We Malaysians love our desserts, that much is obvious. From dodol and ais kacang, to cheesecake and gelato, our local tastebuds are game for any type of sweet and confectionery.
Hoping to capitalise on the Malaysian love for after-meal treats, Malaysian siblings Kok Boon, Kok Aun, and Chewyeng—who are in their late twenties or early thirties—started Japanese shaved ice cafe Kakigori in 2016 with the motivation to break away from the 9 to 5 and do something enjoyable.
“We also wanted to make our parents proud,” the siblings said.
With prior experience running a F&B business (they also operate Thirdwave in Bangsar South), the siblings have three Kakigori outlets open within the Klang Valley (Taman Paramount, The Gardens Mall, and their latest outlet in Pavilion KL).
For those unfamiliar with the desserts sold at Kakigori, their signature offering is the kakigori—the namesake of its establishment—most easily explained as a Japanese version of ais kacang—thinly shaved ice flavoured with various syrups and sweeteners and topped with anything ranging from nuts to matcha powder. In Korea, this dessert is known as a bingsu.
In addition, Kakigori also serves soft serve ice cream, roll cakes, and other Japanese-inspired desserts.
Speaking on the running of their business, the siblings said that working together as family members is a smooth experience.
“We’re very much at ease because we know each other,” they said.
And while they also spend a considerably amount of time running their two F&B brands, they also make time for themselves.
“We work full time on these two brands together, along with our own personal projects,” they said. “But we also spare time to travel the world for new inspiration!”
Adapting To The Locale
In the beginning, Kakigori was started with a capital of RM250k (profits from running Thirdwave), with their first outlet opening in Taman Paramount.
“Compared with starting our first business, setting up Kakigori was relatively smooth and surprise-free,” the siblings said. “But if there was an obstacle, it would have been the product development stage.”
They found that in Japan, the average price of one kakigori ranged between 800 to 1,200 yen (about RM28 to RM42), and realised how fully importing Japanese fruits for their desserts would cause them to price their kakigori at a hefty RM30 per serving.
“We decided then to scrap our first drafted menu and plan to incorporate local fruits and produce,” they said. But despite this decision, the siblings haven’t budged on ensuring that all their desserts are of the highest quality.
They also mentioned how hard it was to find a supplier of ice blocks that could meet the standards of their recipe.
“It was almost impossible to find that quality of ice in KL,” they said. “So we bought a fridge and modified it to produce our own ice blocks for testing at home.”
Then speaking on meeting customer expectations, the siblings mentioned the importance of understanding your products and your patrons.
“There’re no difficult customers when it comes to food,” they said. “99 positive comments doesn’t make the one negative comment a difficult customer.”
“It’s important to take all preferences as subjective personal choice,” they added. “We bear in mind that every feedback should be taken with an open heart.”
Thus, the siblings aren’t worried about their brand surviving in a competitive F&B market.
“I don’t think the market is saturated,” said Chewyeng. “We position Kakigori as a Japanese dessert bar that offers premium products at an affordable price.”
She further explained how they intend Kakigori to be seen as a brand that embraces art, culture, and creativity.
“We want people to associate Kakigori with this pretty little happy dessert place that offers yummy treats,” she added. “Our tagline is ‘Don’t worry, eat happy’, and it’s self-explanatory.”
But Not All Is Frosty
Currently the siblings face a different challenge—attracting more talented individuals to work for the brand—and they chalk it down to public perception.
“The F&B industry generally suffers from the perception that working behind a bar or in a kitchen means that you’re incapable of being a working professional and that you’re poorly paid,” they said. “This makes it challenging for us to hire the right kind of talent.”
Then describing how they plan to overcome this hurdle, they said, “It’s now apparent that we have to promote that working in the F&B industry is a rewarding and viable career.”
“The F&B industry is all about people, after all.”
Onward And Upward
Today, the siblings are satisfied with the path their business is heading, and describes their growth as “steady and satisfactory”. They state that they broke even within five months of operating, and estimate selling an average of 280 kakigori out of 650 total items served daily across their three outlets.
Regarding the near future, the three of them mentioned the setting up of their own ice factory to supply the purest ice to their outlets, with the hopes of more Kakigori outlets opening within this year.
Next, they hope to see the local F&B scene develop into something more dynamic.
“We want the F&B scene in Malaysia to become exciting and energetic,” the siblings said. “A hub to nurture young local talent as well as a modernised food and dessert heaven for everyone!”
- Kakigori is a Japanese-themed dessert cafe that serves up their namesake kakigori dessert, along with other Japanese-inspired sweets and treats, founded by 3 siblings.
- They operate three separate outlets in the Klang Valley: Taman Paramount, The Gardens Mall, and Pavilion KL.
- You can check them out on Facebook, Instagram, and their website.
Feature Image Credit: Kakigori