Entrepreneur

A M'sian Restaurateur Lost His Core Team In 6 Months—This Is The Story Of His Redemption

Table & Apron started out its life in a little corner of Damansara Kim under a different name, Kitchen Table.

Two years (and sans one co-founder) later in October 2016, it refreshed and rebranded to Table & Apron, complete with a new look and direction.

Marcus Low, the chef-owner told us, “The biggest revelation for us with our new chapter was that we looked deeper into our reason for being in this business: that how we make you feel is equally, if not more important than what we put on the plate. That third eye, or sense of empathy is the cornerstone of how we do business.”

Formally trained as an engineer, he barely waited until he was done with university before diving headfirst into F&B.

“I began my career working as a dishwasher, cook, receptionist, baker, and front of house in Toronto, Canada. My first passion had been about restaurants, so it was no surprise to all when I traded my technical degree straight for a career in hospitality,” he said.

Like him, quite a few of his key team members lack a trained background in hospitality. He feels this actually gives them an edge as they continue to build a people-first business.

Image Credit: Table & Apron

They serve what they describe as “unpretentious fusion”, using Western cookery techniques with an Asian twist.

For instance, their signature buckwheat fried chicken’s crispy batter is inspired by Japanese tempuras and British fry shops, rather than just following the American southern-style of frying chicken.

“We take pride that everything in our restaurant is made from scratch, and that includes our cakes and breads.”
Marcus Low, Table & Apron.

Another value they celebrate is the act of eating together. Hence, all their food is served and presented on shared plates in the middle of the table.

They’re staying true to their original concept.

The capital to start Table & Apron was raised from friends and family, but their growth as a restaurant has been bootstrapped from the beginning.

Table & Apron grew out of home-based supper-club sessions hosted by the founders, and one major element has carried over and is still actively practiced today.

“We focused on treating our customers as our guests. That mindset was what made the difference with time,” said Marcus.

Their front of house team consistently creates narratives and connects the dots on the guests every time they dine with them.

“We feel that this effort to contextualise our guests as more than just a customer keeps them putting our restaurant on their top 10 favourite list,” he said.

They’re not too caught up with following food trends, because they know that they’re part of an “ultra-competitive restaurant scene”.

Of course, they do want to keep things innovative and allow their regulars to try new things. What they have is a weekend specials segment, which they get to swap around and experiment with.

After the refreshing of their name, they also included a brand new upper floor private dining room.

It opened up a new revenue stream, and they now host between 6 to 10 private room bookings on a monthly basis. They even created a role for a private room host to manage their current enquiries.

Their new private room space for events / Image Credit: Table & Apron

At the moment, Table & Apron has what Marcus considers a healthy profit margin within the “5% to 15%” range.

“The one thing to note is that the restaurant industry is highly cyclical. Restaurateurs must anticipate ‘dry’ months and rally for key months that drive strong revenues, especially during festive periods,” he said.

It’s all about people first—and it’s not just the customers they’re thinking about.

Marcus shared that within the first 6 months of their operations, his entire core team had turned over.

“It was crucial I identified the reason how that happened,” he said.

And what he found was to take care of his team first, even before the guests.

“At Table & Apron, we offer a 5-day work week in an industry that is known for its 6-day commitment as well as accident and medical insurance protection.”

Besides that, they have key rituals around shared experiences such as eating together, hosting an internal culinary enrichment program, and external field trips.

Out on a field trip / Image Credit: Table & Apron

“These initiatives have driven our staff turnover down tremendously, and enhanced the collective team spirit simultaneously,” said Marcus.

This focus has eventually borne fruit—they started breaking even and turning a profit 2 years after opened.

“Much of our earnings have been re-invested back into the restaurant, whether it was upgrading of the space for a better dining experience (ie. soundproofing our walls!) or back into our team.”

Their emphasis on a healthy team culture is shared by their buddies in the Good Food Alliance, which consists of uniquely different local F&B businesses that share trade knowledge across different brands.

“We’re not just sharing trade knowledge on how to be better, but pretty close friends too at that! MyBurgerLab has gotten their formula down with team culture, and they’ve really turned heads in the industry. We feel we’re constantly learning from each other,” said Marcus.

With three years in (and a successful rebranding) under his belt, most would assume that Marcus would be eyeing expansion. Not so.

“We’d like to avoid overgearing, and focus on growing organically, with our team and our guests,” said Marcus.

“Running a restaurant isn’t so much a sprint, but a marathon. Although many F&B investors expect high returns quickly, we feel our track is far more sustainable in the long run.”

“We want Table & Apron to grow to be a restaurant institution, not the kind of restaurant that has to be first on the trend. We’ve made it a mission of ours to be that favorite restaurant of yours here in KL/PJ, and a place that you’d return to with friends and family. And that we feel, always takes time.”

Feature Image Credit: Table & Apron

 

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