Beyond satay: How a Malaysian hawker boy grew up to be a nomadic grillmaster

The smoky aroma of Omeor Grill’s carefully grilled meats – Pictures courtesy of Omeor Grill
The smoky aroma of Omeor Grill’s carefully grilled meats – Pictures courtesy of Omeor Grill

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 4 – The smell of hot charcoal and barbecued meat wafts into the evening air. There is the nutty and smoky aroma of cumin. There is an intoxicating, slightly sweet fragrance of honey. The meats, when they are done grilling, will be tender and flavourful, cooked to perfection.

It’s arguably a craft that Davy Teh, the man behind Omeor Grill, an artisanal grilled meats purveyor, has spent his entire life cultivating.

The 37-year-old entrepreneur grew up in a hawker family though food-and-beverage (F&B) wasn’t his occupation of choice in the beginning. Teh recalls, “I helped out a lot in hawker stalls since I was a kid, maybe around seven years old? Thus I was quite envious of other kids who didn’t need to do so.”

Therefore moving away from F&B was the natural path for the reluctant hawker boy, to seek out greener pastures. And if not greener, at least different.

Teh shares, “After graduating with a diploma in accounting, I spent more than 10 years in sales and marketing. Everything changed when my father had an accident. He has not been so mobile since then. So I decided to quit my job and carry on his satay business.”

Davy Teh learned the ropes from his father who used to run a 'satay' business
Davy Teh learned the ropes from his father who used to run a 'satay' business

The business that Teh took over in 2014 was called “Romeo Satay” – his father’s first name is the ever so catchy Romeo. Hawker fare is in the Teh family genes. He shares, “My father started selling assam laksa and nasi lemak at the pasar malam. Later on he also sold wantan noodles, Teo Chew braised dishes and chicken rice.”

Three years later, Teh decided to rename his business as he switched from the traditional model of selling satay in a kopitiam to what he terms as “nomad style, which means collaborations with cafés, staying for only three days a week and a maximum of three weeks in a month.”

“Omeor Grill” is an homage to what came before; “Omeor” is simply “Romeo” spelt backwards. Perhaps it’s also an unconscious decision on Teh’s part to honour the past but do things differently from here onwards.

An assortment of Omeor Grill’s ready-to-grill marinated meats including Cumin Boneless Lamb Shoulder and Soy-Herbs Chicken Fillet
An assortment of Omeor Grill’s ready-to-grill marinated meats including Cumin Boneless Lamb Shoulder and Soy-Herbs Chicken Fillet

The past is reflected in Omeor Grill’s menu. Customers relish the moist and subtly sweet Honey-Wine Pork, the robust Cumin Boneless Lamb Shoulder and the simple yet satisfying Soy-Herbs Chicken Fillet. All these grilled meats can be enjoyed with their punchy signature Pineapple Sauce.

Omeor Grill’s signature pineapple sauce, made from a secret recipe by Teh’s father
Omeor Grill’s signature pineapple sauce, made from a secret recipe by Teh’s father

“Every product we make comes from my father’s secret recipes, including our pineapple sauce. I modified them for my own products because what he taught me was for satay. My father has been in the catering industry for 30 years, you see. He has always insisted on cooking good food with the simplest ingredients.”

Well-marinated meats, ready for packing and delivery
Well-marinated meats, ready for packing and delivery

That strict adherence to personal standards has been passed down if Teh’s zeal for his grilled and marinated meats is anything to go by. But the ever restless grillmaster feels it’s time to do things a little bit differently.

“I have collaborated with more than 20 shops so far, such as Papasan Canteen, Omulab, Shokudo Japanese Curry Rice and others. We create limited-time menus based on the shop’s signature dish. For example, when we were at Shokudo, we paired their curry rice with our grilled lamb.”

Passion alone, however, does not a successful business make. Teh observes that if it was already challenging running pop-ups before the movement control order (MCO), and it has been even more so during and after.

He says, “Before MCO, I was more into joining bazaars or doing it nomad style. But as you can see after MCO, it totally forced me to change every plan of mine. That’s when I developed frozen marinated meat. Those who miss our grilled meat can now easily grill on their own and enjoy the same good taste.”

Currently Omeor Grill has pivoted from serving freshly grilled meats to online sales of frozen marinated meats that are ready to cook. Teh adds, “However, I still long to own a small specialty store that can accommodate perhaps 20 plus people in future. Something like a Japanese izakaya. To be honest, I am looking for investors on this.”

As Teh did not graduate with a culinary degree, despite his obvious fervour and family background that would be the envy of any F&B entrepreneur, he makes sure to pay continuous attention to customer feedback.

He says, “Their tongues are most ‘loyal’ to themselves. I can only improve through their honest feedback, from their tongues and tastebuds. After so many years of collected suggestions, fortunately, our customers are still big fans of our products. Any confidence I have comes from their support and affirmation; they allow me to keep my enthusiasm and my dreams alive.”

Moving forwards, Omeor Grill will be changing things up slightly. Teh says, “We will try new nomadic methods including collaborations with private kitchens, such as one with ZaHuoDian Private Kitchen soon, which would require reservation.”

Teh putting the finishing touches to his collaboration dinner with Vita Eco Farmhouse
Teh putting the finishing touches to his collaboration dinner with Vita Eco Farmhouse

Just this last Saturday, Omeor Grill had its first collaboration with Vita Eco Farmhouse, an aquaponic farm. Teh shares, “We provide gourmet food and a guided tour in one package, so everyone has the chance to taste grilled meat with the fresh vegetables they had picked only half an hour ago.”

The MCO has been a crushing blow for many F&B businesses. Many that survive have latched on to food delivery apps and social media. Teh has shown that there is another way, to use the obstacle as a way to reinvent and improve. Here's to greater success and more delectable grilled meats, Omeor style.

Omeor Grill

Tel: 010-265 2907

www.facebook.com/omeorgrill/

www.instagram.com/omeor_grill/