If we went back 8 years to 2013, it’d be safe to say Lucas Siah never imagined he’d be running a Penang-born gourmet burger empire.
At the time, he and his high school friend Pell were in quite different situations.
Lucas was helping out at his parents’ cottage business that was barely making ends meet and thus was irregularly paid. Meanwhile, Pell had a proper full-time job with his father.
Over a get-together, they began joking about how they should just set up a stall by the roadside to sell some burgers. “Somehow, our joke turned into reality,” Lucas mused in an interview with Vulcan Post.
So, at 25 years old, Lucas and Pell became the founders of Spade’s Burger, opening a simple stall for starters.
Taking a chance despite stagnating sales
“Right from the beginning, I was fully committed as I didn’t have a proper income. During the day, I would make the ingredients by myself from my parents’ kitchen and these included the buns, patties, sauces, and toppings,” Lucas recalled.
By night, Pell would then join him at the stall. In their first few months, everything seemed to be going well and Pell even quit his full-time job to commit to Spade’s Burger too. Then sales grew stagnant towards the end of the year.
“It was the best decision at that moment for Pell to return to his full-time job with his dad rather than selling burgers from a stall with a future that seemed uncertain,” Lucas said.
With Chinese New Year soon approaching, Lucas was then left with the decision to either end the business or take a leap of faith and open a proper burger restaurant.
“The call was made and the rest, as you know it, is history.”
Picking one thing to do and doing it right
Did you know that Spade’s Burger could have been named Ace or Ace’s Burger (in reference to a manga character) instead?
But the team found out that there was already an Ace Burger globally, so Spade’s came to mind as a second name that was still related to the card suits.
Though they didn’t get their first choice of a name, it appeared that they certainly had an ace up their sleeves when it came to capturing the market.
Knowing exactly what Penangites wanted, all the team had to do was serve them just that, and do it well.
“Our customers knew exactly what to expect when they visited us—in this case, pork burgers,” Lucas shared. While they offer chicken and beef patties too for a variety of burgers, it’s safe to say that until today, they’re still best known for their pork burgers.
The brand soon grew to 5 outlets in Penang across the span of 4 years, but the major turning point that helped the business grow was their expansion out of the pearl of the orient.
Instead of jumping straight to Klang Valley though, the team picked Ipoh first as they believed it was a new market with little competition at the time. Most importantly, it was strategically situated en route to Klang Valley.
Kampar, Perak was their next stop, albeit with a slightly different strategy: a less premium version of their menu to cater to students there.
In 2018, they entered Selangor’s shores, and by 2021, they would have 5 outlets in Klang Valley.
From a stall to 10 outlets in 9 years
It’s always said that having a strong core product can take a business far. For Spade’s Burger, Lucas shared that most of their burgers have been on the menu since 2013, including their Baconizer, Dark Knight, 300, and Shinobi, to name a few.
Of course, they’re enhanced and improved every now and then, and Spade’s Burger keeps it spicy by introducing new items on a monthly basis too.
Since its launch, there’s no doubt that Malaysia has seen a boom in gourmet burger stores, with several also specialising in pork burgers. Yet Spade’s Burger’s fanbase appears to be ever-growing.
The plausible reason for this? “We just continue with what we’ve been doing without cutting corners. A healthy competition is always welcomed,” Lucas concluded.
The right focus should be making burgers a staple and enlarging the pie. This means having more people enjoying burgers on a regular basis instead of the more common rice and noodles.Lucas Siah, founder and CEO of Spade’s Burger
With this mindset, the Spade’s Burger team was able to turn a stall opened with RM5,000 capital into a multimillion Ringgit company making more than RM10 million in yearly revenue.
They’ve achieved this without the help of investors or even family support to boot, Lucas said, allowing them to remain 100% self-owned.
Bringing better burgers to more
Moving forward, fans of the gourmet burger brand can expect more access to its products as Lucas shared that they’re keen on opening more outlets once the pandemic eases and the market is ready.
He also added, “As the enquiries for licensing/franchising are rapidly growing, we might look into this direction to open up the opportunity for outsiders to join the Spade’s Burger brand.”
If the brand decides to franchise, ingredient quality wouldn’t be an issue since it has a central kitchen to standardise its offerings across outlets. Instead, it would need to ensure it works with the right partners to maintain service quality and customer satisfaction.
Sticking to doing what they do best (AKA pork burgers) seems to be the no-brainer strategy, but Lucas also commented on the large potential of the halal market in Malaysia.
“An entirely new brand with a separate central kitchen targeted to this market doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all.”
Featured Image Credit: Spade’s Burger