Being from Melaka, Nadeje is a very familiar name to me. I remember my mum would drop by the Nadeje in Plaza Mahkota (which is the first Nadeje store) to pick up an assortment of mille crepes.
She would gift them to friends visiting from other states. I can still recall the taste of the fresh cream paired with refreshing flavours such as green tea, chocolate, and durian.
I never gave their history much thought, but I recently learnt that Nadeje has been baking up mille crepes since 2006, when Nozomi Nishimura realised it was difficult to get fresh cream desserts in Malaysia compared to in her home country of Japan.
Did you know: Mille crepe might sound very French, but it was actually created in Japan. The term combines crepes with mille-feuille. Mille is French for thousand, so the word “mille crepes” literally means a thousand crepes.
According to Nadeje, nobody else was doing mille crepes at the time. Thus, the dream to bring Japanese-styled fresh cream mille crepes to Malaysia was born.
For the love of cake
Together with her husband, Jeffry Ng, Nozomi told Vulcan Post that they founded Nadeje using their own savings. Their first location of choice was Plaza Mahkota.
Nozomi foresaw the establishment of Melaka as a World Heritage city and felt that it was a strategic location due to its proximity to KL, Johor Bahru, and even Singapore, and she would be right.
Encouraged by passionate customers who’d travelled north from KL just to enjoy their crepes, Nadeje thought it’d make sense to set its sights on the city after expanding within Melaka.
Today, Nadeje can be found in major shopping malls such as 1 Utama, Sunway Pyramid, Suria KLCC, and Sunway Putra Mall. In 2022, they’re opening two new outlets in The Gardens Mall (already opened) and IOI City Mall respectively.
Barring its outlets in Melaka, notice how they are often found in malls here? This is because the company believes that customers in KL prefer the convenience of a shopping mall, where parking is slightly easier to find compared to on the streets and more errands can be done in one go.
As the brand continues to expand, it’s worth knowing that you might be actually pronouncing “Nadeje” wrong (we sure were). Nadeje is Czech for hope—which reflects the meaning of founder Nozomi’s name in Japanese—and it’s pronounced Nah-Jay.
“Milles” of growth
Nadeje is now regarded as a popular brand in Malaysia when it comes to mille crepes. Some factors might be their recipe, flavour profiles, or early establishment, but Jeffry and Nozomi think it’s because of their openness to feedback. From praises to complaints, they believe they take into account all comments from customers.
To add, they’re particular about taking in experienced chefs and ensuring they’re trained well. In the beginning, Nadeje carried three flavours of mille crepes.
Today, they boast up to 30 different flavours (though the Original is still the best-seller). Nadeje also offers the Premium Series, whereby only one exclusive premium flavour is found in each outlet. There’s also the Dream Series that is made using rare sugar from Japan which, according to Nadeje, is the healthiest natural sugar.
On top of the signature mille crepes, Nadeje also offers other desserts such as cheesecakes, mousse cakes, sponge cakes, tarts, and macarons.
To maintain the freshness and quality of the crepe cakes, Nadeje has its own factory that operates 24/7. The cakes are then delivered via cold trucks from the factory to all outlets daily.
The cost of cakes
As mentioned, Nadeje today remains one of the known mille crepe brands, but over the years, more have cropped up. Well, a whole cake at Nadeje starts at RM68 (0.55kg) and goes up to RM225 (2kg).
The Premium Series is more expensive, with prices ranging from RM78 to RM260. Cakes from the Frozen Series come in one size and sets you back RM58.
Crepes 21 charges RM139 for their 1kg whole cakes (RM118 at Nadeje). At HB Mille Crepes, regular-sized whole cakes range from RM110 to RM120 based on the flavours (though we’re not sure what the weight of a regular-sized cake is).
With these price differences in mind, Nadeje is rather middle-of-the-road in comparison. That being said though, the variety of available sizes they carry may make them more appealing to more customers.
Not a crepe-walk
To Nozomi and Jeffry, one of the biggest challenges of running Nadeje was an incident with a former employee. In their recounting of past events, they were “cheated by one of their most trusted employees”, who then brought along other existing employees to set up another brand.
We couldn’t verify this info and this is only one side of the experience, but it would appear that Nadeje has recovered from that incident to come back stronger.
Their more recent challenges are unsurprisingly spurred on by the pandemic. Foot traffic was dropping drastically, mall closures were prolonged, and even celebrations were scaled down. But the overall demand for cake remained.
Nadeje was then tasked with innovating its operations to keep up with fast-changing trends, particularly to cater to the delivery-only crowd during lockdowns.
By making smaller cakes, creating the less fragile Premium Frozen Series, and releasing a DIY mille crepe cake series where customers could personally decorate their cakes, the brand was able to not only survive but even grow its repertoire of products.
“Nadeje didn’t believe in delivery before COVID-19 as we were reluctant to [accept] the idea of handing fragile products to a rider,” said the owners. “But after working with riders during this pandemic, we have turned the riders into our customers!”
Having made it through these difficult times, their post-pandemic plans are fairly straightforward. Jeffry and Nozomi hope to make Nadeje one of the best cake shops in Malaysia, though based on their 16 years (and counting) of creating mille crepes, their fans might say they already are.
Featured Image Credit: Nadeje founders Jeffry Ng (left) and Nozomi Nishimura