KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 7 — If Marie Antoinette lived today, she might have exclaimed: “Let them eat bread.” In my taman alone, I count over a dozen bakeries and pastry shops. Customers buy buns as soon as they come out of the oven.
The demand is there.
In these days of French pastries and Hokkaido milk loaves, however, sometimes it can feel like overkill. (Another day, another croissant.)
We hanker for something more local, something more Malaysian. Something we ate as kids.
Lee Zhi Huey (or Mia) and her boyfriend Sam Chuah understand this nostalgic pang. Which is why the young entrepreneurs, both 29, ply residents in Taman Desa with classic treats such as sliced bread spread with kaya and Planta margarine, red bean buns and coconut buns.
There is even a mui choi (preserved mustard greens) bun for that taste of mom’s cooking. Everything is home made, and prepared fresh daily.
What’s unusual is that instead of a brick-and-mortar outlet or a stall at some corner kopitiam, Lee and Chuah run their business from a food truck.
Stationed at a spot not far from the popular Tuck Tuck Tei coffee shop, it’s not hard to spot the white DougHappy truck.
Bread lovers in the neighbourhood have learned to drop by in the early afternoon to get their favourite items for teatime or to keep for breakfast the next morning. (Assuming they can resist devouring the buns, both savoury and sweet, immediately.)
Lee hails from Bidor, Perak where her parents sell their own homemade breads in front of the town’s bus station. She says, “Since young, I have been helping my parents — from baking to going out with them to sell at different villages in the wee hours and at the bus station at night.”
Penang-born Chuah, who met Lee when they were classmates at UTAR, adds, “She always had a dream to expand her parents’ business and share this traditional taste with more people, especially in big cities like KL.”
Before starting DougHappy, Lee decided to get some working experience in the F&B industry and save some capital for her future business.
She says, “I was involved in different roles, working in the QA/QC department for a dried meat factory and later as production planner for a bread factory.”
By working first instead of jumping into a new venture, Lee lowered her risk: planning rather than plunging. Time on the production line meant she had a better idea of how to manage large scale production. Passion aside, a real business is no pet project.
She says, “I found that in the bakery industry, people have lost touch with the traditional old school taste of bread. Many additives are added to commercial bread nowadays in order to extend the shelf life and maximize profits.”
In January 2018, Lee quit her job to finally launch her own business. Her mission, she says, is “to provide tasty bread with simple ingredients. Thus the name of the company ‘DougHappy’ implies simplicity bring happiness.”
Six months later, business had grown enough that Lee roped Chuah in to help. He explains, “I used to be in sales for scientific instruments or chemicals, then I would help out Lee at the stall after work. Now I am doing this full time with her, focusing on marketing and daily operations, including R&D for new products.”
It was far from easy in the beginning, as most entrepreneurs know.
“We began as a stall initially to test the market for our product,” says Lee. “Stalls are low cost but risky and subject to the harsh weather. When it rains heavily, we are forced to lower our makeshift umbrella and hide till the rain stops. We need to keep an eye on our breads to prevent them from getting wet.”
Realising that running a stall was not a long term solution, the couple decided to switch to a food truck in early 2019.
Chuah recalls, “We also considered renting a shop but due to high rental cost, we decided to opt for a food truck. Operating in a food truck gives a more hygienic impression compared to a stall and this improves customer confidence in us.”
This step-by-step approach might seem slow but it’s sustainable. Marketing guru Seth Godin suggests asking, “What’s the smallest footprint I can get away with?” as starting small is both more achievable and one is more likely to launch rather than suffer from analysis paralysis.
Starting small, however, is not as straightforward as transporting what sells well in one place to another. Lee explains, “People in KL and Bidor have different taste preferences. Even people from different parts of KL have slight variations in their consumption.”
This is where Chuah’s experience in sales comes to play. He says, “We look into our sales figures to identify the few key products which stands out throughout the month or year. Through conversing with customers, we understand their preferences better and why. This information is important for our R&D into new products or updating our recipes.”
This process of continuous improvement has led to a plethora of tasty treats. Chuah says, “If we have a new product like the Salmon Bun, we will make it on every Thursday just like how new movies are released on every Thursday as well. We also alternate our special buns every day like the Cranberry Walnut Bun, Walnut Raisin Bun, Cranberry Apricot Raisin Bun or Vietnamese Chicken Bun.”
While Chuah comes up with ideas for new products, Lee is clearly the baker extraordinaire. She was her mother’s eager student from a young age, soaking up everything from dough preparation to temperature control during baking.
Her own hard-earned knowledge in fermentation is another plus, as she graduated in biochemistry.
Their signature product remains their fluffy pillow bread, which is sold both as whole loaves and sliced. The latter option is especially popular when spread with their homemade kaya and paired with old-school margarine.
Every item is handmade and free from preservatives. Lee adds, “The majority of our customers in this area are health conscious, thus we also provide healthier alternatives such as wholemeal pillow bread and wheat germ pillow bread.”
Ultimately the couple hopes to have their own shop. Chuah says, “In order to meet higher demand in the future, we need more working space; currently we are baking it from our living room. We could sell from the shop and food truck at the same time, including drinks and eventually breakfast meals .”
With such diligence and determination on display, who needs Marie Antoinette’s exhortations? Such pillowy goodness, waiting to be savoured. Let us eat bread.
DougHappy Food 鼎好
Food truck located along Jalan Desa Bakti, Taman Desa, KL (in front of Tuck Tuck Tei coffee shop)
Open Mon-Fri 12pm-8pm; Sat-Sun closed