Entrepreneur

Most Stories End With Death, The Journey Of His Gelato Business Started With One

  • Nge Seng of Piccoli Lotti shares his journey, and how he went from a stable corporate job to now owning a gelato store in Damansara Kim.

In his early 30s, Chong Nge Seng was ready to pursue his passion: ice cream and gelato.

However, that attempt didn’t pan out—one of the reasons was because he didn’t know how to make those desserts he loved.

About five years later, he took the leap, quit his full-time corporate job and set off to Italy to be trained in the art of gelato-making.

Armed with a new set of skills, he could finally carry out the first step of his dream, which materialised in the gelato store Piccoli Lotti, tucked away among several other popular dining establishments in Damansara Kim.

Making The First Scoop

It’s always fascinating to find out what pushes business owners to take that one big step out of comfortable corporate careers. For Nge Seng, that trigger came from the death of a friend’s friend.

Editor’s note: The previous sentence has been amended for clarity. 

“His life got cut short and he passed away quite young. A lot of people mentioned that he lived a life of no regrets. You can tell, whatever that person was doing, he did his best and his all.”

The phrase no regrets is one he holds strongly to now.

“5 years back, I didn’t really get started because there were a lot of self excuses. You feel like, ‘Maybe the economy’s not good’, ‘It’s too risky’, or ‘I’m just starting a family’. So there were a lot of excuses and boundaries that I self-imposed; at that time I thought they were rational.”

“I don’t want to live a life of regret. You can blame timing, resources, even family… but you don’t want to live a life like that, looking back, blaming everyone but yourself.”

When it comes to owning a business, Nge Seng combines both a love for his product, and a pragmatic view that keeps him grounded.

“What better way to start a business than to pursue your passion? And I guess passion is what sustains you because the going always gets tough. If you’re just in it for the money, you’ll give up very quickly. I can say for sure that there’s easier ways to make money.”

Behind The Scenes Of A Gelato Store

Launched in May 2017, Piccoli Lotti has come up with over 40 flavours and serve about 18 flavours at a time.

Nge Seng’s personal favourite is their Signature Pulut Tai Tai.

“I love to eat the nyonya kuih itself. My wife pushed me to make a gelato based on that flavour. [I was] quite apprehensive at first, but after a few tries, I liked it.”

He doesn’t have a single source of inspiration, but he does credit doing a lot of research as one of the many things he does.

“What [do] your competitors already have? You don’t want to do that. What’s trending in Europe or Australia or Africa or Indonesia? Or you can look to Malaysia. We’re a multi-racial country, so the choices of dessert can inspire you to make gelato as well. It’s anywhere.”

Image Credit: Piccoli Lotti

Moving out from a corporate setting into owning a business came with its own baggage, both good and bad, and although having experience helped, there were things he had to relearn along the way.

“Because you’re starting up and running a business by yourself, everything has to be done from scratch. It’s not like corporate when you have a HR department or marketing or sales department. So everything is based on your experience and judgement.”

“As a business owner, you’re already time poor so when there’s a lot of troubleshooting, that eats up into your packed schedule. Somehow you have to find a way to make the clock tick slower.”

As with many F&B owners, one of his major challenges when setting up was finding the right people to join his team.

“The concept of ownership and responsibility is really hard to grasp for any level of staff. I say people will always be a challenge.”

He counts himself lucky to have found two staff members who really take ownership of the place, and their positive attitude and example can rub off on the others.

“Take your time when hiring. Once you bring them in, you have to commit your time to train, to show your staff that they belong, give them time (your own personal time) to train and invest time in employees. I think every staff has the potential to be good, it’s just whether do they fit in the industry they’re in, do they like what they’re doing.”

Dealing With The Highs And Lows

One of the best opportunities he think he’s encountered since starting is doing events, on top of running the gelato store.

“It wasn’t something I initally planned on doing [but I took the plunge] and not looked back since. It’s been pretty good, been doing an average 2 to 3 events a month (weddings, corporate parties, event launches). The exposure’s great, and I actually enjoy doing events.”

Image Credit: Piccoli Lotti

Having operated for almost one and a half years, there were also two major lows that hit them.

The first was one you’d might expect from an F&B establishment: a bad review on social media. Nge Seng shared that it wasn’t just the bad review that got him down.

“I didn’t find justifiable from them.”

He had even approached the customer when they were in the store to ask them about their experience and had been told that everything was fine, so he was taken aback.

“You start to worry, but you can’t control these things. But I was grateful that customers jumped to my support and [defended us]. There are times you just have to accept it,” he said.

The other low was slightly more insidious, and long-lasting.

“There will be days when business is slow, and you worry. Is there negative publicity I don’t know about?” he shared.

Not knowing if this was “normal” was very demotivating, but with experience, he started to realise that he didn’t have to worry so much about the day to day when it came to surges and lack of customers.

“Hindsight will tell you ‘don’t worry’. Some days will be bad, so you shouldn’t be spending energy doing that.”

Image Credit: Piccoli Lotti

His pragmatic positivity is also clear in the advice he shared for any other aspiring F&B business owner in Malaysia.

“Have the right motive, know why you’re doing this, do your homework, know how much it actually costs, [figure out] how to invest.”

He feels that the F&B scene in Malaysia is very mature, especially in Klang Valley where people are very discerning, well-travelled and well-read.

“You really need to know what you need to deliver, benchmark your competitors out there,know how good they are, what have they put in? Can you deliver the same or better? You need to have high confidence or self-belief that you can do it, or [you will falter] when the market tells you otherwise.”

But echoing his mantra of no regrets, his final pieces of advice are, “Don’t waste time. Just figure out what it takes to do it. Can you execute your passion and make it a viable business? If you’ve done your homework don’t wait for it anymore.”

  • You can check out Piccoli Lotti on their Facebook page here, or head over to the shop at:
    45 Jalan SS20/11,
    Damansara Kim,

    Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

 

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