’s operations for the past 14 years, the businessman has struggled to set aside time to keep up with changing trends online.
“But now we’re slowly understanding while running our own social media pages to keep up with the jargon of the younger group and improving my photography skills,” he hopes.
Since engagement and consistent posts are important for any ecommerce seller to establish an online presence, the couple make sure to spend time curating the content. They’ve learned that posts can be as simple as photos of food or screenshots of customer reviews.
Chris is also making an active effort to improve his social media skills. “I would start by familiarizing myself with using story mode on Facebook and Instagram first. I still find it so mysterious, ”he commented.
In addition to selling the food offered to CintaRia through Nichole’s Cakery Cafe, Nichole also bakes and sells cakes at festive events, like his recent Father’s Day desserts.
While their online sales haven’t grown exponentially so far, as they’re only a month old, Chris said the income was enough to cover some bills. The duo are now working on partnerships with food markets to sell their specialty cakes.
Regarding the now-defunct CintaRia batch at DJ’s, Chris said it will be remodeled into a bakery-café once it is safe.
“It is obvious that a digital switch-over is mandatory, with more and more people spending more time online. At the end of the day, Nichole’s Cakery Cafe will also need to be strong in this area, ”said Chris of his plan to make the new brand successful.
- You can read more about Nichole’s Cakery Cafe here.
- You can read more about Malaysian startups here.
Image Credit Featured: Chris Chin, CintaRia @ DJ Co-Founder
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