At just two months old, Adrian Goh migrated from Melaka to Perth, Australia with his family.
Now, at 33 years old, Adrian (who has become Dr Adrian after graduating in Medicine at the University of Manchester) has made a homecoming of sorts.
He’s still living in Perth with his wife, Aiko, where he works as a locum doctor, but he’s also the founder behind a kombucha café in Melaka by the name of PICO Melaka (PICO), as well as its in-house brand, Highland Kombucha.
Juggling medicine and entrepreneurship
From a young age, medicine had always been a natural first choice for the Melakan.
“In my young adulthood I took great interest in psychology and psychiatry,” he told Vulcan Post. “As such, I have been working in the specialty of psychiatry and mental health over the past seven years.”
While his passion for medicine and healthcare is still strong now, he has experienced some ups and downs in his medical career, such as in 2017, when he experienced burnout as a young professional.
“I still had a lot to learn about working life as a professional and a doctor,” he recalled. “I had a run of busy placements, I was putting too much pressure on myself and at times with each patient/case, it felt like I was bearing the weight of the world on my shoulders.”
That was when he decided to take some time off and fulfil his dream of travelling the world. Inspired by the people he met and the experiences gained, he began entertaining a long-standing yearning to start a small business related to health and lifestyle.
Here, he faced a fork in his career path. He could return to full-time work and enter the training programme to become a specialist psychiatrist, or he could work as a locum doctor and start a business, one that could act as a driver for positive change.
“I obviously chose the latter pathway, and have not looked back since,” he shared.
Despite having no experience in entrepreneurship or F&B, Dr Adrian was able to gain confidence through conversations with friends he met during his travels.
“Call it bravery or misguided confidence, I decided to bet on myself and take a big swing at this,” he expressed. “Of course, a significant factor is that I have a very stable safety net with my training and career if the business were to not go well.”
Today, Dr Adrian splits his time working as a locum doctor in Perth and working on his business online with the PICO/Highland Kombucha team who are based in Melaka.
Entrepreneurship aside, Dr Adrian still has ambitions in the medical field.
“In the coming years, I hope that the company will reach a level of stability and self-sufficiency,” he shared. “In this stage, I plan to enter the training programme to complete my training and become a specialist psychiatrist.”
Dr Adrian got his first sip of kombucha some years ago, introduced to him by his sister.
“Kombucha felt a bit too good to be true—a delicious and refreshing natural tea beverage that is probiotic and low in sugar,” he marvelled. “I became obsessed. But what really got me hooked was that I generally felt better after drinking it.”
Soon, the fermented beverage had replaced his usual afternoon coffee. From there, the doctor read up on the scientific literature behind kombucha, and began to brew some at home.
Whilst Dr Adrian recognises that there is still limited scientific literature on the specific benefits of kombucha in humans, he also pointed out that there is established research showing that a diet rich in probiotics and prebiotics can improve gut health and positively affect the microbiome.
“We certainly do not present kombucha as a panacea, but rather a natural drink that adds value to one’s diet, health, and lifestyle,” he clarified.
Popularising the beverage in Melaka
A few minutes’ walk from Jonker street, PICO is situated in Kampung Hulu, Melaka, right by the Melaka River.
“The building belongs to my family and was developed by my late grandfather,” Dr Adrian shared. “The building had been vacant for a number of years, so when I was still deciding on where to start the business, this presented itself as an ideal situation and location.”
As a Melakan myself, though, I felt that the kombucha-drinking culture wasn’t as strong there compared to KL. However, Dr Adrian shared that there actually is quite a sizable number of existing kombucha enthusiasts in Melaka, illustrated by PICO’s number of regulars.
Still, there are many who are not familiar with the drink.
As a specialised shopfront for Highland Kombucha, the team at PICO is trained to educate customers on kombucha and its benefits.
“We get many customers who describe themselves as ‘non-kombucha drinkers’ because they have been put off by previous experiences of very vinegary and sour kombucha that makes you wince,” Dr Adrian explained. “Our job is to convince them to at least taste our kombucha.”
This is done through offering free samples of Highland Kombucha. Dr Adrian is proud to share that they have been able to successfully convert non-kombucha drinkers into kombucha fans.
Compared to other brands of kombuchas, which Dr Adrian claimed tend to overwhelm the palate with the sourness and acidity of vinegar, Highland Kombucha offers a gentler profile that lets drinkers enjoy the mildly sweet and tangy flavour.
Using just three ingredients (premium organic tea, organic sugar, the SCOBY) Highland Kombucha’s goal is to honour the natural flavours of the tea and sugar.
“Having travelled around the world and tasted many a kombucha across different continents, I can safely say that our kombucha is world-class,” Dr Adrian confidently shared.
The brand has already attained GMP (Good Manufacturing Process) HACCP (Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Point) certification from SIRIM Malaysia, and is currently awaiting halal certification.
Pairing healthy drinks with healthy foods
Kombucha aside, PICO also offers a range of hot foods. The menu comprises recipes from around the world, collected by Dr Adrian throughout years of research since 2018.
“Our main concept is to take our favourite foods from around the world and develop healthier versions of them,” he explained.
Continuing on the health-conscious concept, the team uses higher quality oil and ingredients, reduced amounts of oil, sugar and salt, and as many vegetables as possible. On top of that, they also prefer to make their own natural ingredients where possible.
Moving forward, Dr Adrian hopes to have a fermentation lab, inspired by NOMA, a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Copenhagen.
“We love to ferment fruit and vegetables to achieve a natural and complex umami dimension,” he shared. “Our cafe will continue to expand our repertoire of fermented probiotics goods.”
Continuing to grow the kombucha culture
While PICO and Highland Kombucha were launched earlier this year, there were actually plans to launch two years ago, on the very same day as the first nationwide lockdown.
“We were forced to shut down our operations during the pandemic, with my Aunt Judy saving the day,” Dr Adrian recounted. “She kept the business afloat and took care of the premise. We would not be here today without her.”
The team recommenced operations in October 2022 and the two brands officially took off in March 2023.
While the business has overcome that obstacle, there’s still the challenge of human resources in Melaka’s food and beverage industry.
“As a rookie entrepreneur, I am confident that our product and concept will do well, but at this current time the limiting factor to our business growth has been finding the right people to actually run the place,” he said.
To improve the business, they are currently renovating and reconfiguring their operations, including new staff and menu adjustments.
Going forward, Dr Adrian also plans to distribute Highland Kombucha around Malaysia and Singapore as well as list it online.
The team is taking small steps towards that ambition, having launched its 300ml bottles, which will soon be available across Melaka and KL in local cafes, restaurants, and hotels.
Featured Image Credit: PICO Melaka