This couple’s Puchong cafe wants to grow our “speculoos culture”, one biscotti at a time

Looking back at the pandemic, I’m sure there are many things we might reminisce or even miss about the era. It was undoubtedly a time of many uncertainties and stresses, but also one that sparked a lot of new ideas and businesses.

As some say, challenges breed innovation. And when one door closes, another may open.

Such is the case for couple Natsu and Felix, the founders of Divini Pastry, a quaint cafe in Puchong that started out as a pandemic-born business.

Hotel to business

Felix has always had a passion for cooking. At 18, despite his parents’ wishes, he moved to Singapore to work in a ramen chain restaurant. Here, he worked his way up and became the youngest kitchen lead in the business at age 21.

With a passion for cakes and desserts, he pursued a diploma in pastry and would attend classes on days off. By the time he was almost finished with his diploma, Natsu, whose background is in marketing, had moved to Singapore too.

Felix and Natsu / Image Credit: Divini Pastry

“After I graduated, I went for interviews but my confidence in my decision was shaken when I was faced with the reality of a steep 50% pay cut due to my change of career and lack of experience in pastries,” Felix admitted.

But Natsu encouraged him to take the leap, offering to help with both their living expenses for the time being as she was making more.

Yet, the pandemic changed things. One day, Felix got the fateful call that broke the disappointing news of a layoff.

“Like everyone else who was laid off during the pandemic, I was struggling to get another job in Singapore,” he shared.

At the same time, Natsu’s company was also facing financial challenges. So, after discussions, the couple decided to return to Malaysia to start a business together.

“I’ve always been captivated by petite and bite-sized pastries and desserts,” Felix shared. “Being exposed to high tea during my time working for hotels, I realised that some of the desserts/confections served are commonly only available in high tea at hotels.”

Image Credit: Divini Pastry

“I wanted to make these luxury pastries/desserts more affordable to the common man.”

With that, Divini Pastry was born at the height of the pandemic.

Online to offline

Something that sets Divini Pastry apart from other cafes is its specialisation in biscotti, which is a kind of Italian almond biscuit.

Felix felt that biscotti was one of the least common options among exclusive offerings of high tea. As a double-baked cookie, it also has a very long shelf life.

Image Credit: Divini Pastry

While its preparation process might be more troublesome, this also means less competition in the market. At the same time, Felix felt like many Malaysians love biscuits and cookies, especially during festive seasons.

With all these justifications, Divini Pastry started as an online business, solely focusing on only biscotti and butter shortbread.

However, the couple faced challenges with logistics due to the extremely fragile nature of their biscotti. They tried all sorts of packaging and wrapping methods, but their biscotti would always arrive crumbled. Thus, they resorted to delivering their goods themselves.

Initially based in Ipoh, they would make trips to the Klang Valley, where most of their customers were, once every two weeks. Eventually, they acknowledged it was unsustainable in the long run.

Image Credit: Divini Pastry

With that recognition came the idea to start a physical retail outlet instead.

Serendipitously, Natsu’s mother had just purchased a shop lot in Puchong for her office. The couple took on her offer to rent out the ground floor space, effectively leading to Divini Pastry’s expansion into a physical cafe mid-2022.

Biscotti to coffee

Divini Pastry has seven biscotti flavours to offer:

  • Classic Tuscany (almond)
  • Big Red Wolf (cranberry and wolfberry)
  • Golden Jade (matcha and golden raisin)
  • Oh Ferrero, (dark chocolate and hazelnut)
  • Cashew in the Dark (charcoal and cashew nut)
  • Smells Like Happiness (pistachio and black sesame)
  • Going Nuts (macadamia and pecan nut)

Other than biscotti, Divini Pastry also serves up bakes such as Danish butter shortbread, focaccia, coffee bun, marble butter cake, and lemon chia seed cake, among other offerings.

Image Credit: Divini Pastry

Their breakfast and lunch menus cover a variety of sandwiches and wraps. For dessert, they do gelato and waffles along with their cakes.

The cafe also offers reservation-only high teas on Saturday and Sunday afternoons (1PM to 4PM). The three-course high tea has four rotating weekly menus, and is priced at RM98/pax for one person, or RM88/pax for two people and above.

