Interview with Caffeinees Group Executive Director & Founder, June Chang
Many may know about Caffeinees which has been quite popular over the last 16 years because of its beautiful aesthetics and interesting fusion food. We interviewed June Chang about Caffeinees Group: how it started, how it got to where it is today, and what it will be like in the future.
Could you give us a brief introduction about yourself?
My name is June, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from University of Melbourne in 2006. Basically, what I studied is not what I am doing now; it was more like the marketing and media side. After I returned to Malaysia, I worked in my family business which is not related to F&B either. And then around 2008 I joined Caffeinees Group as Group Executive Director. At the time, I still have other businesses running such as the family business, which is the textile industry, and I’ve also been in the event line running a celebrity agency as well as working as an events organiser. Not many Malaysian F&B industry females own their own brand, so one of our big dreams is to make our own Malaysian brand to go overseas and expand overseas to make it known.
What is Caffeinees Group? How did it start?
Actually, Caffeinees Group started with my brother, Chris Chang, and a few friends. We both moonlighted as barista when studying in Melbourne and It sparked a dream to bring artisan coffee culture to Malaysia. We were making losses initially because the cafe was in the Korean Village, which was not a strategic location as a lot of people couldn’t find the cafe. So we decided to move to a bungalow in Jalan Damai, which is close to the city centre. It was quite successful there, but unfortunately we were not able to renew the annual license there, so we had to move elsewhere. We found a building in Jalan Kampung Pandan which had been abandoned for more than seven years, so we took it upon ourselves to clean the place up, donning gloves and hats, and it has become the current location of Caffeinees to this day. That is how we officially started this journey, and after that, we began opening other restaurants, and we have nine outlets now.
Our restaurants serve fusion food because you need to amend food from other countries to the tastebuds of Malaysians.
What are the other brands/restaurants under Caffeinees Group?
Caffeinees, our first which started 16 years ago, started with coffee. Now we are well known for wine and food pairing. We even have a Swiss sommelier who does the wine pairings and corporate service culture. We’re trying to make it more fun and less formal at Caffeinees. We serve local fusion cuisine here: you’ll find nasi lemak and you’ll find pasta and pizza and of course our star, the lobster.
Black Market (Non-Halal)
Black Market is not really fine dining, more of casual fine. It features products like Iberico pork, so this place serves Spanish fusion. It also includes things like jamón, wines, and roasted pork, which it is famous for. We called it Black Market because we wanted a name that is easily remembered and can be easily spelled by everyone. It is also “Black” in contrast to how Caffeinees is white. It’s also called Black Market because it is a place where you can eat something special, something that you cannot find outside, for example, our Iberico pork bak kut teh.
Eight Gourmets Gala (E.G.G.)
What’s unique about Eight Gourmets Gala is that we have eight different brand concepts under one roof. It’s like a high class food alley where people can just walk around and look for what food they want, including Chinese food, western food, and desserts.
Yamaguchi Fish Market
Yamaguchi Fish Market is inspired by Tsukiji fish market as well as one dining place in Taiwan that looks like a fish market with a retail section and fish tanks where you choose your own seafood which is then cooked and on the spot while standing. We serve really, really fresh seafood here, especially live Alaskan king crabs and live lobsters at reasonable prices. It is a Japanese fusion restaurant that serves premium stuff like otoro, uni and caviar, and at the same time we also serve things like Wat Tan Hor (Cantonese Style Fried Flat Noodle in Egg Stew) in order to cater to families that include the elderly and others who may not appreciate raw and cold Japanese food, so that families can enjoy a meal together at the same table.
Wine Trade (Non-Halal)
We carved out a space at Kampung Pandan to be a “wine library”, housing more than a 100 SKU from different regions and species of wine. People can bring home with retail price, or choose to dine in.
Truly Wine (Non-Halal)
Truly Wine at The Starling in Damansara Uptown was originally meant to be a wine retail as well, and our partners convinced us to sell snacks paired with wine here. It ended up becoming a restaurant. What’s unique here is that we focus on pairing wines with Malaysian food, and you’ll be surprised how wines can pair very well with Hokkien mee and many more Malaysian food!
Poison Apple (Non-Halal)
Poison Apple is a speakeasy located at Eight Gourmets Gala. Every corner is Instagrammable, so it’s like you’ve entered another world, and you can just let go of all your worries and enjoy your time there. We have special afternoon tea sets that feature the cup and teapot from Beauty and the Beast so a lot of people like to take pictures of them too.
Super F is something that we created during the pandemic. Because all our restaurants were forced to close due to the MCO, we thought of going into frozen food, which is how Super F came about. Our frozen food is not those frozen in regular freezers; we invested in a deep freeze machine for deep freezing foods at around -50 to -40 degrees to seal in freshness.
Feng Dining is from the Chinese word 丰 which can mean several things, such as abundant and plentiful, as well as dedication. Our tagline for Feng Dining is “Luxury Dining on Wheels” because we want to bring fine dining to your house, which also means that we bring the table cloth, table mat, cutleries, wine, food, and even the chef to your house. We customised a truck to make it into a mobile kitchen for fine dining. Our team will go to your place and set up everything. You only need to sit down and enjoy the food. Even to this day, we are getting many orders for this service.
This is another business that I started during the pandemic. We started Super F and Feng Dining to help provide work to our restaurant staff who have been with us for many years, some even up to 16 years.
Truffle Chocolate Malaysia
What originally started as a challenge to our Head Chef at Yamaguchi Fish Market to impress my friend during the pandemic ended up as an amazing dessert. My fellow foodie friends who have also tried it convinced me to open a company to sell this. Now we have a Truffle Chocolate House built as well.
Are there any awards that you have received?
Something that we’re really proud of is that we’ve been interviewed by CCTV—China Central Television. They travelled to Malaysia to interview Chinese people who were born outside of China a.k.a. overseas Chinese who have made good contributions to the Chinese community and those who are doing well in their industry.
We also received an award from Sin Chew Daily for Malaysia Top 100 Restaurants.
We’ve been invited by Asia Excellence Entrepreneur Federation Japan (AEEFJ) who works with the Japanese government to recognise entrepreneurship and achievements, as well as to link up with Malaysian business entrepreneurs to exchange Japanese and Malaysian businesses and cultures. The committee came to our restaurants when they were visiting Malaysia, which was how I got to know them, and then they decided to give us this award, the AEEFJ Award 2018. Our team and I flew over to Tokyo, Japan, to receive the award from them. I think we were the only Malaysians at the time to receive this award.
More recently, our company received a certificate from the National Consumer Action Council for Corporate Social Responsibility 2020 because of our participation in helping out during the pandemic.
What developments do you hope to see in Caffeinees Group 5 years into the future?
Five years, just nice.
We are going to focus on our restaurants and expand with more outlets and bring some of our brands to the international platform. As usual, we are not looking at quantity but quality.
Truffle Chocolate Malaysia will kick off the overseas outreach very soon, bringing all our brands to the next level, experience and food quality wise. Explorations are underway to allow more people to experience Feng Dining from their own premises.
Is there anything else you would like to share to the readers of FlyKLIA?
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