28 Sep Nice to Meet You!
Hi! We’re Dennis and Edward from Chai Bar, the latest fast casual restaurant to hit Petaling Jaya. We make awesome salads with grilled meats and all-natural juices and smoothies.
To kick off the blog, we’d like to share our story – a little ditty about how a spark of an idea became brick and mortar.
About 3 1/2 years ago (guys are bad with dates), we were at the starting point of our lives. We just started our jobs, began working out in gyms and in an effort to ‘boost market value’, as our fellow Malaysians would call it, we went for dance classes (Latin American ballroom to be exact). We were never good at it but the weekly car pool to the dance centre gave us ample time to talk shop.
We both loved food as all Malaysians do but we realised one thing. It’s crazy hard to try to eat healthy in Malaysia and even harder – trying to eat right. If you’re a guy trying to get six-pack abs or a girl digging the Jessica Alba look, you’d want to stay off bad carbohydrates and sugar as much as possible. It’s almost impossible to find anything like that here, where almost every meal revolves around rice. Any meal outside is almost 50% to 75% rice with tiny amounts of proteins and vegetables. Don’t forget the sugar packed iced tea too. We loved fried rice but we knew there had to be another way.
While travelling together, we had our eureka moment in Singapore. Salads!
When we popped the first forkful of our self-crafted salads, the light bulb atop our heads lit. Darn, it was tasty and chock full of the good stuff – couscous, radish, onions, cucumbers, roasted eggplant and roast beef with lots of baby spinach. It was nothing we ever had before – a full-size main course salad, that we could design ourselves. Sweet. This was way better and healthier than any sandwich. It was low carb, slow carb, paleo and could fit right into any modern diet. However, there were a thousand ways we wanted to improve on what we saw and we knew we could come up with something more awesome.
Like a good Korean romantic movie, we parted ways with a vague promise to get back together after a couple of years. We needed cash to start this baby and we were poor kids. Edward worked at project management at an engineering firm and later quit to gain experience in an international sandwich chain. Meanwhile, Dennis was busy flying all over the world, serving guests at 35,000 ft in the air. In his travels, he checked out salad bars and healthy restaurant chains all over the world and saw how a new way of thinking about food – slow food, real ingredients, natural, sustainable, farm-to-table, was changing the world.
Fast forward to 2014, and we’ve R&D’d our menu to bits, cobbled together business and operations plans, pitched to investors, hunted high and low for locations and finally about to open our restaurant in October. It wasn’t easy and there were many potholes along the way – worries about money, tense family relations, girl issues (I see you smiling), but we came through in the end.
We have so many people to thank but the most notable, are our families for their support (without them, we couldn’t have started this), our friends Haze Long and KY Teoh for helping us brainstorm ideas, Tze Min for her advice, Jian Tung for his experience, our investors for being a steady hand of support and guidance, and for the others that helped out in small ways, we are grateful to have you in our lives.
This is just the beginning of our journey. Be with us as we try to change the way Malaysians eat, one person at a time. It won’t be easy but with your help and support, we can make real, honest food that will help people be the best they can be.