Entrepreneur

How This M'sian Turned A Struggling Chap Fan Business Into A Thriving Steakhouse

  • Grub by Ahong & Friends was started in late 2017, with founder and chef, Ah Hong, considering the official launch date as 1st of January 2018.
  • In addition to the culinary experience at Grub, you’ll often meet Ah Hong, a colourful character with an unorthodox route to where he is now.

If you’ve ever considered yourself somewhat of a foodie, you’ll know that it is an incredibly expensive hobby to have. Of course, for many, “hobby” is an understatement.

As many residents in the Klang Valley can testify, finding a restaurant that does quality food is often something that goes hand in hand with footing a pricey bill at the end of the meal.

However, sit down at a table at Grub, a restaurant in Section 17 Petaling Jaya, and you’re greeted by a sign that explains the ordering process, as well as a tongue-in-cheek apology for not being able to afford beautiful waitresses.

The small but thriving restaurant takes an aggressive approach towards providing a no-frills, dressed down, and utterly scrumptious dining experience.

Image Credit: Grub By Ahong & Friends

If you’ve ever been, you’ll know that the restaurant is divided into two different levels, with a cosy upstairs in stark contrast with the bustling nature of the downstairs area.

This includes a wall-length kitchen that takes up half of the ground floor. Customers having their meals there will be treated to the aromas that waft around as a result of the open-kitchen concept.

Yeang Hong Ngui, the owner of the restaurant, regularly barks orders to his staff in between chats with customers—the ambience of the place gives off a pleasant, homey, cafeteria vibe.

Do What You Love, Or Die Trying

Ah Hong, as commonly referred to by his customers, is actually an architect by trade. His talent in the culinary was spotted early on, having earned the runner-up spot in the second season MasterChef Malaysia. The personable chef was also a finalist in R.AGE’s competition, Food Fight.

Back in 2013, he left architecture and began his first foray into F&B by starting a western “chap fan” stall in a hospital food court.

“The business failed and I lost money, my love, friends and family. I spiraled into depression and struggled with mental health for a year.”

Friends at well-known gourmet burger restaurant, myBurgerLab, kept him on track during a period when he was throwing in the towel—even trying to sell off the remaining assets of his business.

Finally, he gave it one last shot, and Grub was born. Starting with a mere 10 customers at the very beginning, today you’d be best advised to book ahead in order to avoid a long queue, especially if you’re looking to get a seat in the cosy upstairs section.

How did an architect with absolutely no background in F&B end up operating such a successful joint? One word: the internet.

“The information is all out there. The actual skill is to be resourceful and analytical with this overload of information. Some days, I spent 3-5 hours just watching people make omelette[s] on YouTube.”

No Beef With Anyone, Just Beef For Everyone

The prices on Grub’s menu are, to say the least, competitive. Wagyu cuts range from the mid 100s to the low 200s.

The biggest draw of the place, in my opinion, is the Wagyu steaks—arguably, you can’t get a better steak at that price. The ribeye cut is usually sold out by the late evening, with a variety of the premium-cut available with a range of pricing.

I’ve actually ordered the massive tomahawk steak, which was enough to serve my party of four for the night, including gnawing on the giant ribs.

Image Credit: Grub By Ahong & Friends

The usual question on most lips, post-carnivorous mode, is what keeps the prices of the premium meats down. In a nutshell, a lean menu, healthy relationship with their suppliers, and not wasting money on wallpaper. Things that, the way Ah Hong sees it, are unnecessary for a good meal.

Of course, he found the time to (hopefully) jest with me during our conversation: “Tomorrow, I will hike up the price since so many complain it’s too cheap.”

Grub also offers a fusion-styled variety of dishes, with ramen, pasta, meats and soup all part of the interesting menu.

The Man Behind The Stove

Putting that aside, the restaurant has an air of unorthodox familiarity to it, with the experience usually quite a lively one. Ah Hong regularly chats to customers, and if he takes a liking to you, he provides an interesting discount card good for a laugh.

“I’ve had a hard time learning to think of it as a business. I’ve made friends with my customers and I sleep in my restaurant storeroom.”

If you follow Ah Hong’s social media accounts on Facebook or Instagram, be prepared for an interesting time. Judging by the comments, the Grub following is a supportive one.

This strong rapport enjoyed by Grub is a big factor in them continuing to thrive in their continuing success, with the connection with their customers an understated crux of the young business.

Simply put, Ah Hong asserts,“I know a lot of businesses see social media as a marketing tool, [but] I certainly don’t. For me, it is a direct line of communication between me and every single one of my customers. So what else to do but be myself?”

Growing Beyond Steaks, Wine, And Grub

“My DNA is imprint is everywhere, from the type of light bulb, choice of toilet paper down to the way we cut our steaks.”

The personal passion Ah Hong exudes while he stands in the middle of the kitchen/ground floor/seating area, is not a monetarily motivated one.

Having gone through depression, and surviving it, the dry-witted chef tells me that this is a way for him to repay all of those that have helped in his journey here. The least he can do, is to give it his all.

Grub intends to expand beyond what they have in the near future, but Ah Hong is aware of the risk aspect of it all. Expressing a desire to experiment with different cuisines, Grub was named after its general and varying meaning: food.

“Heck I make a mean fish and chips. So we’ll see what happens.”

  • You can find out more about Grub by Ahong & Friends here, with early bookings usually recommended to get a choice seat upstairs.
  • He also curates a blog, aptly named: urbanmangkuk.blogspot.my

Feature Image Credit: Grub By Ahong & Friends 

 

Subscribe to Vulcan Post Newsletter

Stay updated with our weekly curated news and updates.