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Madam Kwan's opens in Singapore
Publication Date : 22-03-2013
The popular restaurant chain with its signature nasi lemak opens its first overseas outlet at VivoCity
Those hankering after Madam Kwan's famed fluffy, fragrant nasi lemak need no longer travel to Kuala Lumpur - the company is opening a restaurant in Singapore at VivoCity in May.
The popular casual-dining Malaysian restaurant chain will be taking up a 4,000 sq ft unit on the ground floor of the shopping mall for its first overseas outlet.
Diners can expect to pay S$12 to S$15 (US$10 to US$12) for a plate of its signature nasi lemak, which is served with an assortment of dishes and condiments, including acar, ikan bilis and onion sambal, half a hard-boiled egg, spicy floss and chicken curry.
The average bill for a person is expected to be about S$18 to S$20.
The restaurant will offer over 100 dishes, ranging from chicken curry and chendol to its signature nasi bojari, a tri- coloured rice served with beef rendang, crispy fried chicken and assam prawns.
The nasi bojari dish was created by Madam Kwan Swee Lian, now 80, to reflect Malaysia's multi-racial society.
The chain started with a shop in Bangsar in 1999 and now has seven outlets in Kuala Lumpur, in malls such as 1 Utama Shopping Centre, Suria KLCC and Pavilion.
The idea to expand overseas has been several years in the making, says Madam Kwan's younger son, Rudy Foo, 49, who heads the company. It was after the company celebrated its 10th anniversary that he decided to rethink its vision and expanding overseas would be a tribute to his mother and her recipes.
"We want the world to experience Madam Kwan's cuisine. What does that mean? That means going global," he says.
On the choice to open here, he adds that he picked Singapore because of "the dynamics", citing its proximity to Malaysia and the demand from Singaporean customers over the last five to six years, many of whom indicated that the restaurant ought to set up shop here.
He says: "That gave us a bit more confidence because expanding outside of a country can be scary sometimes."
His wife, Maureen Ooi, 42, handles the operations while his older brother Keen Hei, 60, is in charge of the finances. Madam Kwan still goes to her restaurants and central kitchen to oversee processes.
She first made her name for herself and her nasi lemak when she opened Sakura, a restaurant in Jalan Imbi, in 1977. She ran it for 20 years before selling it in 1997.
The company will be investing S$1.8 million to open the first restaurant here. It will have a contemporary design. Part of that sum will also go into the setting up of a central kitchen.
There are plans to open two more outlets here in the next three years. These restaurants, as well as the one at VivoCity, will be wholly owned by Madam Kwan's. Locations for the other outlets have not been finalised yet, though they are likely to be located in malls.
Expanding into emerging economies, including countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, is also on the cards. The restaurants there will likely adopt a franchise model.
Foo says diners can expect the food to be as authentic as it is in Malaysia, adding that the restaurants here will operate on the same model, a central commissary with processes set in place to maintain "quality and consistency".
Ingredients will be sourced locally but what the company will be bringing with it, he says, are its tried-and-tested recipes.
He is optimistic when asked how the company plans to cope with the manpower crunch in the food and beverage sector here. "It is one of the challenges that we are dealing with now," he says.
The kitchen will be helmed by two or three chefs from Madam Kwan's kitchens in Malaysia but the restaurant will need a total of 25 staff - both kitchen and waitstaff - to run smoothly. So far, it has hired about half the number it needs.
He is unfazed by the competition from players such as Malaysian chain PappaRich at The Star Vista, which serves similar Malaysian fare, and Grandma's, with outlets in malls such as Changi City Point and Paragon, which offers cuisine that is almost identical to Madam Kwan's.
The chef at Grandma's had previously worked at Madam Kwan's for eight years but downplays his link with the chain, saying that Grandma's recipes are the result of his years of culinary experience and constant fine-tuning.
Foo says: "I don't see them as competition. We offer a unique taste. The menu might look similar but it is of a different quality and different taste."
Diners here, such as photographer Jean Loo, are excited to hear news of Madam Kwan's opening.
Loo, 29, who dines at Madam Kwan's whenever she is in Kuala Kumpur, says: "It is quite impractical to fly up to Kuala Lumpur just to dine at Madam Kwan's. It is great that it is opening here - we will get an authentic taste of beef rendang and nasi lemak."
Public relations manager Viviane Then, 28, adds: "I hope the outlet in Singapore will be able to maintain the consistency."