I know this, and you know this too: food is at the heart of our Malaysian culture.
We’re fiercely passionate and proud about dishes we feel originated from Malaysia, and it’s one of our biggest love languages, with “Have you eaten yet?” being a common greeting you’d hear.
Not to mention, we find ways to bond over our shared love for food, regardless of ethnicity, religion, social status, and more.
Kluang Rail Coffee is a kopitiam with an environment replicates this scenario. Founded in the early 1900s by Lim Luan Hee, the kopitiam has been serving customers for over five generations.
Kluang Rail Coffee opened its very first outlet (starting off as a canteen) at the Kluang railway station in 1938 in Jalan Stesen, Kluang, Johor. At the time, the railway formed the backbone of then Malaya’s transportation and communication network.
Built in 1909, the Kluang railway station was strategically located close to the police station, post office, telecoms office, hospital, and Government administrative offices.
This made the canteen extremely convenient and popular, especially since it began serving breakfast and the first cup of coffee from as early as 6.30AM.
Over time, the team shared that the canteen grew to become the very first kopitiam in the district of
Kluang, under Lim’s son Lim Heng Yong and later, his grandson Lim Jit Chen.
“This is something that we take great pride in and we will continue to cherish the old whilst embracing the new,” shared Ben Winn, Director of Kluang Rail Coffee.
Going old school
It’s been seven years since Ben first joined the family-owned business. He was 27 years old then.
Prior to hopping onboard Kluang Rail Coffee, Ben was part of the corporate world, specifically in the marketing and advertising industry.
“I can’t say definitively when or why I decided to take the leap from my corporate career to the family business. The kopitiam was always a part of my childhood and it somewhat felt like the right thing to do,” shared Ben.
It began when, one evening, while Ben and his friends were playing football, his father pulled up by them and got out of his car.
He approached the boys and recruited a few of them to “work”, just by pointing at them. They each duly reported for work and over the years, they all formed the best friendships right there at the kopitiam.
“My mother ran the floor and the cashier, and as most would know, my father was the barista,” recalled Ben.
Ben admitted that he was not always an eager helper and was often quick to come up with excuses to try to get out of duty at the coffee shop.
However, he expressed, “Looking back now, these are some of my most cherished moments, especially the time I got to spend with my folks. In many ways, it has also shaped me into the person I am today.”
Keeping things authentic
As we worked on this piece, there was a burning question on our mind: Was the Kluang Station kopitiam brand in any way affiliated with Kluang Rail Coffee? We’d mostly seen the former brand name around Klang Valley, and thus were more familiar with it.
Turns out, despite their similar names and to some extent, branding, they are completely separate entities. However, Ben admitted that this has definitely caused some confusion in the market.
“Though this may be true, we believe our customers will be able to identify with our originality and authenticity. Our brand and heritage is unique to us and we intend to stay true to this,” he added.
Based on light research, it also seems that Kluang Station only came into being circa 2005, after Kluang Rail Coffee had already been long established.
Over the past eight decades, Kluang Rail Coffee has kept its first and original location in a building at Kluang railway station.
And though it has made some changes to its menu, it still serves the classic coffee and toast with soft-boiled eggs.
Crediting their ability to continue doing what they’ve always done to the team behind the brand, Ben said, “I would also like to specifically mention the hardworking team that has worked very hard to maintain the highest standards.”
“They have ensured the food quality and have contributed in building relationships with our customers.”
A proud kopitiam
In being a brand loved by its community, the kopitiam has had a number of organisations approach them to offer many awards and recognition of sorts, Ben said. However, the team always declined the opportunity.
Until they stumbled across The Malaysia Book of Records, which he described as feeling like “the right recognition”.
“It celebrated our legacy, those who were a part of the journey such as our friends, family, team, business partners, and customers,” shared Ben.
At present, the kopitiam has four branches, all around the Kluang district. This was perhaps why we found ourselves more familiar with Kluang Station, which is focused on the Klang Valley and beyond.
Kluang Rail Coffee’s branches were launched in 2007, 2008, and 2010 respectively, and they’ve not made any other geographical expansion moves since then.
“As a small family business, I would say that there was never really a big plan for the startup in the beginning,” mentioned Ben.
He added that their growth thus far was organic, out of passion and dedication to the business and their family heritage.
Moving forward, Kluang Rail Coffee wants to continue sharing its heritage with more Malaysians as part of their expansion and growth plans for the kopitiam.
For this reason, the team feels that it’s time they expand their horizons beyond the borders of Kluang. Thus, they will be opening their first outpost in Shah Alam, Selangor very soon, with more new locations already on their mind.
They’re still remaining modest in their ambitions though, with Ben simply concluding, “We hope to be in more places, serve a more extensive menu, better our services, and put more smiles on faces as well as continue to create more memories with others.”
- Learn more about Kluang Rail Coffee here.
- Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Kluang Rail Coffee