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For Aizuddin, the co-founder and managing director of Kay’s Steak & Lobster (Kay’s), becoming an F&B entrepreneur was a deceptively simple decision.

With a background in the banking and finance industry, he didn’t have any grand inspirations or motivations to start the business.

“The main driving force was my desire to escape the daily grind of commuting through traffic jams,” he admitted candidly.

Living in Putra Heights and working in KL, he found the daily commute to be a major hassle. So, in 2014, he decided to open a restaurant close to home so as to not deal with traffic.

But why a restaurant?

Image Credit: Kay’s Steak & Lobster

“Well, my first thought was, how hard can it be to run a restaurant?” Aizuddin replied. “You just cook, serve, and collect cash from customers. Everyone needs to eat at least three times a day, so you have three opportunities in a day that customers will come and buy from you.”

Little did he know how hard it would be to run and sustain a restaurant business. In hindsight, the entrepreneur said he wouldn’t even have considered it in the first place had he known what he knows now.

From 2014 to 2017, the business only managed to break even. Aizuddin began having second thoughts, wondering whether the effort the team put in was even worth it.

“I wondered if we should just close it down and go back to the corporate world,” he admitted.

But thankfully, the entrepreneur persevered.

In 2017, Aizuddin renamed his business to Kay’s Steak & Lobster, better highlighting their core offerings. He conducted a thorough review of their costs, implemented menu engineering strategies, and repriced their menu. He also renegotiated payment terms with suppliers, securing credit terms ranging from seven to 30 days.

“This has provided us with additional cash flow to allocate towards our marketing initiatives,” he explained.

Image Credit: Kay’s Steak & Lobster

With amped up marketing efforts, they were able to enhance their brand visibility and attract a wider audience, while also introducing a loyalty programme to retain those customers.

Thanks to these strategies, Aizuddin now celebrates a decade in the F&B industry.

“While my journey began out of a simple need for convenience, it’s been a rewarding experience evolving the restaurant into what it is today.”

Building a healthy business

From one restaurant in 2014, Kay’s has since expanded to three outlets in total.

While the quantity of outlets increased, the team has also been maintaining and even improving their quality. Aizuddin shared that a major shift in the business has been towards establishing standardised operating procedures (SOPs) to facilitate their expansion.

This approach revolves around three key pillars: people, process, and technology.

“Firstly, we prioritised hiring individuals who not only possessed the right skills for their roles but also shared our vision and were committed to achieving it alongside us,” he said.

To attract the right talent, Aizuddin said they make sure to communicate the company’s vision and culture clearly during the hiring process. Other strategies include tapping into personal and professional networks for quality referrals.

Image Credit: Kay’s Steak & Lobster

Promising room for growth is also critical. “We positioned our company as a place where employees could not only use their skills but also learn and advance within the company,” he said.  

Fostering this growth, the company offers many upskilling and training opportunities.

Given the support that Kay’s offers to its employees, isn’t there a concern that they would leave for greener pastures, or to start their own ventures?

“We believe in supporting our employees’ career aspirations,” Aizuddin said to that. “If a chef decides to pursue entrepreneurship, we encourage and facilitate their journey.”

He added, “Should they choose to start their own venture, provided it aligns with our values and regulations, we may even consider investing in their business to support their growth and success.”

Image Credit: Kay’s Steak & Lobster

Aside from talent attraction and retention, the team also consistently re-evaluates their processes, identifying areas for enhancement and streamlining.

To support this, the team has established four functional departments crucial for business success—HR, Finance, Operations, and Marketing. Each are led by capable individuals with clear objectives that align with the company’s overarching vision, Aizuddin said.

The co-founder has also made significant investments in digital solutions and tools. This includes digitising HR functions, implementing a reservation and loyalty system, and integrating high-tech kitchen equipment to enhance product delivery speed and consistency.

Offering halal assurance

In addition to quality ingredients, Aizuddin believes Kay’s stands out thanks to its prioritisation of the halal certification.

“Central to our mission is our aspiration to become the foremost halal fine casual dining establishment in every region where we operate,” he said. “To realise this goal, we embarked on the journey of obtaining halal certification from JAKIM.”

In September 2023, the company achieved the milestone of receiving halal certification for all its outlets.

But beyond just catering to the needs of Muslim consumers, which is the majority of their customer base, the halal certification process and its rigorous protocols also ensure food safety and ingredient traceability. This all in all ensures the restaurant upholds strict standards.

Growing an empire

Aizuddin shared that he had launched Kay’s with a modest capital of less than RM200,000 back in 2014. The majority was allocated for setting up the initial version of Kay’s, covering everything from equipment to initial inventory. The remaining funds were designated for working capital to sustain day-to-day operations.

Image Credit: Kay’s Steak & Lobster

“This initial capital infusion was primarily self-funded, drawn from my personal savings and contributions from my wife,” he revealed. He added that his wife, who is now the Director of Marketing and Operations at Kay’s, also plays a big part in keeping day-to-day operations running smoothly.

Support also came from his parents and siblings, who became shareholders in the company.

As the business grew, it relied heavily on bootstrapping. Profits were consistently reinvested to fuel growth and expansion.

In the latest audited financial statements from 2022, the business was raking in eight-figure revenue, and healthy seven-figure profits.

This will go towards propelling Kay’s growth, starting with strategic expansion within the Klang Valley as well as venturing into new territories. Specifically, the team aims to open two new outlets in the Klang Valley, with one already under construction in Elmina and another planned for the KLGCC area in 2025.

As for markets outside the Klang Valley, they already have planned outlets in Johor Bahru and Penang.

“To support the growth of these outlets, we’re investing in the establishment of a central kitchen,” Aizuddin added. A central kitchen will ensure consistent quality across all locations as they scale.

Image Credit: Kay’s Steak & Lobster

Additionally, the co-founder is also exploring opportunities to diversify the company’s market presence. This could involve entering new market segments through acquisitions or even developing new brands.

“Looking towards the long term, our vision for Kay’s is to become a leading halal multi-brand F&B company with a strong presence both locally and internationally,” he shared his ambitions.

This won’t be easy, and the co-founder recognises that. It will take sustained growth, continued innovation, and strategic expansion into new markets, all while upholding the brand’s core values.

However, Aizuddin is confident and determined. “Through diligent execution of our plans and a focus on delivering exceptional experiences, we aim to position Kay’s as a prominent player in the F&B industry.”

  • Learn more about Kay’s Steak & Lobster here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about F&B businesses here.

Featured Image Credit: Kay’s Steak & Lobster 

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