But beyond serving biscotti and other delights, Divini Pastry’s goal is to grow Malaysia’s speculoos culture.

Image Credit: Divini Pastry

Speculoos refers to the traditional Belgian cookie featuring a spice blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. But for Felix and Natsu, speculoos culture is all about enjoying the biscuit with a drink.

“Back then, during our younger days, I recall seeing biscuits being served together with coffee,” Felix recalled.

However, he felt like this culture has disappeared, mainly as it’s an added cost for the business.

Hence, in an effort to bring this culture back, Divini Pastry serves all their hot coffee with a piece of their biscotti at the side.

Image Credit: Divini Pastry

“Ever since we started Divini Pastry, we started to notice more and more cafes serving speculoos at the side of their coffee, and have even been seeing biscotti in the market even more commonly nowadays, which is a good sign,” Felix expressed.

Bootstrapping to profiting

To start Divini Pastry, Felix and Natsu put around RM40K of their own savings into the business.

“We prioritise quality and taste over profit margins which customers who have tasted our stuff can strongly attest to, and we (dare I say) give the warmest and friendliest service you’ll ever experience compared to many cafes in Malaysia,” he said.

Today, the team proudly shared that their last audited annual revenue was in the high six figures, and that they’ve been profitable.

There’s still a long way to go for the couple, though. For one, they have yet to find a way to package their biscotti with the least amount of breakage.

Image Credit: Divini Pastry

To further grow the business, they’ll also need to hire adequate and reliable manpower. Currently, the kitchen team consists of two members, including Felix, while the front of the house is singlehandedly run by Natsu, though she’s aided by her family every now and then.

Expanding the team is an effort that is already underway, though. With a larger team, Divini Pastry aims to push forward with its mission and become a go-to brand when it comes to biscotti in Malaysia.  

  • Learn more about Divini Pastry here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about F&B businesses here.

Also Read: Why M’sians need to join this 2-day event in PJ that’ll boost your understanding of IPs

Featured Image Credit: Divini Pastry

Declining birth rates won’t stop this M’sian baby brand from scaling with new US$4.2M funds

Some of the best businesses begin with the simplest desires.  

For Applecrumby’s co-founders Sean and Jesmine Tan, the objective was to provide the best, most eco-friendly care for their daughter.

This desire led them to create their own premium, 100% chlorine-free diapers and wipes. From that foundation, their baby care ecommerce platform Applecrumby & Fish (yes, it’s a pun on Abercrombie & Fitch) continued to grow.

12 years in now, Applecrumby has established itself as a go-to platform for safe, natural, and organic products for families in Malaysia and beyond.

It was recently announced that Applecrumby bagged a Series A funding of US$4.2 million (RM19.9 million at the time of writing), secured entirely from 500 Global, a renowned venture capital firm.

This comes nine years after Applecrumby’s last round, whereby 500 Global had invested US$400K (RM1.89 million) into the business.

“While the financial resources are undeniably valuable, allowing us to ramp up our strategies and recruit top talent, the true strength of this partnership lies in the broader support 500 Global provides,” Sean and Jesmine said about the investor.

Image Credit: Applecrumby

Specifically, 500 Global is able to provide governance expertise and elevated visibility, which is particularly important as Applecrumby is launching and growing PureBasics, a new sub-brand focusing on affordability.

Growing globally to serve more families

Making use of the fresh funds, Applecrumby aims to expand its reach regionally through strategic partnerships and channel diversification.

Aside from this, the funds will also help the team invest in innovation, attract and retain top talent, and scale the business overall.

“We’re exploring experiential retail concepts—think pop-up stores or partnerships with baby boutiques—to complement our robust online presence,” the co-founders shared.

They’re also looking into innovative virtual concepts that might enhance the online shopping experience for parents.

And of course, the team will be working to grow PureBasics as their affordable line.

To achieve affordability for PureBasics, the team is leveraging economies of scale. By expanding their overall production volume, they are able to have lower per-unit costs for raw materials and manufacturing processes.

They added, “We have a close working relationship with our diaper manufacturer. Together, we continuously identify and implement efficiency improvements in production. This collaborative approach helps to streamline processes and reduce unnecessary costs that can inflate the final price.”

