Marrybrown is that one fast food chain that has always been ambiguous to me: Is it Malaysian? Between KFC, A&W, McDonald’s, and more, where does its fried chicken and burgers actually rank?
I’ve only spotted it a couple of times when out and about too, which tells me it either isn’t in very frequented places, or that, while it is, it’s forgettable enough.
However, upon digging deeper into their history, I learnt that there’s quite a bit to be proud of when it comes to their achievements, not just locally, but also internationally.
The start of something new
Founded in 1981, Marrybrown was conceptualised by a Chinese couple, Dato Lawrence Liew and Datin Nancy Liew. They opened their first outlet at Wong Ah Fook Street, Johor Bahru. (Based on research, it seems that this store no longer exists.)
At the same time, American fast food chains were dominating the industry. Hence, Marrybrown was making a name for itself by carving its own destiny in Malaysia.
As of June 2021, Marrybrown had expanded itself to 198 local outlets and 500 international outlets across 16 countries.
“Despite other brands being in Malaysia for so long, there was still an opportunity as many Malaysians were constantly looking for halal western food,” Joshua, the couple’s son, told FMT.
Coupled with their love for Malaysian food, the founders were all the more motivated to dive head-first into the fast food industry.
Marrybrown’s menu consists of burgers, fried chicken, local delights, fish-based meals, kiddy meals, nasi bowls, beverages, desserts, and more. Nothing out of the ordinary for fast-food places, but what made it unique was its proudly Malaysian roots.
As Joshua put it, “Being a homegrown brand, we had the upper hand of having an innate knowledge and understanding of Malaysians’ taste buds—their preferred flavours, likings, dislikes, and so on.”
In 2013, The Star reported that Marybrown’s recipes stand out from other fast food restaurants because they incorporate Asian culinary traditions into the curation of their menu.
These include offering more elaborate forms of spices, a variety of rice delicacies, and a tastier halal menu.
Additionally, just as there is a first time for everything, the fast food chain has had a number of industry “firsts” since the inception of its first outlet. As reported in the same The Star article, Marrybrown was the first to:
- Introduce rice products to their menu (1999);
- Launch porridges (1998);
- Offer mineral water as a soda alternative (2000); and
- Develop ball pit playland (2003).
It has been 41 years since the fast food chain first started operations, and while it may not be as omnipresent as other fast-food chains like KFC and McDonald’s, it’s still got a pretty solid following.
That is, if its international presence is of anything to go by. As of today, Marrybrown has steadily made its way beyond Malaysia, spreading into much of the Asian continent, even reaching Tanzania and Sweden (though this particular outlet later shut down).
Recently, in January 2022, Marrybrown drew a mural at its latest outlet at one of Malaysia’s tourist attractions.
This drawing is at The Red House along Johor Bahru’s Jalan Tan Hiok Nee. Done in collaboration with local mural artist Sam Lim, the mural aims to galvanise the cultural building and focuses on the theme “Around the World”.
It represents a train carrying Marrybrown’s dishes to Malaysians nationwide and global fans, introducing local Malaysian delicacies to individuals across the globe.
This isn’t just for marketing either; they actually do bring Malaysian delights into every country that they are established in.
For example, Marrybrown’s Nasi Marrybrown is found in its Dubai outlet, and its Mee Kari in Marrybrown Maldives.
Although Marrybrown seems like they have it going good for themselves, they too faced their fair share of challenges during the pandemic, but perseverence carried them through.
“Challenging times also hasten development and through proper planning and understanding of the situation, we have adapted fairly quickly to the prevalence of e-commerce and home deliveries,” Joshua added.
Staying alive in the competitive fast food industry for 41 years is no joke, and there seems to be no slowing down for Marrybrown.
By no means can they be said to be Malaysia’s version of Jollibee (yet), but if Marrybrown ever plans to carve out more of a niche for itself by spreading Malaysian flavours across the continents, that could be in its future.
Featured Image Credit: Marrybrown