Premium Malaysian F&B Creating Unique Nasi Lemak Dishes
Malaysia is saturated with a multitude of brands of nasi lemak.
Ask anyone and they’ll likely have their own favorites.
Fully aware of his competition, NALE’s Andreas Domingo nevertheless decided to dive deep into the Red Ocean.
Located in the iCity Mall in Shah Alam, the brand positions itself as a premium nasi lemak from 3 focal points: quality of food, ambiance and hospitality at an affordable price.
Graduated from a campus restaurant
NALE is a brand derived from The Lunch Box installed at the Sunway Monash residence for over 10 years.
Despite a captured market of students with limited food options, expanding the business while maintaining quality was a tall order.
The Lunch Box was constantly changing menus to keep customers drawn to their offers.
This made it difficult for the staff to keep up with the quality as they wouldn’t have enough time to get used to the operations before the menu changed again.
However, over the 13 years of operation, the team has managed to create unique sauces and sambals with local ingredients, which have become their expertise.
The Lunch Box is also known for its grilled chicken associated with these different sauces.
Therefore, they wanted to create something from this basic product.
“It was after 13 years that I realized that it was almost impossible to scale a restaurant on campus and that I would stay there for another 13 years if I kept trying,” he says.
Andreas wanted to use it to create a brand of locally grilled chicken, much like a Malaysian version of Nando’s.
But starting a new brand from scratch would be too risky, especially if customers didn’t know the concept.
It would also take longer to establish a market presence, as Andreas later found out through research and feedback from his friends.
The idea of nasi lemak being the carrier for their grilled chicken and sauces would come up a lot during the team’s discussions.
“So we thought why not refine the nasi lemak experience with our special sauces and sambals. It was a concept people were excited to talk about, ”he said.
The team funneled RM 1 million of capital into NALE, named after “NAsi” and “LEmak”, and built The Nasi Lemak Co. in iCity Mall.
Still, Andreas admitted that choosing to open there wasn’t one of his best decisions after being in the F&B scene for over 10 years.
Life beyond campus was a whole different ball game
Originally, they wanted to target clients in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.
Asked why they then decided to open their restaurant in iCity, which was in Shah Alam, Andreas explained that there were several reasons.
“Two months after iCity opened, we went to a friend and told us the business there was good,” he says.
“It is true that there were a lot of people, the sales figures for some outlets were impressive and the rental was correct considering the initial clientele. It didn’t take long to decide.
Little did they know the mall hype would go away soon after NALE opened.
People also didn’t consider nasi lemak to be top quality food, which made it difficult to attract customers.
“Being in a mall actually raised eyebrows and people were skeptical at first,” he said.
They needed to get customers to try their food somehow.
So the team (secretly) offered a ‘money back guarantee’ to customers if they didn’t like the food.
“Fortunately none of them asked for a refund and some of them have become regulars,” Andreas said.
The editors of our sister brand, DiscoverKL, have actually reviewed a few of NALE’s dishes quite recently, and you can read their experience here.
Despite being in Shah Alam, NALE still managed to attract people who were not in their primary target market.
This has given Adreas confidence that his plan to open a second outlet in Midvalley next year will be viable.
No survival without delivery platforms
Andreas has never been a fan of food deliveries.
The reason being, they couldn’t maintain the quality of the food, it was tedious and time consuming to pack, and the commissions for the delivery platforms were expensive.
But COVID-19 has changed everything.
“The only way to survive was to make deliveries and I have to admit that without them we would have been dead and buried a long time ago,” he said.
During the AGC, the iCity outlet was closed and deliveries were made from their kitchen in Sunway.
It was a more central location in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.
This ultimately gave them the ability to deliver their food to their initial target customers.
But without a strong brand presence in the market, they had to rely heavily on their network to create customer awareness.
This interest would unfortunately fade after 2 months and they would only manage to sell an average of 50 to 100 plates per day.
“That number wasn’t too bad as a beginner, but it wasn’t enough to cover the loss of meals in sales,” Andreas said.
So Andreas had to give up a few underperforming staff.
Salary cuts have been directed towards allowances and overtime, so as not to affect the basic salary of employees.
“When we reopened after MCO, sales returned to pre-MCO numbers, mainly because we finally brought Grab and Foodpanda online,” he said.
Although shipments now represent 30% of their sales, paying commissions to be listed on apps was slowing their profits.
Andreas shared that due to these orders, the team would now have to start their journey over again, breaking even.
It may also take more than 2 years than expected.
This will not prevent their goal from developing.
Once we are present in most of the major shopping malls in Klang Valley and major cities in Malaysia, the next target will be global where we target major cities around the world to finally get nasi lemak the recognition it deserves. .
Andreas Domingo, founder of NALE
- You can read more about NALE here.
- You can read more about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Andreas Domingo, Founder of NALE
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