Roger Hew, the founder of local F&B chain The Brew House, always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur, even as a child.
“My uncles all had businesses, and growing up, I saw that they had a comfortable life, a big house, and invested in properties,” he told Vulcan Post.
Thus, Roger thought at the time, “When I grow up, the only way out to financial freedom is by opening businesses. And whether it fails or succeeds, you will learn through the experience.”
Before foraying into F&B entrepreneurship, he actually got his start in the world of hospitality.
The makings of an entrepreneur
In 1994, Roger went all the way to Europe to pursue hotel management.
Why he decided to study abroad, though, may not be for the reason you think. Truthfully, it was because his friends were attending school in the UK, and he wanted to go meet them. At the time, learning was truly an afterthought.
He wondered, “How am I going to con my father to give me the chance to go to Europe?” Somehow, the answer he came up with was to go to Switzerland and study hotel management. Little did he know, he would be stuck in a small little town where all he could do was study.
“Two years went past in the blink of an eye,” he recalled. During those two years, he managed to make a lot of connections, exchanging ideas with important people from the hotel and F&B industry.
It was here that he grew to love the journey that comes with building a business, the passion involved in creating something of your own.
Coming back to KL, he started his career by managing a club called Arena in Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel. From there, he joined the hotel as its catering manager.
His CV also includes stints at Resorts World Genting, Red Box Karaoke Group, Café Flam, and a whole slew of different concept clubs he played a part in creating.
With all that under his belt, he finally started something of his own in the tail-end of 2007, something called Bar Celona. This lasted until 2009, when the bosses decided to relinquish the space.
So there Roger was. He had no job, but what he did have was some money and a dream. With that, he started something that many Millennials and Gen X-ers may have heard of before…
The era of Movida
“We never imagined it would open to about 13 outlets after a few years,” Roger said about Movida.
Of the 13, some were franchised, while some were self-owned. I remember there was one in my hometown of Melaka that my family would visit now and then for a nice dinner.
According to Roger, at the time, the trend was having a place where you could come for happy hour, dine in, then stay for the entertainment, such as DJs or live music.
But around eight years into the journey, circa 2017, he saw a decline of interest in the entertainment industry. Roger realised that it was necessary to come up with a new concept, one that was affordable to the mass market.
“We felt the customers were getting older,” he shared. “The ones who have been with us for the past eight years were getting married and having kids. They wanted a place to bring their family to still eat and drink and socialise.”
And that place turned out to be The Brew House.
Pivots and perseverance
The first outlet opened in SS2, which is still around today. Steadily, Roger and his business partner began converting the other Movida locations into The Brew House.
Since Roger was the one who groomed and grew Movida, you might think that his decision to pivot from it was a difficult one. But the entrepreneur recognised the model simply wasn’t evergreen, so action needed to be taken.
“I don’t feel stuck to a concept where it’s like our baby, and we cannot let go,” he shared. “We have to change. As time goes, we have to innovate, the products have to change to suit the right market segments.”
Determining that Malaysians—and anyone, really—want quality food at low prices, affordability became top of mind for the chain.
This focus on affordability is what sets them apart from competitors, Roger said. He referenced their RM9.80 lunch specials, pointing out that it’s priced lower than even fast food chains. He credits fostering good relationships with suppliers and being timely paymasters as some ways he’s managed to keep prices low.
Of course, there are even cheaper options such as mamaks and kopitiams, but Roger said that many nowadays would pay a bit more for a place that’s more hygienic with good ambiance.
But then the pandemic hit in 2020, and even a seasoned entrepreneur like Roger was rattled.
“I spoke to my business partner, I said, is this the end?” he recalled.
Through rental rebates and promotional activities, The Brew House managed to come out of the pandemic not only unscathed but doing relatively well. Roger said that there were a lot of inquiries for franchising and licensing opportunities.
Today, the chain has grown to 39 outlets—18 are self-owned, while 21 are franchised or licensed.
From brewing to baking
In December 2023, Roger launched a new brand by the name of Brew & Bake Boulangerie located in Kota Damansara.
The entrepreneur shared that he’s always wanted to have a bakery, and the stars aligned when he befriended someone who had been working in five-star hotels such as St. Regis and Four Seasons as a pastry cook.
Seeing the opportunity there, he decided to embark on a bakery business with the pâtissier.
It’s only been a month, but Roger reported that Brew and Bake has gotten tremendous support so far. That said, bakery businesses feel a dime a dozen nowadays, with established players like Kenny Hills Bakers as well as new contenders like BAKE by Mel in the scene.
Innovation is necessary in order to gain a competitive edge. For Brew & Bake, this comes in the form of a sourdough egg tart, which uses a recipe obtained from Hong Kong.
Still in its incubation period for now, Roger is already thinking of opening a few more bakery outlets this year. He believes that a second outlet will be possible by April or May.
“If I can replicate what I’ve done for The Brew House, I think we can do the same for the bakery,” he shared.
Although there are some obstacles such as manpower and training, Roger appeared optimistic about this new challenge.
“It’s like a storybook to me,” the entrepreneur expressed. “We’re opening the first page and starting to write the story, and it goes on from there.”
What else is brewing?
In terms of growth, Roger shared that the market has been rather soft these days.
However, he does hope to expand The Brew House to more locations in Malaysia, such as down south in Johor as well as to the east in Borneo.
Moreover, he also shared that he wants to embark on his journey into Singapore by this year.
Some deterrents include, once again, manpower, as well as the steep exchange rate. Finding a good location and a partner that’s well-versed in the local law will be critical.
But to Roger, these are just challenges to overcome, not permanent roadblocks. As an entrepreneur, he’s all about the difficult paths.
And like he said in the beginning of the article, whether it succeeds or fail, you’ll end up learning something through the experience.
Of course, success and all its rewards definitely taste sweeter. 25 years into his career, those rewards are something that Roger gets to reap.
That includes a feeling of contentment thanks to his hard work, as well as the fact that he can live his life the way he wants.
Beyond a financial sense, Roger gets to enjoy the true freedom he sought after as a child. “I write my own life,” he simply shared with a smile.
- Learn more about The Brew House here.
- Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Roger Hew / The Brew House