Popular Malaysian Glasshouse Cafe At MAHSA Avenue
When I think of greenhouse coffees, Pokok.KL is one of the first that comes to mind. It might be small, but every time I visit the queue never shrinks to less than 40 minutes.
As a testament to its popularity, it serves up to 400 people per weekday and 1,000 people / day on weekends.
“Within 8 days of our gradual launch in October 2018, we received an overwhelming response on November 7, 2018, which was a holiday in Deepavali.”
“Over 500 people visited our little cafe that day. Needless to say, we were extremely ill-prepared for this, ”said Datin Christine Bong, co-founder of The Brickhouse Group, with Vulcan Post.
Brickhouse Group is behind Pokok.KL, among other F&B services like more cafes, catering and events.
Their popularity and competitiveness in the F&B industry today, however, came from humble beginnings, and from a small greenhouse coffee in 2014.
Target the student crowd first
Prior to Pokok.KL, Datin Christine and her then friend, now husband and business partner Dato ‘Sharon, invested in their flagship cafe called “The Glasshouse Cafe”.
Dato ‘Sharon Haniffa is the other co-founder of The Brickhouse Group, and whose family owns and operates MAHSA University.
There was space available where Pokok.KL is today, so the two co-invested RM 60,000 together to build a small, 250-square-foot greenhouse cafe.
Brickhouse Group was also established in the same year and operated cafes at several universities and ultimately at MaGIC.
The cafes inside the other premises of the university were:
- University of Nottingham, Treehouse Cafe
- Multimedia University, Cyberjaya Campus, Warehouse Cafe
- MAHSA University, Bandar Saujana Putra Campus, Lakehouse Cafe
Event management was never their original intention for the cafe and the brand, but running cafes in universities gave them a problem: semester breaks.
They had to figure out how to support the business during the semi-annual vacation, which is on average 3-4 months, from which events and catering came into the picture.
“When catering and events picked up and eclipsed the income from our university cafes, we made the call to close all the university premises and consolidate the team,” recalls Datin Christine.
“We had always thought that the Glasshouse Cafe would win the favor of the public with a solid cuisine that served dishes well accepted by the patrons we hosted. In June 2018, we started building and developing Pokok.KL, and the rest is history.
Hungry for growth
In just 6 years, the Brickhouse Group has 6 establishments that bring together catering, event management, groceries and convenience stores.
Their team often pivoted to seize business opportunities to grow the brand.
After learning how to run a small business, make coffee, and set up simple POSs for a cafe in the first year, they took that experience the following year to open the aforementioned 3 university cafes.
The following year they turned to catering and events to support each other during the semester vacation. This involved working 20 hours a day, 7 days a week.
They ended up closing a few outlets, but continued to retrain their staff to familiarize themselves with catering and events.
Their fourth year marked an important year of growth. Despite the closure of almost all outlets, their revenues were actually 3 times higher than in the previous year.
“The first 2 months were a steep learning curve as we had to hire, learn, unlearn and relearn as the lines never wavered. Serving fresh, hot and fast food is a lot harder than it looks, even more so when it’s in large numbers, ”recalled Datin Christine of the early days of Pokok.KL.
With additional manpower from the Brickhouse Group events and accounts team, Pokok.KL was able to continue to grow and even grow.
They continued to improve their revenues and services and achieved around RM11 million in turnover that year in the group’s activities.
This year, despite the pandemic, their hard work has raised them to RM 3.9 million.
Finding ways to pivot the pandemic
As events are a seasonal activity, their monthly income is expected to fluctuate, but the pandemic has made the situation worse.
They went from catering to 2,000 people in 2 days to almost immediate shutdown.
However, rotating their business to adapt to a hiccup like this is what they’re good at, as they’ve shown throughout their years in business.
Currently, they are developing a platform for express events and virtual events to cushion the impact.
“The first AGC was extremely difficult for us across all verticals of our business, and we used our prior grocery knowledge to initiate an online grocery delivery,” Datin Christine told Vulcan Post.
“We have an extremely resilient team that has come together to find, package, deliver, manage customers and conduct marketing activities, all of which previously performed different tasks. It helped us survive.
On the bright side, they are still looking forward to their future projects that would expand the Brickhouse group.
Some of them include expanding their central kitchen, creating a stylish halal dim sum joint, establishing a colorful poolside cafe, and even a shared workspace.
“The ability to pivot, manage costs and stay positive during this pandemic is the only survival impetus,” concluded Datin Christine.
- You can read more about Brickhouse Group here and Pokok.KL here.
- You can read more about the other Malaysian startups we’ve written about here.
Featured Image Credit: Datin Christine Bong, Co-Founder of The Brickhouse Group
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