Most of us first heard about the Sungai Besi-based restaurant from a viral video. In it, we saw their version of upscaling the humble Indomie, pairing it with every crazy combination from Ayam Perchik, ribs, steak or lamb chops.
And as we all know, when a foodie craze grips Malaysia, it grips us hard.
The perhaps too tantalising post brought droves of curious Malaysians to Indobowl‘s relatively out-of-the-way location with a goal of sampling their fares.
But as any enterprising entrepreneur knows, there is an art to growing a shop sustainably. And ironically, getting too popular brought this small-town Indomie restaurant more challenges than they expected.
Once the craze truly settled in, customers were warned as soon as they stepped in that an order might take 40 minutes to arrive. Complaints about poor service began going up onto their Facebook page.
Notices of Indobowl running out of ingredients (fortunately, never their actual Indomie) began going up onto their Facebook page every once in a while too.
Going from 0 to 100 the way they did definitely forced the team into a do or die situation.
And it all began just because they liked pairing their Indomie with a type of Indonesian sambal.
Setting up only earlier this year, P.C. of Indobowl told us that, “One of our partner’s wives is Indonesian, and we got hold of these two amazing sambal recipes. They’ve always been eating it with Indomie, so we thought to ourselves: Why not make it into a café and allow our fellow Malaysians to try? After all, Indomie has always been a part of our Malaysian Mamak Culture.”
But speaking of the spicy deets, “We are incredibly proud of our sambal, and some say that it’s the key to the business. Our sambals are sourced fresh from local markets and made in-house. Each batch is made daily, if not once every 2 days. We cook them in small batches so the sambal remains fresh, fragrant and most importantly, spicy.”
“We’d like to think that we’re serving comfort food with good toppings. As for steaks, lamb and eggs that goes with it, there aren’t any ‘unique’ ways of preparation, but we do have our own techniques to make them taste great.”
And thus, Indobowl was born. Despite each of the founders still holding down full-time jobs, they’re all in it together to grow the business in whatever ways they can.
They did not expect the crowds to be at the size they became.
“We would also like to take this opportunity to apologise to all our previous customers, and thank them for their patience and support. We will improve slowly.”
Once they realised that the crowds were coming in droves, P.C. and his team settled down on increasing their workforce to cope with the demand. They doubled their front-end workers, increasing the number of cooks, to even hiring a dedicated person to just wash crocks and cutlery.
“Yes, our customers had to queue for almost an hour, and many were complaining about our service. We are also aware that our service was extremely slow as we did not expect the huge crowd. However, we are improving over time, in terms of kitchen efficiency, getting new waiters, and creating a new system to keep the flow moving.”
When asked if he thought that going viral was good for them, P.C. gave it some thought, coming to the conclusion that it’s “both good and bad”.
“We do need the business in order to survive, and we do need to brand ourselves out there for people to know us. Because our location isn’t a shopping mall. People don’t pass by just because. To come to us you really need to drive all the way down to Sungai Besi. So in that sense the virality is a good thing.”
“But at the same time, it’s gone totally viral and there’s so many people that we can’t cope with the crowd and demand. But I think over time, it’s getting better. Customers come and go at a steady rate. So I guess overall it’s still a good thing.”
As a result of all of this, P.C. also tells us that over the past few days after the crowd has begun to stabilise, they earn an average of RM3,000 to RM4,000 in sales per day. Since the entire start-up of the business cost about RM80,000, they’re now halfway to their breakeven point in a short amount of time.
We sat at the café for just over an hour, and even then we saw at least 10 of their popular Indomie Mumbo Jumbo platters get served from the kitchen (which cost a cool RM59 each).
In terms of cooking, the Indobowl team is also finding ways to quicken the steps, while also re-equipping their kitchen to increase capacity.
“We got things that can do tasks a lot bigger and a lot quicker, and a lot newer. “
But apart from that, Indobowl has been closing at 2.30pm after the lunch rush to resume later for dinner, to allow their overtaxed employees to relax, as well as restock anything that has run out over the course of breakfast and lunch.
But would he have done things differently, if he could?
To this, P.C. told us that he would have focused on beefing up their operations a lot more to better serve the crowd.
“That was our biggest problem,” he said.
Apart from operations, the Indobowl team is also striving towards better transparency and communication to their fans coming from far and wide.
Realising that there are patrons that drive in from far and wide, the team has been trying to keep their Facebook as up to date as possible regarding any issues they face.
“We’re learning along the way that people do come from far away. Some come from Klang, they drive for an hour and realise that there’s no stock, which disappoints them. Now we’re constantly updating our current status, whether or not we’re open, etc.”
Neither P.C. nor any of his partners are giving up their full-time jobs to run Indobowl. Nevertheless, they still retain a zeal to grow the business together, in whatever ways they can.
“We’re pretty fortunate that there aren’t too many complicated issues over the course of our operations. But we do sit down together every 1 to 2 days to discuss the issues and how to solve them.”
Other than that, they focus a lot of their attention to R&D in order to create new flavours and dishes using familiar, nostalgic ingredients that was the core of their business.
“What we hope to achieve with Indobowl is simple, to be able to branch out in every city so everyone can enjoy our simple but delicious noodle—and be the first instant noodle café to get a Michelin Star!”
We thought that it’s possible that this Indobowl craze could just be a fad, but P.C. has faith.
“That may be true to some, but for us, we’d like to think that our Indomie’s concept is simple. Basically, our favourite serving of Indomie topped with eggs, sambal, chicken, lamb and beef. We don’t want to overcomplicate things, and serve comfort food at an affordable price.”
Feature Image Credit: Indobowl