The BIG Group’s founder chats secret to success and innovation in Malaysia’s food scene
Have you always wanted to be in business?
Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, business has always been part of my world. Through them I learned its many aspects – ruling with my head and heart, identifying opportunities and pursuing them. Conversations and observations throughout my early years spurred my interest in business.
Why the food business? Why not auto or property?
My love affair with cooking and food began at a very early age when I was living with my grandmother in Ipoh for four years. Watching my mother and her good friend cook in my childhood kitchen continued to feed my curiosity and interest and I knew then that whatever I do in the future would involve cooking and food.
What was the first thing you sold?
I was baking and selling carrot cakes to cafés around Kuala Lumpur when I turned 13.
With more than two dozen eateries, a grocer, a catering business and a B&B in the UK in six short years, what drives you? From where do you get your inspiration and enthusiasm?
Since I was very young, 11 months old maybe, my parents gave me the opportunity to travel. Since then I have been exploring many countries – trying to understand the culture and get a real feeling of the local atmosphere. This is a great source of inspiration, along with reading, research and input from the team.
What or who is the reason you get out of bed every morning?
My beautiful wife and amazing daughter. They inspire and motivate me daily, and I want to be the best husband and father to them.
Do you worry about being burnt out?
The food industry is relentless. It is both physically and emotionally demanding. Making time for my family – having weekly date nights with Elizabeth and daily playtime with Blake – and cooking is how I balance my hectic life.
Have you any regrets?
Not eating that last piece of brownie from Ottolenghi we brought back on our last trip.
What is your motto?
Two words that are very important to me – thoughtfulness and consideration. In every decision I make for The BIG Group, I keep this in mind – being thoughtful, respectful and ethical. I try to insufflate a mutual respect for people, through the products we use and our way of doing things. It is important to have a value system and make sure that what we build together is here to stay.
What can fans expect from BIG in five years? Expansion abroad, perhaps?
We will continue to strengthen our brands to ensure that our customers are constantly treated to great food and impeccable service, and a positive dining experience each time. As we inspire ourselves with what’s happening in the food scene globally and locally, we plan to bring new concepts and ideas to the market either through our existing brands or new ones.
Is BIG involved in any Corporate Social Responsibility activity? Are you?
Together with Dignity Foundation and Berjaya Cares Foundation, we founded Project B. Its purpose is to empower disadvantaged children through vocational education in order to become active participants in society as well as transform their own future. This education encompasses highly specific skill sets in the food, beverage and service sector that will provide the holistic development of the children.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Still searching the world for new and wonderful experiences and seeing how we can emulate those experiences for our customers in Malaysia.
How has the Malaysian dining scene changed in the last 10 years?
By leaps and bounds. Consumers are becoming more discerning with their palate which improves the selection of restaurants available. It’s a survival- of-the-fittest business and this will push restaurateurs to push their A Game.
Where do you think KL’s dining scene is headed next? What is the next big thing, so to speak?
Bespoke home cooking services – it will allow people to entertain more at home.
Where do you dine? Which are your favourite restaurants?
At home more and more to enable me to spend time with my family. Favourites? That’s like asking which is your favourite child!
How do you wind down after a day’s work?
Spending time with my beautiful wife and daughter. They remind me of all the good things in life and to be grateful for all blessings surrounding me.
Photos courtesy of The Big Group