KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 14 — Here in the Klang Valley, we are slowly developing a taste for artisanal ice-cream. Who needs a tub of imported ice-cream, when you can easily indulge in freshly-churned ice-cream dressed up in flavours to fit our local palate?
Usually artisanal ice-cream is reserved for stand-alone ice-cream parlours or distributed in cafes. However, Sangkaya bucks the trend by serving their coconut ice-cream at the street corner of Jalan Alor or at pasar malams all over Klang Valley. The company is the brainchild of John Issac Ho, 31 and Ivy Natnicha, 37.
“It was purely by chance we got into coconut ice-cream,” explains Ho who used to work at Microsoft and YTL Corporation’s Yes 4G. At first, their plan was to open a place that serves bread and kaya. The couple hooked up about two years ago, when Natnicha who hails from Mae Hong Son, a northern province of Thailand, visited Malaysia for business. She already owned a string of “mom-and-pop” businesses dealing with food.
Both of them travelled around Southeast Asia to research the different kaya in each country. After they returned, they realised the market they wanted to enter was just too competitive. “You’ve got big brands and boys like Papparich, Old Town and Uncle K Kopitiam.”
In the course of their research, they also explored coconut as one of the ingredients of kaya. Their eureka moment was when they discovered how every part of the coconut can be used, truly living up to its Sanskrit name, kalpa vriksha or the tree that gives all of life’s necessities.
“We realised that coconut is a phenomenal product since the fruit, juice and husk can be used.” As they learned more and more about coconut, it got them hooked. Hence, the tagline they adopted for Sangkaya: “Nuts about coconut.”
Determined to kickstart a business with coconut, the couple decided to emulate the famous coconut ice-cream stall at Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market. Sangkaya serves their creamy coconut ice-cream in a halved coconut shell together with the coconut flesh. You can add your own toppings from a selection that includes corn niblets, toasted coconut and peanuts.
Natnicha who is a keen cook developed the recipe with some help from Ho whose cooking experience is limited to making Maggi instant noodles. The secret behind their creamy coconut ice-cream is the usage of pure coconut milk. “The undiluted coconut milk must be very fresh and made straight away into ice-cream.”
Since it’s dairy-free, the ice-cream is perfect for vegans. As you savour the ice-cream, you’ll see that it melts quite fast. This, according to Natnicha, is because the ice-cream is free from any emulsifiers and preservatives. Even though the ice-cream can be kept for six to nine months in the freezer, they prefer to churn it every day in small batches to keep it as fresh as possible.
In March, they started the business in a small way, churning the ice-cream in small batches at Ho’s sister’s condominium, and selling their finished product at the pasar malam. “We did not rent a space but did it Rambo-style, just go in, start selling and then leave.”
Subsequently, they rented a space in Jalan Alor that saw them ply their ice-cream to tourists. Word started getting around about Sangkaya’s coconut ice-cream. In April, they even catered for the prestigious Laureus Sports Awards partnering with the Royal Selangor Club, where the event was held. “We were handpicked by them to provide the dessert.”
As business grew, their investors who include Ho’s mentor, Michael Mok, pumped in more money to expand the business. One of their investors, Max Lee, has also decided to join them as the Chief Operating Officer. Nowadays, the ice-cream is churned at their rented premises at Old Klang Road.
To date, they have also signed on four licensees. “They pay us a certain fee and get the licensing rights in an arrangement similar to franchising. We’ll help them find a location, do the analysis whether it’s a viable place, train the staff and supply the ice-cream.” Ho believes in experiencing the business first-hand so he can teach the licensees how to tackle any issues they will have.
“For every licensee, we can share our real experiences, what we have gone through and earn the money.” Ho is confident that the licensing of Sangkaya will take off in a big way since his licensing fee is RM15,000, cheaper than opening a Ramly burger stall which requires licensing rights of RM30,000. He targets around 100 licensees by the end of the year. “I may be very ambitious but I believe it’s doable as the profit margins are very healthy with a very low cost of entry.”
Ho also has plans to expand the business and take it out of the pasar malam by the end of this year. One particular licensee will be unrolling its first stall within Cyberjaya’s Shaftesbury Avenue. Unlike its previous set-up, the business will be at a standalone kiosk in the building.
Another proposal that is currently underway is the total redesign of the Sangkaya stall to make it sleeker. They have also launched their food truck which serves the office workers at Menara Millenium, Damansara Heights and on occasion, at The School at Jaya One.
In the future, Ho and Natnicha hope that Sangkaya’s business can be expanded to include owning coconut plantations to ensure a continuous supply of the raw material. The name Sangkaya also has an auspicious double meaning for the enterpreneurs. Firstly, in Thai, it means “kaya” but with their determination, it’ll make both of them into “a rich person” like Sangkaya’s Malay translation.
Sangkaya coconut ice-cream is available at their stall which is across from Beh Brothers, Jalan Alor every day from 6pm onwards. You can also get it at Sri Petaling pasar malam (Tuesday), Taman Connaught pasar malam (Wednesday) and Bangsar pasar malam (Sunday). For more details, visit https://www.facebook.com/sangkaya