If you’ve been in 1 Utama Shopping Centre in the past two weeks or so, you might’ve noticed a new addition to its lineup of F&B establishments.
Without much fanfare, a café by the name of Rich Kopitiam quietly opened on July 3, 2023. Now, you might find the branding of the business to be suspiciously familiar and reminiscent of a well-known Malaysian chain, PappaRich.
You wouldn’t be wrong to draw this connection, as the man behind this new spot is none other than Rich Tan himself, the founder of PappaRich.
However, don’t mistake this as just a spin-off of the brand, as Rich has actually sold off his stakes some years ago, but more on that later.
The opening of this new kopitiam-styled restaurant comes not too long after Vulcan Post published an article about the history and growth of PappaRich.
Although Rich might be a notable name in the industry, he’s always been rather elusive.
All we managed to find previously about the restaurateur were simple biographical details like how he was born in Negeri Sembilan in 1964.
So, when Rich Tan’s team actually reached out to us with an opportunity to talk to the man himself, guess what we said?
Over a phone call, Rich opened up about his passion for food and how he went from doing sales to starting his own business in 2006.
“I really, really, really love kopitiam-styled food,” he shared multiple times during our conversation. “I’ve drank so much kopitiam coffee that I had acid reflux. I think I’ve drank at least 1,000 cups of coffees, from the north to the south.”
He loved the cuisine so much that he took out a loan to start his first business.
With around RM100,000, if memory serves him right, Rich set up what was called Pappa Kopitiam at the time in Selayang.
He recalls that he brought in around RM38,000 in the first month. Half a year later, that number soared to RM80,000.
“A lot of people acknowledged my food, and pushed me to do franchise,” he said.
One such person was a friend who wanted to open a store in Klang. To ensure consistent quality, Rich began developing SOPs from how to make the coffee just right to creating pastes to maintain the flavour profiles of his food.
From there, the entrepreneur continued to grow his business and built PappaRich into a nationwide—and even global—phenomenon.
Leaving Pappa behind
It wasn’t widely reported on, but Rich told us that he sold his stakes in PappaRich back in 2019, before a winding-up petition had been filed against the business in 2020.
He shared that the reason for leaving the company was because he disagreed with his business partner on the fundamentals of running the brand.
“I’m very patient and loyal when it comes to my food,” he said. “If they want to turn PappaRich into just a profit-making machine, I can’t stand by it.”
He continued, “They opened too fast. We went from 40 stores, to suddenly 137.”
Thus, he decided to leave, selling off the stakes to his business partner.
However, Rich still retained his ambition as a lover of Malaysian comfort foods to offer local delights to others like him.
“I was unwilling to let it go,” he said regarding that ambition. “I needed to get it done, and done well.”
Thus, the seeds of Rich Kopitiam were planted during the pandemic, when the entrepreneur spent a lot of time in the kitchen. At the time, though, given the economic condition, he didn’t dare to start a new venture yet.
But now, with the economy recovering and 1 Utama Shopping Centre offering a nice spot for Rich Kopitiam, the restaurateur is readier than ever to start not just a new chapter, but a new story.
When leaving PappaRich, he said he had been worried, because his life’s goal had been to turn PappaRich into Malaysia’s legacy.
“But now, it’s a history,” he said. “I will make Rich Kopitiam a legacy, so that I won’t have any life regrets.”
Food that won’t lose to kopitiams
Since Rich Kopitiam is also doing kopitiam-styled foods, many would wonder whether its food is similar to that of PappaRich.
When asked about this, Rich claimed that his new menu is “totally different”.
As an example, he said that the flavours of Rich Kopitiam’s char kuay teow have been enhanced to really have a “kick”, making it much more reminiscent of authentic Penang char kuay teow.
Another example lies in the curry, a staple of Malaysian food. Rather than using curry powder, he now uses santan and chicken to simmer the soup, alongside other ingredients to bring out more depth in the flavour.
Rich said he has even gotten the tutelage of a master in Penang to learn how to perfect the char kuey teow.
“I need to personally know how to do it to run a business selling it,” he pointed out. “A lot of food operators are just the head of the company, but they don’t know how to do it. But myself, other than loving to eat, I can actually do it.”
Leveraging his expertise
Still, with so many kopitiam-style businesses out there nowadays, Rich Kopitiam is up against some stiff competition. From longtime stalwarts like OldTown White Coffee to newer names such as Oriental Kopi.
“I have confidence in my food,” he said. “Even if you put me in any kopitiam today, I have no fear about how my food stacks up. I know what level my food is at.”
When he talks about level, he’s not just talking about the quality of food, but also the pricing, which he says is more accessible compared to the past.
In any case, Rich is used to competition. He points to the early days of PappaRich, when OldTown White Coffee had been a fierce competitor.
“How we survived then was the quality of food,” he explained. “And today, Rich Kopitiam is working even harder on this front.”
He continued, “I put a lot of care into crafting every single dish. I hope it’ll be a delightful surprise to old friends and fans.”
Having done franchising for such a long time, Rich sees it as his strength, and thus plans to eventually offer franchising opportunities for his new brand.
Unlike his past brand, however, he aims to be more selective and careful with who he works with.
“My past experience showed me that only those who share my principles will be able to move forward with this brand,” he said.
However, even with well-loved chains, a growing pain of any business is that the standard of quality may drop, even if you don’t want it to.
The only way to circumvent this is to be stricter in maintaining the dishes and make sure the central kitchen is developing various methods that ensure consistency.
“No compromise. Trashy food is unacceptable,” he said.
Rebuilding a legacy
Interestingly, the business has been utilising the old-school word-of-mouth marketing method more than other promotional activities, but so far, it has worked well.
For instance, just comparing sales from the first day to the second, Rich said that it has doubled. Just based on images the Rich Kopitiam team has sent, business truly looks to be booming.
Instead of having a grand launch or at least some media announcements, the team went for a softer launch as they’re still fine-tuning the SOPs based on feedback.
In 2023, he aims to open up two to three more outlets in high-traffic shopping malls.
With a similar font, brand colours, and concept, it’s clear that Rich Kopitiam bears much resemblance to its predecessor.
To this, Rich shared that after all, “PappaRich is me, I am PappaRich.”
However, he continued, “But, I can say that the Pappa has retired. Now, I’m just Rich. So, today, through Rich Kopitiam, I want to succeed in bringing Malaysian food to the world.”
Featured Image Credit: Rich Kopitiam