Soy sauce is that one unsung hero in the (Asian) kitchen: packed with umami, often depended on, yet rarely praised.
A simple bottle of this seasoning has been the saving grace of many a dish. Personally, I like to pair it with my nasi campur, nasi goreng kampung, and other Malay dishes cooked by my beloved mother.
I’ve never gotten too fancy with my brands of choice either since most taste similar to me. But when I tried a bottle of Shoyu Bros, a local artisan soy sauce, I was able to notice the difference it presented immediately, even though my palate was not refined enough to discern the notes and overall taste.
So, it’s no wonder that the brand has attracted a wide range of Malaysians from foodies and chefs to even renowned restaurant owners.
From best friends to business partners
The founders, Bryan and Ley Vin have known each other since childhood. After graduating high school, Bryan went on to study culinary arts, while Ley Vin chose public relations.
However, both have always shared a love for food.
While adding a new recipe to his menu at The Rare Food Co., Bryan, who’s head chef at the establishment, came across an idea to merge wild garlic with soy sauce.
As far as he knew, no one else has attempted to make an artisanal food condiment like this.
For those unaware, it is customary for Japanese shoyu to be made with roasted wheat, making it lighter in colour and sweeter in flavour than its Chinese counterpart, which is more often made with little to no wheat.
With their wild garlic idea, Bryan and Ley Vin were essentially adding a flavourful wildcard to their shoyu recipe, which already incorporates both Japanese and Chinese traditional brewing methods.
As they worked on the R&D though, the partners ran into a ton of challenges. “We were always close but yet so far,” they said.
Turns out, infusing wild garlic into the soy sauce was no easy task, “back-breaking” even.
Infusing the ingredients led to many failures, as the sauce would mould after the process. It wasn’t easy to get the temperature and time right for the infusion.
According to Ley Vin, if the garlic is moist, the soy sauce will also be diluted, degrading the flavour and quality.
“We have to ensure that we first dry the garlic within a certain temperature. [But] if it gets too dry, the garlic will turn bitter and will affect the outcome,” he explained. “We wanted to ensure that our consumers get nothing but the first draw of soy sauce, therefore, we could not allow the dilution to happen.”
Even a slight temperature shift could ruin it. The ratio had to be just right, as either too much or too little would have harmed their output.
Despite countless failures and a mountain of attempts, Bryan and Ley Vin refused to give up. In the end, their perseverance paid off. The partners eventually achieved a satisfactory final recipe and product: Shoyu Bros. A 500ml bottle costs RM28.
Testing out the waters
The first few samples they had were brought over to a barbecue party with the intention of scoring honest reactions from their friends, and Ley Vin proudly recalled, “We were told that it was the most unique soy sauce they have ever tried.”
But they still needed to establish brand credibility since they were relatively new to the market, so the partners came up with a strategy to build consumer trust.
Before setting up an online presence, they speculated that door-to-door marketing would be an excellent place to begin developing personal connections with their customers, or even better, to find out who their customers truly are.
“Door to door marketing is a secret weapon for a new startup like us,” they revealed. “It’s highly effective at reaching out to an audience which will be able to experience our products first hand.”
With face to face interactions, the duo was able to easily raise awareness for their product that potential customers would otherwise have never known about, as well as close sales.
Coping with the demand
As their traction grew, their sales also picked up significantly during the pandemic. Regrettably, they just had one major drawback: supply.
Due to the lengthy process of soy sauce fermentation under the sun (which takes at least nine months), they were unable to produce any more when their stock ran low.
At one point in time, Shoyu Bros even unknowingly accepted orders that they were unable to fulfil due to their limited capacity.
“We had to put a halt to our orders coming in via our website,” they shared. “It was a tough decision to make but we had to divert all the sales online to our retail partners as we wanted to ensure that our retail distribution channels ran smoothly.”
And they took this lesson to heart, assuring, “Moving forward, we will ensure that every order accepted is filtered by our order processing department ensuring that everything will be able to run smoothly in terms of demand and inventory.”
Since the MCO first began, the startup has tripled their production capacity and are more confident in their ability to face upcoming hurdles.
Welcoming new opportunities with open arms
On average, Shoyu Bros sells over 3,000 bottles per month, not including commercial supply to restaurants, retail stores, and other F&B establishments.
Currently, they’re in the midst of coming up with another product, they told Vulcan Post. “It will also be a soy sauce with a more oriental twist to it. We are looking at launching this product in the middle of this year, fingers crossed.”
Today, myBurgerLab, Top Catch Fisheries, and five other stores in Selangor have Shoyu Bros on their shelves. Apart from that, their products can be found in three other Malaysian cities: Seremban, Ipoh, and Johor Bahru.
There are other Malaysian artisanal soy sauce brands on the market like Musees (a 290g bottle of First Draw Soy Sauce costs RM18), and Opika Organic (a 210ml bottle of Light Soy Sauce costs RM49).
From what I’ve found though, at the time of writing, Shoyu Bros appears to be the only one that offers wild garlic infused soy sauce.
To truly appreciate Bryan and Ley Vin’s labour of love (whereby a bottle takes over nine months to produce) is to give their artisanal soy sauce a try and see if there is a noticeable difference in taste.
With a bigger goal in mind, these business owners hope to focus greatly on both traditional and digital advertising to amplify demand.
Featured Image Credit: Shoyu Bros