Image Credit: Applecrumby

There’s also the matter of logistics optimisation and strategic partnerships with distributors and retailers to further manage costs and keep prices low.

“It’s important to clarify that lowering costs isn’t solely about reduced profit margins,” they said.

“While some adjustments are necessary, our primary focus is on optimising the entire value chain. This ensures PureBasics remains an attractive option for families without compromising on quality or our commitment to sustainability.”

Tackling decreased birth rates

As much as the company is poised for growth, the fact of the matter is that birth rates are declining in the country, which may affect the market size.

This is something that Applecrumby does not deny or ignore, but rather tackles head-on.

“While the birth rate might be dropping, the trend we’re seeing is that parents are actually investing more per child,” they shared. “They’re prioritising quality and are willing to spend on premium products that ensure their baby’s well-being.”

This, the co-founders believe, aligns perfectly with Applecrumby’s core strength of offering superior, eco-friendly baby essentials.

Image Credit: Applecrumby

“By offering a more affordable line, we’re building volume and ensuring more babies benefit from chlorine-free diapers,” they said.

With now a broader, regional focus, the company is also able to diversify its customer base, mitigating the risk of relying solely on a single market with a declining birth rate.

Furthermore, the team is constantly exploring new revenue channels, rather than falling back on product sales.

The co-founders revealed that new revenue channels could involve strategic partnerships, subscriptions, or even venturing into complementary baby care services.  

Sustaining a business for 12 years

… Is no easy feat. Sean and Jesmine believe that they owe the longevity of their company to a few things, starting with a solid foundation.

Applecrumby also joins a roster of companies that go against the “growth at all costs” mindset that at times was all the rage in the startup world.

In contrast, the team focuses on financial discipline.

The co-founders shared, “From the beginning, we’ve meticulously tracked numbers and prioritised healthy margins. This financial discipline ensured we had the resources to invest in innovation and weather any market fluctuations.”

Image Credit: Applecrumby

Naturally, the business has evolved a lot over the years, and we don’t just mean in terms of offerings.

Starting out as a bootstrapped ecommerce venture, the team has nurtured a scrappy, resourceful spirit, which had been a valuable mindset as a small business.

But now, as it aims to scale, it’s time to adopt a broader mindset.

Winning Sidec’s Malaysian Top E-Commerce Merchant Award was a turning point for them to do so, the co-founders said. In particular, this taught the team the power of partnerships. As such, Applecrumby has since strategically outsourced non-core functions to optimise efficiency.

As the business changes though, so does the entire industry.

Image Credit: Applecrumby

“The baby care market has absolutely boomed in recent years,” the co-founders recognised. “There’s a growing awareness of premium materials, sustainability, and transparency, which is fantastic for parents and the industry as a whole.”

Of course, it also means heightened competition. Not one to just mirror competitors, Applecrumby’s strategy of staying relevant is by staying “obsessed” with customers’ evolving needs.  

“It all boils down to truly listening to parents,” they explained. “We constantly gather feedback through surveys, focus groups, and social media engagement to understand their concerns, preferences, and aspirations.”

They believe this allows the team to not just follow trends, but rather anticipate them to solve real problems faced by their consumers.

Image Credit: Applecrumby

For the budding entrepreneurs out there, here’s Sean and Jesmine’s top advice on making it:

  1. Embrace rejection and use it as rocket fuel: Rejection is a frequent flyer on the entrepreneurial journey. But instead of letting it define you, use it to refine your vision.
  2. Business basics matter, even with a great idea: While passion and innovation are crucial, understanding business fundamentals is equally important. Learn about pricing strategies, financial modelling, and building a strong team.
  3. The struggle is real, but you’re not alone: There will be long nights, moments of doubt, and decisions that keep you up at night. But the good thing is, others have walked this path too.

“There’s a whole community out there cheering you on, ready to offer support and guidance,” the couple assured.

  • Learn more about Applecrumby here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Also Read: Here’s how OCBC Business is making it easy for M’sian SMEs to offer cross-border QR payments

Featured Image Credit: Applecrumby

Leveraging a 48 Y/O noodle legacy from Johor, this founder is growing a halal F&B chain in KL

Au Ai Leen, a 38-year-old entrepreneur, has brought a piece of Johor to Klang Valley foodies through an almost 50-year-old legacy of flavour and tradition.

