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We interview the family behind the Malaysian western food franchise Dave's Deli on the history and future of the business.

Published 2021-02-25 13:28:17
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Brian Chin recalls a childhood where he, his parents and 2 siblings shared a single room. 32 years back, his parents, David and Maureen were using the rest of their home as a makeshift central kitchen for their business, Dave’s Deli.

At 37 years old, David was looking for an alternative to his corporate job. He decided it was time to pursue his passion for a cooking career in 1989. 

David pooled the family’s savings of RM30,000 and opened a stall at the food court in Bangsar Shopping Centre. 

“In the early days, it was my parents and 1 staff. Everything was made in the house through trial and error. They used to work 15-hour days, 7 days a week and we (the kids) would help out wherever we could,” recalled Brian to Vulcan Post.

Filling Up The Pie

The restaurant in the 90s and their food today / Image Credit: Dave’s Deli

What started out as a sandwich bar evolved to serve roast chicken and gourmet pies, influenced by David’s time studying in New Zealand.

But social media didn’t exist back then, so the home cook had to rely solely on word of mouth. As the local Western food scene in Malaysia was rather uninspiring 30 years ago, word soon started to spread.

Dave’s Deli was a breath of fresh air, and there were lines outside the food court with patrons eager to devour their meals. 

Brian thinks the main contributing factor was their appreciation for the homecooked dishes, and it also reminded many of their own time overseas. Now, they could finally have a taste of proper roast chicken, sandwiches, and pies made locally. 

Their signature quarter roast chicken and pies / Image Credit: Dave’s Deli

Excitedly, Brian shared, “In fact, the first roast chicken dad ever made was the first roast chicken he ever sold.”

“Shortly after, my mum left her job as a lecturer in UM to be involved full-time, she provided a much-needed structure for the business to grow, and grow it did!”

Within two years, Dave’s Deli moved and opened up its own restaurant in Jaya Shopping Centre, PJ. Today, it’s a franchise with 7 outlets in malls around Klang Valley and Penang, which was their rise and fall in surviving the pandemic.

Surfing The Waves Of 2020

Whilst the deli’s dine-in sales were affected by MCO and SOPs, their franchise generated over RM6 million in delivery revenue for 2020. 

Being on delivery platforms prior to the lockdowns gave them a tremendous increase in their customer base thanks to the better visibility. and heightened brand awareness.

As such, their food, which was only priorly accessible in malls, became available to those who preferred to dine at home and in offices.

Remaining in shopping malls, however, meant that overhead costs were a heavy burden during the pandemic. With high commissions from delivery partners and limited radiuses, food deliveries alone were not a sustainable source of main income. 

For Dave’s Deli, they’re embracing it as an additional revenue stream instead. 

Data-driven decision making instead of gut-feel risk-taking helped us adapt to changing situations and add ancillary income streams. Menu optimisation, working closely with our delivery partners, collaborating promotions, cost-effective marketing strategies, and building healthy cash reserves all helped us prepare for 2021.

David Chin, Managing Director of Dave’s Deli.

A Launch Pad For Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Franchising has always been part of the deli’s growth strategy as they believe there’s a strong demand for their food beyond where they operate. Not only that, it creates an opportunity for people who are interested in the food industry but have little to no experience to get a headstart. 

“With the franchise system, we’re able to diversify our resources into other income streams instead of focusing on opening our own restaurants,” Brian explained. 

“Also, I believe there is a much higher rate of success when the owner of the franchise is fully invested and better understands the local market that they are operating in.”

While the brand’s proprietary products are produced in a central kitchen, meals are still cooked in-house. Quality control and human error—which are risks any franchise will face—is mitigated by a definitive team.

Over 32 years, food trends have evolved and Dave’s Deli has tried keeping up alongside maintaining their signature dishes. Trendy items like their Salted Egg Chicken Chop aside, the brand’s roast chicken, pies, and sandwiches still remain its best sellers. 

Brian reckoned that the business’s success and longevity come down to consistency and an understanding of their customer base.

“Customers know that when they step in to dine in Dave’s Deli, they will enjoy a place of comfort that warms the soul,” Brian concluded.

The Naked Lunch Box promotes green eating, while Cafe Bistrot David is for gourmet meals / Image Credit: The Naked Lunch Box and Cafe Bistrot David

But the family’s also not letting consumer trends fly by. This led to the launches of The Naked Lunchbox for healthy food options, and Cafe Bistrot David for gourmet comfort food, the latter of which is run by David Chin himself.

His parents are still part of Dave’s Deli today. 69-year-old David has since retired but mentors the business operations. Meanwhile, Maureen is now in charge of the central kitchen and administration department.

Brian shared that one of his goals this year is to turn the brand’s Halal proprietary goods into frozen ready-to-eat meals, like frozen pies. 

The idea is to cater to the masses and access markets where Dave’s Deli isn’t operational. Of course, the ultimate goal for him is to manufacture and export their own made-in-Malaysia goods to overseas Halal markets.

  • You can learn more about Dave’s Deli here.
  • You can read more F&B articles that we’ve written here.

Featured Image Credit: Dave’s Deli

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