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What does it take to be an executive director in a company?

For Kong, the path started in 2001 as a waiter.

Originally from Bahau, Negeri Sembilan, Kong had been studying at Tunku Abdul Rahman College when he decided to apply for a job at Red Box Karaoke at their first outlet located in Low Yat Plaza.

Little did he know that this application would mark the beginning of his two-decade-long career in the karaoke industry.

His current restaurant venture / Image Credit: Blue Hour Tea House

Making it in the karaoke scene

Even so, Kong knew early on that hard work alone wouldn’t suffice if he wanted to advance his career.

With that, he committed himself to learning as much as possible about the industry, voluntarily sacrificing his rest days in the first year to immerse himself in every aspect of karaoke operations.

Shadowing senior staff, supervisors, and managers whenever he could, Kong quickly became promoted to the position of captain after nine months.

But his career trajectory took a major turn when he joined homegrown karaoke chain Loud Speaker in 2013 as the Deputy Operation Manager.

“Despite there being no immediate need for an operations manager, I took the initiative to apply, drawn by Loud Speaker’s potential to emerge as a market leader in the industry,” Kong said.

Within a year, he was promoted to General Manager. Then in 2017, he became the Chief Executive Officer before subsequently serving as Executive Director.

“Reflecting on my second career in the karaoke industry, I attribute my success to traits such as patience, persistence, calculated risk-taking, and creativity,” he said.

“By seizing opportunities, continuously learning, and daring to challenge the status quo, I was able to navigate the challenges and carve out a fulfilling career path in the dynamic world of karaoke entertainment.”

So, then, why did he leave?

Searching for greener pastures

Kong explained that the trigger for his departure from Loud Speaker was because of COVID-19.

Like many karaoke businesses in Malaysia, the company had taken a hit, and Kong was unfortunately retrenched in 2021.

“Upon being retrenched at the age of 40, after two decades in the karaoke industry, I found myself grappling with a pivotal decision,” he shared.

Image Credit: Blue Hour Tea House

“Should I persist in my career within the karaoke industry, where advancement opportunities seemed limited after having held nearly every conceivable position? Or should I embark on a fresh journey as an entrepreneur, starting from scratch once more?”

Since there were fewer prospects within the karaoke sector, he resolved to embrace the entrepreneurial path. Supporting this decision has been his fiancée and business partner, Evelyn.  

Naming his company The Noob Sdn Bhd to signal their status as newcomers, Kong set out to introduce something new and innovative to the market.

And that offering would be Blue Hour Tea House.

Venturing into F&B

Blue Hour Tea House was born in June 2023 with what Kong believes is a “simple yet profound” mission: to create a versatile venue suitable for diverse gatherings, complemented by pre-ordered homestyle cuisine ideal for communal enjoyment.

Kong noticed a gap in the market for venues with private rooms, sans alcohol, that provided Muslim-friendly food options. He also identified a need for a broader selection of Western loose-leaf teas, given the prevalence of Chinese tea offerings in the market.

Image Credit: Blue Hour Tea House

Their menu features sharable dishes categorised as “one pan meal” and “one pot meal”. The dishes primarily focus on homestyle cooking for that heartwarming touch. As for their beverage selection, there’s about 20 types of loose-leaf teas.

But besides that, what’s so innovative about Blue Hour Tea House?

While he hadn’t exactly worked in F&B before, Kong wields decades of experience in the karaoke industry, which furnished him with valuable and relevant insights. After all, Loud Speaker also has F&B-related offerings.

From his experience, Kong saw a prevailing trend towards the utilisation of ready-to-eat (RTE) options. Central kitchens were often used to address issues such as standardisation, delivery speed, and the scarcity of experienced kitchen staff.

Image Credit: Blue Hour Tea House

“However, this trend has also led to a proliferation of ‘uniform flavours’ in the market, as many establishments rely on similar products sourced from suppliers,” he pointed out. 

Thus, to find a happy middle ground of quality food that isn’t boring, all main dishes at Blue Hour Tea House must be pre-ordered.

“This approach allows us to optimise our crew’s arrangement and ensures we have sufficient time to prepare each dish to perfection,” Kong said.

This approach has allowed Blue Hour Tea House to operate with just two permanent staff members (Kong and Evelyn), though they do hire occasional help.

Besides the food and tea, Blue Hour Tea House’s private rooms also come with amenities including smart TVs, projectors, and home video game consoles.

Image Credit: Blue Hour Tea House

Onto new horizons

Image Credit: Blue Hour Tea House

Having operated Blue Hour Tea House for over two years now, Kong expressed that he is committed to continuing his journey as an entrepreneur, viewing it as a lifelong endeavour.

While sharing his entrepreneurial insights, Kong revealed to Vulcan Post that he’ll actually be returning to his post at Loud Speaker soon.

Taking on the role of Executive Director once more, the 43-year-old aims to maintain a healthy balance between his 9-to-5 with his business. He shared that his commitment to Blue Hour Tea House will remain the same.

Joined by Evelyn, the dynamic duo is focused on enhancing their F&B offerings while improving the facilities in each private room.

Image Credit: Blue Hour Tea House

The ultimate vision is to have an established F&B outlet with a modest setup cost and streamlined day-to-day operations requiring minimal manpower. With their approach, they aim to demonstrate that the F&B business can indeed offer a healthy work-life balance for all.

  • Learn more about Blue Hour Tea House here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Blue Hour Tea House

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(UEN 201431998C.)

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