Hainanese chicken rice is a dish that originates in the southern Chinese province of Hainan. It is based on the well-known Wenchang chicken, one of four important dishes dating all the way back to the Qin dynasty.
Today, there is an abundance of chicken rice stalls and restaurants in Malaysia due to the unwavering demand.
Wanting a slice of the pie, Min Jun Won (MJ), the founder of Chicken by Won, aims to enhance the authentic Hainanese dish with an added touch by using his grandmother’s recipe.
Carrying on the family legacy
From an early age, MJ adored his grandmother’s cooking. He made the kitchen his playground, where he uncovered his predecessor’s recipes.
“My grandmother was an incredible chef and I was her little assistant,” MJ said. “I loved watching her cook and observing her actions, as she has always cooked the most delicious and authentic Chinese food for our family.”
When high school was over, MJ pursued his studies in economics and finance in the UK. But his passion for cooking didn’t falter.
“I often cooked for friends who were missing Malaysian food,” he said. “So much so that we had a pop-up store in the Manchester Malaysian Games (a Malaysian event). We called it Jun’s Chicken.”
Sales kicked in for the part-timer. He was selling several hundred boxes per day, and it was at that point that he realised his true passion was serving people good chicken rice.
A few years later, he returned to Malaysia during the pandemic and completed his online exams. During unprecedented times, job prospects were dim and many businesses were on hold.
“Although I got a job offer, I decided to pursue my passion with chicken rice,” MJ envisioned. “With my grandma’s recipe, I refined it through trial and error, and that’s how Chicken by Won was reborn.”
But who would have guessed that a small business could still maintain a presence in Malaysia’s saturated chicken rice market?
Think chicken? Think Won.
Being a digital native, MJ knew that the best way to compete with chicken rice stalls and restaurants that aren’t as tech-savvy was to come up with creative online marketing ideas.
“It is critical for us to stand out so that people know we’re very serious about [selling] chicken rice,” he revealed. “We know the added value of having a great social media presence.”
As his business gained more traction, he knew he needed an extra pair of hands in marketing his chicken rice. The first couple of people who came to mind were his close friends TJ and Charles, who both work at See Saw Creatives, a creative agency based in the UK.
Knowing the power of social media, he believes that by coming up with creative content, Chicken by Won could acquire relevant brand recognition among foodies in the Klang Valley. This target market consists of those constantly going on food hunts on the lookout for hidden gems.
The entrepreneur’s online efforts enabled him to reach a wider audience, including those from other states who came to Klang Valley to purchase his food. It has even made its way to the UK on a few occasions, where a customer inquired about the possibility of Chicken by Won returning to the country.
When people genuinely care, word of mouth marketing becomes natural. “It’s also very important and a key sales converter. People who love our food spread the word, post and tag us on Facebook and Instagram,” he affirmed.
From the UK to Malaysia
In an interview with Vulcan Post, we asked MJ about the differences he noticed while serving in two different countries. “Chicken rice is very rare to find in the UK, especially authentic ones,” he responded. “[Because] Malaysian students crave home food, it sells really well in the UK.”
In Manchester, a box of his chicken rice cost £5. MJ believes it was reasonable in comparison to the average cost of meals sold there, which was approximately £10.
The founder explained, “It wasn’t a one-to-one conversion when we decided our pricing. We had to take into consideration all the fresh ingredients we used and the cost of chicken, balancing that with what is reasonable for the food quality you’re getting.”
Locally, a box of his chicken rice is available for RM14.90, which some may argue is a little pricey in comparison to other players in the market.
“However, it’s tough nowadays as well due to the steep increase in the cost of chicken and more raw ingredients,” the entrepreneur expressed. As the global economy enters a downturn, we will most likely see an increase in almost everything due to inflation.
Despite that, MJ is firm on never compromising the quality of his dishes. According to him, the chicken rice made from his grandmother’s recipe has a very distinct and recognisable flavour when compared to other local chicken rice.
“At Chicken by Won, I believe that every element of the chicken rice dish is important and plays a huge role, which is why not just the chicken itself has to be good. The rice, ginger sauce, chilli sauce, soya sauce, and garnish have to be tip-top to compliment the chicken rice very well,” the chef clarified.
It is likely that MJ’s customers can appreciate the flavours of his chicken rice, which would make the price point of his products a justifiable one. This may be especially so when put up against chicken rice prices from hawkers often sold between RM6-RM10.
“In Malaysia, although there are many chicken rice options, we still stand out due to the taste of our chicken rice. No matter the country, we aim to provide the best taste and quality to our customers with the best value as much as we can,” MJ told Vulcan Post.
As orders continued to pour in, having a physical outlet became a necessity. Chicken by Won is currently in the process of opening its first walk-in location in their current cloud kitchen in the centre of Mutiara Damansara.
“Chicken rice will still be the star of our menu,” the founder assured. “There will [also] be a few limited-edition menu additions or so as we expand, plus collaborations on complimentary beverages and desserts.”
Featured Image Credit: Chicken by Won