Often when thinking about a restaurant to meet up with friends at for an overdue catch-up session, a suggestion that always comes up is Uncle Don’s.
It’s mainly due to my friends’ shared fondness of its affordability and wide range of menu items that include beverages, whether boozy or not.
The restaurant and bar brand is no doubt a favourite for many other Malaysians, considering the fact that it only started in 2015 yet already has 27 outlets to date. But I’ve always wondered something…
Who Is Uncle Don?
So, I reached out to the team to get answers and got ahold of Uncle Don’s founder, Ian Ong.
In an interview with Vulcan Post, he told us about Don Daniel Theseira who was born into a family of chefs. Now 55, he’s been honing his culinary skills ever since discovering his interest and passion for culinary arts at the age of 10.
Editor’s Update: Parts of the above paragraph have been edited to reflect greater accuracy of the statements.
He served as an apprentice for 2 years under his father and went on to ply his trade from 1979 to 1993 at The Dynasty Hotel (today known as Singapore Marriott Tang Hotel) and was sous chef at The Royal Plaza On Scotts Singapore until 1997.
From then, Don mentored and trained chefs at a fine dining restaurant in Perth called Ecco Italian Ristorante.
His 40-year culinary experience brought him over to Malaysia, where he joined hands with Ian who’d been running multiple pubs for 20 years, prior to starting Uncle Don’s.
Along with a few other co-founders, they launched their first restaurant on September 11, 2015 in Petaling Jaya’s SS2.
Not long after opening its doors for the first time, the business was reaching a carnival atmosphere on a daily basis.
According to Ian, they were able to achieve this by finding a balance between driving their food’s prices down whilst maintaining its quality.
In The Works Of Franchising
As of now, Uncle Don’s has a total of 27 outlets with 10 of them being self-owned. The rest are currently operated under a license while the team awaits legal approval for rights to franchise.
But franchising can be risky. Though a fast and easy way to expand, successful franchising is reliant upon replication.
For Uncle Don’s to thrive, it requires extensive training and plenty of quality control, especially when it comes to their food.
Ian is confident though, sharing with Vulcan Post that all of their food items are manufactured under strict standards of practice from its central kitchen.
Every item is produced from scratch using specific blends of marinade from ingredients that are delivered to the outlets fresh on the daily.
Its central kitchen currently spans over 18,000 square feet with plans to move to a 40,000 square feet premise in the pipeline to cater to their nationwide expansion plans.
“The SOPs for the central kitchen differ from the SOPs drawn up for the outlet kitchen as they belong to different parts of the supply chain. All SOPs are documented in an operating manual for easy reference,” said Ian.
Cutting Out The Middleman
Since the boom in food deliveries this year, Uncle Don’s has launched its own delivery app to cut out the middleman due to high commissions.
Charges by food delivery service companies can be as high as 27%, forcing the restaurant to pair food orders with drinks in order to mitigate these charges imposed.
“With our own ordering app, we are able to deliver all orders without any such forced pairing,” explained Ian to Vulcan Post.
In terms of courier services, they’ve partnered with Lalamove to handle the deliveries.
This way, Uncle Don’s outlets will no longer have to bear the charges imposed by food delivery services, but will instead redirect such costs to the app’s maintenance.
I tried the app out myself and found that it had a smooth UX. But when it came to logistics, I got a call from Lalamove telling me that the restaurant didn’t even receive my order even though I’d already paid.
My rider ended up passing the phone to the branch’s manager where I had to explain the situation and place my order over the call.
Pending bug fixes aside, having to download a new app for a single F&B brand, fill in personal details about one’s contact, location, and credit card info into yet another app can be quite the turn-off for adoption.
Uncle Don’s is still in discussions as to whether having their own app now will mean their absence on Grab or foodpanda.
However, if they were to focus on only their own app, I would expect a decent uptake of users from their fanbase.
Featured Image Credit: Uncle Don’s