A TASTE OF MALAYSIA
“She keeps on reminding us in the early days that what’s not good enough for you to put in your mouth, is not good enough for anyone,” says Datin Maureen Ooi, CEO of the Madam Kwan chain of restaurants.
And the ‘she’ that Maureen refers to is none than her mother-in-law, Kwan Swee Lian, whom the Madam Kwan restaurants are named after.
“At that time, most of us still had regular job. I was actually doing membership services in a premium golf club,” recalls Maureen of the time in 1999, when she and her husband Datuk Rudy Foo decided to bring back ‘moms’ legacy, after Madam Kwan lost her restaurant business two years earlier.
Expansion of Madam Kwan’s since has been relatively conservative but with eight outlets, all located in prime shopping malls in the Klang Valley, the latest being Genting Highland Resorts (‘Business is doing really well there”, adds Maureen), the focus has always been on serving quality and consistent Malaysian cuisines unique to the family’s recipe.
“Today, if you like the curry that we make - not everybody will like it - but if you like it, you more or less have to come back for its taste because it’s unique to us.”
“I guess that has something to do with what the brand is all about. But this is not something new, we have been doing it since the 70s,” says Maureen when asked about how Madam Kwan’s stays ahead in the competitive food business.
In the end of the day, you have to tell yourself consistency is not something you could compromise
“In the end of the day, you have to tell yourself consistency is not something you could compromise.”
And the strategy of delivering that unique brand brand of taste for familiar, local hawker cuisines has served the company well, even with their products priced at a more premium level.
For more than a decade, three items off Madam Kwan’s menu - the Nasi Lemak, Nasi Bojari and Char Kuey Teow - has consistently delivered more than 30 percent of the restaurant’s total sales.
“I think when that happened, in the real sense of the matter, is that you have become famous for something,” says Maureen “In the food and beverage business, you got to have a unique selling point. So, I guess we have somehow gotten that.”
Expansion on the Cards
As far as local expansion is concerned, Madam Kwan’s is at a ‘very comfortable’ pace, with one new outlet expected to open in Mont Kiara this year. On the international front, the brand is roaring to go, with Indonesia being its key focus now.
“Over the last ten years, we have turned many people down. But we are ready to go now.”
“We are looking into Indonesia because we do serve a lot of customers from Jakarta and some of the major cities.”
Madam Kwan’s opened their very first overseas outlet in Singapore in 2013 but decided to shut it down. ‘It’s a relatively smaller market than Malaysia and the labour law is quite tedious.” says Maureen “With all that we put in and the size of the market, we decided to put our efforts in another market.”
Future-Proofing Madam Kwan's
“I’m very afraid for the next ten years,” Maureen says frankly about technology is disrupting businesses. “So, one of the things that we really focus on in the next five years, is to put technology in our business. We are not too bullish (on expansion) because we want to take our profits and pump it back into (the business) to get ourselves ready for the next ten years.”
While embracing technology is one part of Maureen’s strategy to stay ahead of the curve, she also has big dreams to continue her mother-in-law’s legacy by putting Malaysian cuisine on the map.
“It still has a lot of potential to go. My dream would be to put Malaysian food on the world map. And if I can’t do it, I would like to find someone to help me to get there. To be able to have this opportunity to do that, to me, it’s the biggest achievement.”
Watch the full interview to learn about Maureen’s management and leadership strategies and how she sees automation and artificial intelligence disrupting the restaurant business