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How to be a successful F&B entrepreneur, according to The Brew House’s founder

Recently, we got the opportunity to chat with Roger Hew, the founder of The Brew House and, more recently, Brew & Bake Boulangerie.

While sharing his story, he also shared many interesting business insights that aspiring F&B entrepreneurs can learn from. Here are some of the pearls of wisdom from Roger.

Quality can be localised

When it comes to scaling a business, especially an F&B one, quality control may be the biggest concern. How do you make sure every outlet is up to par when it comes to quality? How do you even assess that?

While some businesses go for the central kitchen method to ensure the quality of food is kept consistent, Roger believes in keeping quality localised to each branch.

He revealed that The Brew House doesn’t operate with a central kitchen model. Rather, every single restaurant has its own kitchen, and based on the locality, differences may arise in terms of the flavours.

Image Credit: The Brew House

This is because different locations will have different palates, he said. Some places like more spices, some like it sweeter, some like it salty.

“We’re not like other brands where you have 40, 50 outlets and you have a central kitchen which delivers frozen food to make money,” he said. “To them, it’s about bottom line, but to us, we want to make money but the first thing is we have to maintain quality and customer satisfaction.”

Be good paymasters

One key focus at The Brew House is affordability. To achieve that, the cost of goods must first be kept low.

There are two factors that can help with this—providing a big volume to the supplier, and paying suppliers in a consistent and timely fashion.

Of the two, the former can be harder to achieve for smaller businesses. But the latter is definitely something that can be achieved by businesses at any stage.

Image Credit: The Brew House

“We don’t drag people’s payments,” Roger said. “With good payment and good volume, they support us very strongly.”

This became especially critical during the pandemic, when money was tight. Having fostered a good relationship with a history of good payments, The Brew House was able to get some leeway from their suppliers during tough times.

Keep an eye on the cash flow in good times and bad

Any entrepreneur would tell you the importance of cash flow and ensuring there’s a good runway for the business.

Roger believes this is particularly true for F&B, whereby cash comes in daily. Although that sounds like a good thing, it also means F&B business owners need to be even more cognisant to pay attention to the cash flow.

Image Credit: Brew & Bake Boulangerie

“Sometimes if you don’t know how to financially plan or use money wisely, you might use it for the wrong reasons,” Roger explained. “That’s why you see a lot of F&B businesses can open but afterwards shut, ‘cos it’s not planned well financially.”

In tough times, even banks won’t be able to help out. So, it’s vital to put money aside for a rainy day. Roger also recommended investing money into other instruments of finances to support the business.

Work with people with passion

Roger is no stranger to scaling up a brand. The Brew House now has 39 outlets. Some are self-owned, while others are run by licensees.

When it comes to expansion, especially through licensing or franchising, Roger’s philosophy is to work with passionate people.

It is through this lens that he started his new bakery brand, Brew & Bake Boulangerie. Roger worked with a friend who’s been in the pastry industry to launch the brand in December 2023.

Image Credit: Brew & Bake Boulangerie

Aside from passion, he also believes that entrepreneurs need to have a long-term mindset. They need to be there for the long haul, and be willing to build something together from the ground up.

“I always tell people, you need to spend a lot of time in F&B,” he said. “In F&B, the first six months is about bringing up the child. Every day of your life is spent in the restaurant or the bakery to understand the customers’ want, needs, or feedback.”

In short, Roger believes…

You’ve got to be hands-on

Being an entrepreneur isn’t just about investing money into an idea, and calling it a day. To Roger, it’s critical to actually experience all parts of the job.

“I’m already 50, this year I’m 51. I started my journey when I was 25, so 25 years of my life has been dedicated to the outlets where I work,” he pointed out. “You must love the outlets where you work.”

Image Credit: The Brew House

By being hands on, you’ll start noticing things such as lighting, temperature control, music volume, the presentation and quality of the food, and more.

“We have no time to catch up with old friends,” Roger admitted about F&B entrepreneurs.

Of course, things have eased up a little for him, having done all the grunt work. As he put it, if you’ve dedicated 10 years of your life to something you’ll love, growing a business will come naturally.

“Malaysians love to invest money and never be there,” he shared. “A lot of people ask me whether they can invest with me, and then I run the business. [They want me to] run the business and they just make the profits—which is unfair.”

Instead of that “unfair” arrangement, Roger believes investors (or anyone in a team) must add value into the business. Only then will the business be successful.

Learn everything

In the same wavelength of the last point, Roger believes that to be an entrepreneur, you must learn everything. Not just everything about your store, but everything about the industry at large.

For one, Roger himself actually studied hotel management. When he came back to Malaysia, he researched who the movers and shakers in the industry were.

Starting his career at Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel, he shared that he learnt every single thing from as many departments as he could. He observed how they set up the business, how they negotiated prices, how they ran the day-to-day operations, and more.  

“You must have the passion in terms of finance, marketing, promotions, human resources, and purchasing,” he said. In short, you’ve got to care about everything.

Image Credit: Brew & Bake Boulangerie

Are you ready to helm the business yourself?

Because, as Roger put it, “Being an entrepreneur is very lonely.”

Along the way, not even your friends can help you out. They may greet you and wish you the best, but as a whole, the journey can be very isolating.

People may see Roger’s success now and think it’s been a flowery path all along for him, but he admitted that the road has not been easy.

“We learnt many things through the hard way, through competing with others in the market, through making mistakes,” he said.

Thus, perhaps the most important requirement for being an entrepreneur is to persevere.

Here’s a final pearl of wisdom from the entrepreneur: “Nothing is perfect. Just keep moving.”

Featured Image Credit: Roger Hew / The Brew House

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