“I had people calling me up scolding me on why I sent them bread that was already spoilt,” recalled Chan Su Yin of Yin’s Sourdough Bakery’s beginnings.
Not many knew what sourdough was all about back in 2012. Yin was one of three commercial bakers making it in the whole of Malaysia back then. Tommy Le Baker and White Brick Oven (AKA Mr. Mustaffa), both in KL, were the other two.
My first encounter with sourdough bread was from my neighbourhood’s Table & Apron. I didn’t have a good first impression either as the bite was hard, chewy, and well, sour. I, too, thought it was spoilt.
After a year’s struggle, Yin and her husband were on the verge of quitting. However, they pushed through and fast forward 9 years, the bakery now has 5 outlets around Malaysia that function alongside their own wholefoods store and café.
A Slow Rise
Speaking to Vulcan Post, Yin shared that it was awfully challenging to get her business up and running during its early days.
At the time, she and her husband had left the US to tend to his sick father in Penang. It was in the US that Yin picked up the hobby of making sourdough bread as a homemaker.
Back in Penang, Yin was at a crossroads. She could either return to her former job in a pharmaceutical MNC and earn a comfortable living for her 3 kids, or start her own bakery.
Drawn towards the latter, she had a mission in mind: to spread the benefits of the traditional bread baking technique to a wider audience. This was because she found that it could help control a person’s sugar levels, proven by her diabetic mum’s results during a doctor’s visit.
She shared that sourdough bread baking was the main method used long before the commercial yeast came about. Its dough would leaven and rise naturally for 2 days from a fermented culture without the help of yeast (which takes 3 hours for the same result).
The bacteria in the culture, lactobacilli, emit lactic acid as a waste product of their metabolism. This is where the bread gets its sour taste. Meanwhile, the long proofing process is where wheat and gluten gets broken down, making it a better choice for those with gluten intolerance.
Passionate about the bread’s benefits, the couple took a leap of faith to start a sourdough bakery in Balik Pulau, Penang. Her customers then comprised other shops and cafés who’d sell her bread.
The B2C segment could also order her confectionaries online and request to pick it up at their convenience.
It was an innovative move for its time and was what later helped the business throughout the MCO alongside its own delivery app.
Bringing Bread To The People
As mentioned above, Yin was a little too far-sighted. Most Malaysians were accustomed to eating soft and sweet commercial bread and couldn’t appreciate the taste of freshly baked alternatives. So, she had to find a way to persuade Malaysians.
With that, the pair decided to relocate their bakery to Georgetown, a bigger city with a market more open to trying new concepts. Not to mention it had tourists already familiar with freshly baked bread too.
They opened a small café where they could serve coffee and sourdough sandwiches. Here, Yin could also interact with customers and share the reasons behind the “foul” taste.
She would explain to diners, “Try eating a real kampung chicken that runs around versus chickens we buy in markets. The kampung chicken will be chewy and hard. It’s the same analogy.”
The more she baked and sold, the more her obsession grew. She began experimenting with more things that could be made with sourdough. They ranged from lasagna sheets to slicing them into pasta and even cookies.
These experiments are now staples served in Yin’s Sourdough Bakery cafés and as raw ingredients in their whole foods section.
Curious, I bought myself some sourdough pasta in both spinach and pumpkin flavours. Because it’s made sans preservatives, it only took about 4 minutes to boil and had an al-dente texture.
But, I didn’t taste any hints of spinach or pumpkin in them and Yin clarified that that wasn’t the point.
“There’s a blend in the sourdough that overpowers the taste of spinach and pumpkin, and it’s mostly there for its nutritional value,” she said.
The store sells the sourdough pasta in its original form too, and the team is in the works of introducing a beetroot variation.
For now, Yin and her family remain in Penang to look after their 4 outlets there. With one in Ipoh and another in KL, she’s making it her short term goal to open more outlets around the Klang Valley.
“However, the pandemic threw a spanner into the works. Now like all other businesses, especially F&Bs, we’re just trying to survive through this challenging time,” she said.
With the sourdough craze gaining traction in recent years, I believe that it’ll be a strong competitor to the new players in KL if it expands its outlets.
One thing the business could also capitalise on is offering masterclasses and workshops on how to make sourdough at home too.
This is especially since it’s quite a difficult craft for beginners and most would be open to trying under supervision from a seasoned baker.
- You can learn more about Yin’s Sourdough Bakery here.
- You can read about other Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Chan Su Yin, founder and chief baker of Yin’s Sourdough Bakery