Redefining her family’s original beef noodle soup, Tangkak Beef Noodle House director Ai Leen and her husband decided to cater to the halal market in 2023 while maintaining their deep-rooted connection to Tangkak’s culinary heritage.

At the heart of Tangkak Beef Noodle House lies a story that spans generations. It originated from humble beginnings in 1976, when Ai Leen’s father, Au Ah Kuang, established a small food stall named Restaurant Kuang Fei near a bus stop in Tangkak, Johor.

Ah Kuang, a trailblazer in Malaysia’s beef noodle scene, had introduced a secret family recipe—Hainanese beef noodle soup with a flavourful broth passed down through generations.

Today, his legacy lives on through Tangkak Beef Noodle House, where authenticity and innovation intersect to create a dining experience that can be enjoyed from all walks of life.

Catering to the halal community

While inspired by the original Kuang Fei recipe, Tangkak Beef Noodle House has carved its own path, focusing on a distinct halal variant to cater to Malaysia’s diverse culinary landscape. Do note that the brand also owns two older stores in Kuchai Lama and Puchong, but those are non-halal at the time of writing.

Ai Leen and her husband opened their first halal outlet in Tropicana Gardens Mall last year, followed by their second one in Berjaya Times Square recently.

“Since obtaining our halal certificate at our Tropicana Gardens Mall outlet, we have witnessed a 30% increase in sales, driven by the trust and confidence of Muslim customers,” she told Vulcan Post.

Tangkak Beef Noodle House’s second outlet in Berjaya Times Square / Image Credit: Tangkak Beef Noodle House

She added that they also have plans for expansion in key locations like Central i-City Shah Alam, where there is a concentration of Malay-Muslims.

The commitment to halal certification is central to their mission, a meticulous journey that underscores their dedication to quality and inclusivity.

From stringent sourcing practices to maintaining a hygienic environment, Tangkak Beef Noodle House ensures that every aspect of its operation adheres to JAKIM’s rigorous standards.

Quality over quantity

Their ambition extends beyond culinary boundaries.

“Our ambitious goal is to establish 50 outlets within five years. We are aiming to open six to eight outlets in 2024. Currently, we are focusing on opening stores in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor malls.”

“However, achieving this target hinges on managing cash flow and attracting talented individuals in the food and beverage industry,” Ai Leen said.

But amidst their projected rapid rise to prominence, there’s one thing Tangkak Beef Noodle House wants to make clear—they’re not chasing franchising opportunities.

Variety of beef noodle soup is served at Tangkak Beef Noodle House / Image Credit: Andrew Chan and Ekynaris

Instead, they’re doubling down on their commitment to quality control.

“We’ve witnessed the downfall of many F&B brands due to rapid expansion fueled by short-term gains. We prioritise controlled growth.”

“We embrace the ‘company-owned, company-operated’ (COCO) model, prioritising quality over quantity,” said the entrepreneur.

By directly managing each outlet, Tangkak Beef Noodle House can maintain hyper control over processes, ingredients, and recipes.

An extensive menu

For their iconic beef noodles, they offer various cuts of meat, along with other dishes like the Angus Beef Don and for the non-beef eaters, items like Fish Noodles.

If you are heading to this place in a big group, you can opt for their value sets which start from RM75, which includes their halal version of traditional beef noodle soup and drinks.

The various cuts of meat served together with their halal version of traditional beef noodle soup and condiments / Image Credit: Tangkak Beef Noodle Soup

“We plan to expand our menu to cater to different preferences, including children’s options. We are committed to continuously innovating our menu to cater to diverse palates,” Ai Leen said.

She also hinted at introducing mutton noodles in the future as part of their new additions.

As Tangkak Beef Noodle House continues to innovate and expand its menu offerings, one thing remains constant—its commitment to tradition.

With each bowl of noodles served, they invite customers to savour not just a meal, but a piece of Malaysia’s culinary heritage.

  • You can learn more about Tangkak Beef Noodle House here.

Also Read: Employees need a Copilot to boost productivity & ease brain drain. This webinar shows how.

Featured Image Credit: Au Ai Leen (right) and her dad, Au Ah Kuang (left) / Tangkak Beef Noodle House

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© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)