You could walk past Calia in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur and think it was simply a small store for fancy organic perishables and wine, and I wouldn’t blame you for it.
Tucked away deeper into the store is where the bustle of the Australian restaurant-to-retail brand’s patrons are, hidden from the prying eyes of passersby with aptly placed shelves and staff counters at the forefront.
On a Monday afternoon well past lunch time, the store was still as packed as can be during the RMCO.
The reservation based restaurant finally opened on June 19, 2020 after a 6-month delay due to the pandemic, with some trepidation over the response it would get.
However, in the first month of its opening, Calia has served almost 12,000 guests, with its sales and customer numbers increasing to the point where online reservations were fully booked for 2 weeks in advance.
492 Reservations Made In 1 Hour
Jason Chang, CEO and co-founder of Calia told us, “We originally didn’t have a reservation system in place as we were unsure of what the response would be for our opening during a pandemic, but we had waitlists and queues from between 2-3 hours, so we decided that a reservations systems would be best to implement.”
“When we launched our reservation system at 9PM on Thursday, July 2, we had 492 reservations within 1 hour.”
As impressive as the above numbers may sound, they still have much room to grow, as Calia’s stores back in Melbourne served approximately 10,000 guests a week, pre-lockdown.
Before this, Calia usually receives 50-100 licence agreement enquiries a month to open outlets in cities around the world.
20% of them were from Malaysia, which gave Jason and his team confidence that there was demand for it in KL.
When they finally decided to open up their first international outlet, the two final contenders on their shortlist were Singapore and Malaysia.
“We were looking at more of a phased global rollout and expansion rather than one where we open multiple international stores instantaneously,” Jason said.
“What it came down to in the end was the calibre of partners who we have in Malaysia.”
To bring Calia Malaysia to fruition, they partnered with Michael Fong of CPI Food Concept that boasts brands like Rocku Yakiniku and Fei Fan Hotpot, and Lyn Siew of Ruyi & Lyn and YU by Ruyi.
“Michael and Lyn are experts in their hospitality field in KL and Malaysia, and I couldn’t think of better partners to work with to launch Calia in Malaysia,” Jason praised.
Plans The Pandemic Put A Stop To
One thing that Jason lamented about Calia Malaysia’s opening was that he couldn’t mingle with customers and staff on the floor.
Ideally, he also would’ve loved to fly over their Melbourne team to work with the Malaysian team, but travel restrictions made it impossible.
Their Michelin Star Chef Francisco Araya was also unable to assist the team here with opening training and preparations as per their original plans.
These aren’t the only hitches in their operations that COVID-19 has caused as their current supply of international products such as fish, uni and wagyu from Japan has also been reduced. Thus, they’ve sold out of wagyu before on numerous occasions.
But there is some better news on the way, as Jason shared, “We’ve been informed by our suppliers that things should hopefully start getting back to normal around October with more regular flights and freight from Japan and Australia.”
“I would ask our customers to give us some patience as our team has definitely received a great and overwhelming response, but they’re also new so there may be teething and operational issues at the moment.”
Don’t Let The Décor Fool You
Contrary to my initial assumption, Calia isn’t a luxury or fine dining establishment. The décor could fool you, but the food held the truth.
Portions were generous, and I could see why Jason described it as a premium casual dining destination instead.
With dishes like Baked Scallops (RM33), Saikyo New Zealand Lamb Rack (RM68) and Calia Wagyu Bowl (RM78), the menu is approachable and familiar with just a touch of premium.
Due to a difference in produce, Calia Malaysia’s menu differs slightly from Melbourne’s, and one example is the Japanese inspired Nasi Lemak Donburi it serves (RM28).
Melissa, who oversees Calia Malaysia’s operations on behalf of Jason, informed us that anytime they put out a new dish on the menu, they’ll conduct something called product training.
“During our product training, we have all our products prepared according to how it should be served to our customers,” she said.
“Our chefs will explain the ingredients and specialty of each meal, and our Calians get to taste the food too.”
Overall, Calia’s ingredients were fresh and cooked well with care, but I cannot see myself heading there frequently with family or friends as it’s way out of my current budget.
On the other hand, they have customers in Melbourne who dine with them 3-4 times a week, usually eating the same dish and earning Calia the nickname “our regular canteen”.
“We even had one guest who had eaten at Calia Melbourne 52 times in 3 months!” Jason shared.
Though the response for Calia Malaysia has been good so far, it’s still a little early to say whether they’ll see the same customer loyalty here.
To boost this, they plan to launch a loyalty programme in the near future to reward regular diners and shoppers.
Onto The Next Phases Of Growth
After the positive response they’ve received in Malaysia, they’d like to further expand the brand internationally.
They’re currently in discussions to open their next store in Indonesia, Singapore or Vietnam, as well as opening more within Malaysia.
What may come first could be their online store in Malaysia though, which they hope would bring in 30% of Calia’s annual revenue.
“We have been approached by numerous landlords to open so we will conduct further market research to ensure we choose the right destinations for future Calia Malaysia stores, and look forward to also welcoming our new Calia concepts to Malaysia,” Jason said.
And in 2021 when restrictions have eased, he may finally get the chance to make a personal visit here too.
- Learn more about Calia Malaysia on their website, Facebook and Instagram.
- You can read more about what we’ve written on F&B here.
Featured Image Credit: Vulcan Post