Is there any Malaysian who hasn’t heard the iconic The Chicken Rice Shop jingle?
Cue the bawk bawk bawks.
It’s one of the most recognisable homegrown F&B chains, but if you haven’t heard of it (or its earworm of a jingle), The Chicken Rice Shop serves up, you’ve guessed it, chicken rice.
What’s not to love? As the founder herself put it during a 2012 interview with BFM, “It’s halal, it’s wholesome, it’s balanced, and it’s chicken, which is universal.”
But surely, there’s more meat (pun intended) to the business’ story than that, right?
Especially after finding out that TCRS’ first store was opened in Taipan USJ, where our office is located, we knew we had to look further into what makes this chicken rice shop the chicken rice shop that many Malaysians know and love.
The mother-daughter duo behind it all
Before she was the founder of The Chicken Rice Shop (TCRS), Gaik Wong already had quite the experience with chickens. She had been the COO-cum-director of KFC Holdings (M) Bhd, working in the fast food industry for 25 years prior to starting TCRS, she told BFM.
She eventually retired from KFC Holdings, but that didn’t mean she retired from the scene.
Interestingly, it was Gaik’s daughter, Wong Kah Lin, who pushed her mum to start the new venture.
The two noticed an opportunity in the market for a fast food joint with an international concept, but serving localised dishes.
Seeing that Gaik’s mother-in-law is from Hainan and her own parents are from Penang, choosing to focus on chicken rice seemed like a natural progression.
With Gaik’s background in F&B and Kah Lin’s background in accounting, the two opened the first TCRS outlet in 2000.
Good business with good food
Like any good chicken rice stall, TCRS offers traditionally steamed chicken as well as crispy roasted chicken. Other than that, there are the honey barbecued and soy sauce chicken options, too.
Besides these signature chicken rice offerings, the chain also serves local favourites, including Hainanese curry chicken, Nyonya Pai Tee, Penang rojak, and more.
Yet, these dishes aren’t exactly hard to find. Heck, the core offering of chicken rice is one of the most easily found local delights. I’ll bet there’s a chicken rice seller in your vicinity right now.
Even Gaik herself said that “chicken rice is generic” to BFM.
So, considering that chicken rice is something available from places such as local kopitiams that sell the dish for much cheaper, what’s setting the brand apart from all the competition? Why choose TCRS over your neighbourhood hawker stall or warung?
This conundrum was something that was brought up during the BFM interview.
The mother-daughter duo continued to explain that it’s not so much about the dish itself, but rather, all the other value propositions TCRS gives.
Kah Lin further made her point by taking Western chains such as McDonalds and KFC as examples.
To paraphrase, fried chicken isn’t something novel or unique, and as much as KFC wants you to believe it, its fried chicken isn’t necessarily the best fried chicken in the world.
So, fried chicken is something common, and KFC’s dish might be seen as nothing special, so how have they built their brands to what it is today?
It’s all about the branding and positioning of the business and how it’s being operated.
Kah Lin had said, “I think where we position ourselves is we believe in having a family restaurant. It’s a place where everyone can get together and the kind of food that we serve actually caters to every age profile.”
In other words, TCRS is a place that you could bring both your kid and your grandma, and they would both likely enjoy the dishes.
As a chain, TCRS is also able to standardise their dishes and provide a reliable halal dining experience, something that’s key when it comes to expanding in Malaysia.
“What is important in any business?” was a question that Gaik Wong had presented in the radio show.
She went on to answer, “You have to be innovative. Of course your core must still be there, your signature of chicken rice must still be there … A lot of companies fail because of a lack of innovation.”
Back in 2012, they used to innovate new dishes every few months. You might think those efforts have slowed down now, but TCRS actually still rolls out new dishes once in a while. Just recently, it introduced its ayam kilau and sambal hijau kilau offerings.
TCRS also has a loyalty app now, called SedapZ, to let users collect points and redeem rewards.
Chicken rice, and more
A couple of serial entrepreneurs, Kah Lin and Gaik’s TCRS Restaurants went on to create a number of other F&B chains that have also gained popularity over the years.
There’s DubuYo, founded in 2008. Originally known as Dubu Dubu, this chain serves up halal Korean food.
Established in 2011 is Sepiring. A return to our local flavours, it serves up dishes such as nasi kunyit with curry chicken, Ipoh hor fun, and—hey!—Hainanese chicken rice, too.
TCRS Restaurants was also operating another chain called Pancake House, which is a franchise from Manila. Sadly, the chain closed down in Malaysia in 2019.
Perhaps the true marker of a good business person is also knowing when it’s time to let go.
And, they also know when to exit.
In June 2019, The Chicken Rice Shop was reportedly acquired by Japanese F&B giant Zensho Holdings for RM220 million.
That’s why the SedapZ loyalty app also includes restaurants such as Sukiya and Ichiban Ramen, as both brands are under Zensho Holdings.
In Zensho Holdings’ report for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2022, it was reported that their fast food businesses had made around 150,673 million yen (around RM4,985,562,940). However, this also includes their other fast food chain, Hamazushi, which is a 100-yen sushi chain.
According to TCRS’ store locator, there appears to be 135 outlets of TCRS, bringing halal Hainanese chicken rice to Malaysians.
Looking back at the story and growth of TCRS, it’s fascinating to see how a business centred around the simple Hainanese chicken rice, which isn’t hard to come by, has come so far.
This is all thanks to Gaik and Kah Lin’s business-mindedness and wealth of industry knowledge, of course. The duo had already known they had a recipe for success when they opened the very first store in Taipan, USJ.
As Gaik said in an interview with The Edge in 2012, “If you want to get into business, you must do it big or don’t do it at all.”
Yet, is there now a space for newcomers to join in? Will The Chicken Rice Shop continue to be the go-to chicken rice shop?
With chains such as Chicken Rice Guys (also halal) cropping up, perhaps Malaysians are already looking for something new, but TCRS undoubtedly remains to be an iconic and prevalent source of “generic” chicken rice and a wholesome option in Malaysia.
- Learn more about The Chicken Rice Shop here.
- Read other articles about Malaysian F&B businesses here.
Featured Image Credit: Penang Women Entrepreneurs / The Chicken Rice Shop