BEAUTY IN THE FRIDGE

14 Y/O DJ eatery that ignored social media learns it to start anew after COVID-19 closure

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Chris Chin is part of a family of well-established cooks, chefs, and home bakers. In fact, he’s the cousin of Brian Chin who’s the Managing Director of Dave’s Deli and owner of The Naked Lunchbox.

“In the early ’90s, my parents were shareholders for a chain of Western food restaurants. Then in 2005, my sister and I ventured into school canteen operations in KDU College, Sri KDU, Tenby International School, and Wesley Methodist International School,” Chris shared.

Not long after, the siblings established a neighbourhood restaurant serving Malaysian comfort food in Damansara Jaya (DJ) called CintaRia@DJ (CintaRia) in 2007. Averaging between RM60-80k per month in revenue, income plummeted to less than 20% when MCO 1.0 came into effect in March 2020.

The Chin family in front of the restaurant / Image Credit: CintaRia@DJ

“With frequent school closures, catering cut down to zero, and a huge payroll, we had to make a drastic decision to downsize the team and even close down our restaurant in DJ,” the 42-year-old told Vulcan Post.

“We have surely fit the saying, ‘from Zero to Hero’ but the opposite, for now.” 

Losing their grip

CintaRia has been on the food delivery bandwagon even pre-pandemic, but with its own fleet which later had to be auctioned off to boost the business’s cash reserves. 

Hopping onto food delivery platforms was a futile effort as well. Most of its customers consist of the neighbourhood’s more senior population who tend to be unable to bear the high delivery costs and would rather drop by for takeaways.

Tables were full at the restaurant pre-pandemic / Image Credit: CintaRia@DJ

Fierce competition on GrabFood and foodpanda didn’t help either, nor did the plentiful options from blooming mom and pop home cooks selling their dishes online.

In a desperate attempt, the team began approaching condominium residents nearby, offering meal packages via group buys. But all this effort only amounted to bringing CintaRia’s average revenue per month to RM1,000.

Struggling to keep the lights on, CintaRia waved its white flag a year into Malaysia’s lockdowns. On March 21, 2021, the business officially shuttered.

Chris’s school canteen operations also suffered as education moved online. “With no subsidies from the government or school management, we were left with ample stocks, job cuts, and zero income from all angles,” he listed. It led their partnered schools to terminate their contracts as it didn’t make sense for the educational institutions to bear such costs either.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

With over a decade’s worth of experience in the F&B industry, the Chin family isn’t letting their expertise go to waste. Seeing the rise and market acceptance of small-time home cooks and bakers selling their food online, Chris’s wife, Nichole decided to join the trend by launching mynicholescakery (Nichole’s Cakery Cafe). 

Some cakes made by Nichole / Image Credit: Nichole’s Cakery Cafe

The only problem was, neither Chris nor Nichole was savvy enough to operate a business purely online. “I’ve only recently set up our page. You see, we are from the old-fashion era and online stuff is still very new to us,” admitted Chris.

“I was somewhat pessimistic and traditional over social media apps at the beginning. But as I educated myself, I found that it’s no longer a want, but a need.” 

Chris personally described his social media skills as “terrible and lots to improve [on]” during our interview. Being neck-deep in his restaurant’s operations for the past 14 years, the businessman found it hard to put aside the time to keep up with shifting trends online.

“But now we’re slowly getting the hang of it while managing our own social media pages to keep up with the younger group’s jargon, and improving my photography skills,” he hoped.

As engagement and consistent postings are important for any e-commerce seller to build an online presence, the couple ensures to spend some time curating content. They’ve learnt that posts can be as simple as pictures of food, or screenshots of customer reviews.

Chris is also making an active effort to improve his social media skills. “I would first start to familiarise myself with how to use the story mode in Facebook and Instagram. I always find it so mysterious,” he commented.

In addition to selling the food offered at CintaRia via Nichole’s Cakery Cafe, Nichole also bakes and sells cakes during festive events, like her recent Father’s Day desserts.

While their online sales haven’t grown exponentially for now as they’re only a month in, Chris reported that the revenue has been enough to cover some bills. The duo is now working on partnerships with food marketplaces to sell their speciality cakes.

As for the now-defunct CintaRia lot in DJ, Chris shared that it will be renovated into a bakery cafe once it’s safe to do so.

“It’s evident that a shift to digital is mandatory, with more and more people spending additional time online. Ultimately, Nichole’s Cakery Cafe will have to be strong in this area too,” shared Chris about his plan in bringing the new brand to success.

  • You can learn more about Nichole’s Cakery Cafe here.
  • You can read about more Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Chris Chin, co-founder of CintaRia@DJ

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