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Rather Than Play It Safe During MCO, VCR Chose To Open 2 New Spin-Off Cafes

While many F&B businesses said goodbye to fans in 2020, VCR launched 2 new spin-off establishments in addition to their 2 existing cafes.

Cantina by VCR was launched in February 2020 whereas VCR Stacks started in October 2020. Cantina is located in Bukit Bintang (in the YTL Building) while Stacks is in Mont Kiara. 

Now, it’s undeniable that VCR’s reputation as a cafe has helped them get to where they are today. Anytime I pass by the Jalan Galloway and Bangsar branches on weekends, I’d see groups of millennials flock around their establishments without fail.

But of course, reputation alone is not enough to keep any business afloat, let alone open up new branches. So we interviewed Andrew Lee, founder and owner of VCR, to find out how their cafes were able to survive and expand during MCO. 

YTL Wanted To Bring VCR Closer To Themselves

Cantina’s menu is made up of mostly Asian fusion food whereas Stacks’ is sandwiches, a slightly different take from the Western cafe food they serve in their 2 VCR outlets.

“Cantina was set in motion when YTL had approached us for the project back in 2019 with mutually-favourable terms,” Andrew shared with Vulcan Post.

The Cantina outlet and team / Image Credit: VCR

Since it launched not long before the first MCO commenced in the country, Cantina had a slow start. The YTL building had only 20% occupancy as the office was newly built and the different departments were slow to relocate to the new HQ.

Catering Asian fusion cuisine to YTL staff / Image Credit: VCR

However, things didn’t get much better when the second wave of MCO hit. Though the building is 80% occupied now, workers are back to WFH again, so they’ll have to wait a little longer before things can turn around soon. 

On average, Cantina earns five figures per month but hasn’t broken even yet. That being said, Andrew explained that Cantina is a private cafe for the YTL HQ, hence it’ll have its limits when it comes to revenue growth.

Stacks Is Getting That Bread For The Team

Stacks, their sandwich shop, was a decision they hopped on when they found a strategic vacancy in Shoplex, Solaris Mont Kiara.

Fortunately, Andrew said Stacks boomed the instance they launched, and their premises managed to hit maximum capacity within a week even without any announcements on their end. 

“A lot of the first visitors were our regulars from other outlets, who were excited that we’d set up a new place in their neighbourhood,” he said.

Stacks’ Return on Investments (ROI) was already on track before MCO 2.0 started. Their sales trend has also been consistent and the team hopes that it’ll only go upwards when they’re ready to operate in two shifts and launch their own delivery programme.

Sandwich stacks / Image Credit: VCR

They managed to hit six figures a month’s revenue during their peak, which happened in their second month of operations. Andrew shared that Stacks’ profits are most likely going to back up their top management and operations teams’ expenses. 

One of the major reasons why Stacks was able to do so well in spite of MCO was also because sandwiches were more delivery-friendly, they realised. 

They Weren’t Too Affected By The Pandemic

“To be honest, since the start of these two new cafes, it’s almost like we were not affected at all,” Andrew admitted. They’ve managed to avoid losses across all their outlets since the start of the first MCO.

Cantina and Stacks are run by a mix of their existing VCR teams and several new hires. Allocating many of their senior team members to these two new places was how they were able to avoid any major hiccups, Andrew shared with Vulcan Post.

One hiccup that did happen though was their underestimation of the response they would receive from Stacks. 

“We were unable to meet the capacity demanded, hence we had to sign a lease with an opposite retail lot to expand our operations and storage,” Andrew shared.

That opposite lot will soon be VCR Bakehouse to house their baked goods and hopefully become an all-day bistro in the near future. 

Catering To The Local Palate Now That Tourists Can No Longer Frequent Their Cafe

“In the beginning, it worked out well for us to cater to a niche market of Western food, as we had many tourists and expats to cater to,” Andrew said.

Unfortunately, with MCO in place, there are no longer as many of these tourists and expats dining with them, so they knew they had to start curating a menu for the local scene instead.

Before the pandemic struck, they also relied mainly on organic marketing through word-of-mouth and customer reviews which helped keep their business afloat.

Keeping what they’re known for even in the new outlets / Image Credit: VCR

“That, however, can only do so much at times like these, so we’d have to ramp up online marketing on our own instead,” Andrew said. They’re focusing on building an online shop too.

“We wanted to be sure we had the best shippable products and a wide range of goods before we put effort into it first. But now it’s urgent, we have to cover some ground lost to the pandemic, we’ll have to gear up on this segment now.” 

From Andrew’s sharing, it certainly seems like the loyal fanbase VCR has built thus far played a role in the success of Stacks in particular, while YTL’s support helped Cantina.

But these were just opportunities, and it was still thanks to the team’s quick strategies and decision-making that the plans came to life. As Andrew showed, having a solid management team situated in both new outlets helped too.

  • You can learn more about Cantina here and Stacks here.
  • You can read more cafe-related articles we’ve written here.

Featured Image Credit: Andrew Lee, founder and owner of VCR

Categories: Entrepreneur, Malaysian, F&B

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