History of homegrown F&B company by a Malaysian family

They say going into business with family can get tricky. While this may be true for some, we’ve seen local businesses rise to potential challenges and become popular brands.

One of these Malaysian brands is the F&B company, Serai Group. During her 3 decades of operation, a mother and her son-in-law developed the restaurant business, even giving birth to new brands within the group.

A matter of eating for free

History of homegrown FB company by a Malaysian family
The food at Serai / Image credit: Serai Group

The story begins with Rina Abdullah, a former flight attendant at Malaysian Airlines, who is the founder of the Serai Group. Married to a hotelier, it was common for the couple to move from one state to another.

It wasn’t until her oldest daughter, Qistina Taff, was ready to start elementary school that Rina decided that it would be best to settle down. So, they moved from Johor to Shah Alam, intending to stay there for good.

This is where Rina would embark on her entrepreneurial adventure. And it all started with a simple question, when Qistina probed, “Mom, why don’t you open a restaurant? Then we can eat for free, ”Rina recalled in an interview with Malaysia’s Top 10.

The family were big fans of Thai food and often frequented such restaurants, so it was only fitting that they would venture into F&B through the kitchen.

With free time, Rina got to work and started Serai Thai in 1990. Things turned out in their favor despite the competition, and she reported that the restaurant was well received by the people of Shah Alam.

Grow the brand name

In 2006, Qistina, who had returned from Australia with an undergraduate degree in interior design, decided it was time to expand the brand. The move was helped by her husband, Najib Abdul Hamid, who joined the family business.

Najib himself has a long portfolio of careers as a chef in hotels and restaurants in Australia, where he has resided for 11 years.

History of homegrown FB company by a Malaysian family
Qistina and Najib, interior designer and CEO of the group / Image credit: Serai Group

The catering activity developed in 2010, taking the name of Serai Group. Adopting the name “Serai”, which means lemongrass in Malay, was a deliberate decision by the team, as the first restaurant was already a recognized local brand.

Over 3 decades, the first Serai Thai restaurant in Shah Alam still exists, with 7 other outlets in Klang Valley serving 3 generations of customers from all walks of life.

The start of great ambitions

5 years after Serai Group became more stable as a business, Jibby & Co was launched at Empire Gallery, Subang, with a greenhouse concept designed by Qistina. The restaurant serves dishes from the antipodes (Australia and New Zealand), with your usual Big Breakfast, poached eggs and “The Hangover” on the menu.

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Since then, the group has grown with more restaurants under the Jibby brand, a nickname Najib used in Australia.

Jibby East serves Pan Asian and Western offerings. Decorated with eye-catching wall art and neon lights, the restaurant likely targets a younger, contemporary group as an audience.

Meanwhile, Jibby Chow creates his interpretation of Chinese cuisines, for example offering a chili crab tour with fried mantou and steamed fish in soy sauce sourced from Bentong.

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The interior of Jibby Chow / Image Credit: Jibby Group

Jibby by the Park adopts a greenhouse concept, where customers are actually surrounded by the greenery of Desa Park City.

“Each new point of sale is our pride and our joy. Every brand is designed from scratch, from concept and menu to food design and presentation, ”Qistina said in an interview with Prestige.

However, the lack of manpower, maintaining consistency in their food, and ensuring their brand stays relevant with current trends were a few challenges she also highlighted in running a restaurant business. Thus, the team spends a lot of time visiting the different points of sale or supervising the production line to overcome these obstacles.

The dishes and concepts are inspired by the family’s trips abroad, but Qistina said it is not enough to replicate a successful concept abroad. “Know your local market and fill in the gaps. Something that works abroad may not necessarily work locally, ”she shared in the interview.

A whole family affair

With Rina as founder of the group, her son-in-law as general manager, Qistina at the head of interior design, and Atiqah, Rina’s 3rd child, managing the brand’s social networks, Serai Group is a family affair.

Based on reports, the company would also cultivate a family-like work culture with its hundreds of employees, and some of its employees have been around since the early days of the Serai Group.

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The Serai Group family / Image credit: Serai Group

Between 2019 and 2020, Rina partnered with her former company, Malaysia Airlines, to become her catering partner as part of a promotion. Through this partnership, members of Enrich (the airline membership program) were able to earn one point for every ringgit spent at restaurants in the Serai group.

At the end of 2021, Serai Group announced its intention to open a restaurant in London. “We don’t just want to be a local champion. We want to establish the company on the international stage, ”Najib said.

To date, there is no indication that a London-based Serai Group restaurant still exists, so it is likely that it is still under construction or that plans have been delayed or changed.

Nonetheless, with a strong local presence after more than 30 years of operation, the popularity of the Serai group’s restaurants is unlikely to end anytime soon.

In fact, the team would already open several other points of sale to KLIA through a partnership with SSP Group and Travel Food Services.

If the international restaurants of the Serai group do not yet go as planned, it will be a good opportunity for the local F&B empire to delight the taste buds of travelers all over the world anyway.

  • Learn more about the Serai group here.
  • Check out the other F&B companies we’ve featured here.

Image Credit Featured: Rina Abdullah and Najib Abdul Hamid of Serai Group

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