KUALA LUMPUR, May 2 — Malaysians sure love their bread. Where else would the wastage of entire loaves of Gardenia bread make headlines? Every neighbourhood has its own bakeries, of course, and everyone has their favourite.

Where I live, it’s not a brick and mortar bakery that draws the crowds but a bread truck. Run by two 29-year-old entrepreneurs, Lee Zhi Huey (or Mia) and her boyfriend Sam Chuah, DougHappy’s bread truck was a common sight in Taman Desa.

“Was” being the operative word here.

Since the Movement Control Order (MCO) began on March 18, the young couple decided to put their bread truck on hiatus for the time being.

While nearby chain bakeries had enough staff to allocate one person as traffic control, ensuring customers entered one at a time and queued at least a metre apart, DougHappy is a decidedly leaner operation.

Soon Taman Desa residents began missing their regular DougHappy treats such as sliced bread spread with kaya and Planta margarine, red bean buns and coconut buns. Could you blame them? In difficult times, there’s nothing like freshly-baked bread, especially when they know it’s free of preservatives.

Lee Zhi Huey and Sam Chuah have pivoted their DougHappy bread truck business into online bread delivery — Pictures by Kenny Mah and courtesy of DougHappy Food
Lee Zhi Huey and Sam Chuah have pivoted their DougHappy bread truck business into online bread delivery — Pictures by Kenny Mah and courtesy of DougHappy Food

Once the MCO was announced, the DougHappy duo realised they needed to adapt their business strategy to comply to the change in circumstances. Lee says, “We decided to create a menu that caters to families who will buy and consume for a number of days. This will reduce the need for them to come out to buy bread and come in contact with people.”

To reduce wastage, DougHappy now only bakes every Monday and Thursday. Chuah says, “We collect orders two days prior via WhatsApp and our Facebook page. We self deliver to our customers within our own neighbourhood, which is Taman Desa, and we use Grab delivery service for customers in other areas.”

Many would consider the reduced foot traffic a hurdle to launching new products. For Lee and Chuah, this impediment was both an opportunity and a necessity. Lee explains, “Since we are not able to sell outside, our sales dropped drastically even with deliveries. Fortunately, we had this idea awhile back to expand into selling baking goods or supplies even before MCO was enforced.”

In addition to their usual breads and buns, they started selling bread flour or high protein flour via online platforms such as Shopee. This diversification of product lines ensured they could maximise their revenue streams and cash flow.

These steamed pumpkin 'baos' take four hours to prepare
These steamed pumpkin 'baos' take four hours to prepare

“We had to survey the need for such ingredients first before adding more products as we need capital to store bulk ingredients,” says Chuah. “Since MCO, there was a sharp rise in demand for baking supplies so we start adding new products such as premix flours for butter cakes and bread.”

Lee, who is in charge of baking, has been keeping herself busy experimenting with new recipes. From jumping on the sourdough bandwagon with her cranberry-flecked bread to her sophisticated dark chocolate cupcakes, that have an unexpected tinge of bitterness to them, her only limit is her imagination.

Time, of course, Lee has plenty of, like so many others sheltering in place at home. Her steamed pumpkin baos take four hours to prepare and it’s a breeze given that leaves hours to spare.

It’s this innate understanding of how others might be looking for something to do while under lockdown that spurred them to take a chance on releasing new products. Given that the growing number of home bakers during the ongoing lockdown, developing premix flours for breads and cakes made sense.

Lee and Chuah hard at work (left). Dark chocolate cupcakes (right)
Lee and Chuah hard at work (left). Dark chocolate cupcakes (right)

Coming up with the premix took time though. Lee notes that they kept researching the best formula for a beginner with the most basic knowledge of baking.

“Quite often, baking takes experience – in the feel of the dough instead of fixed formulas, which does not compensate for lost of moisture due to the weather or the slight deviation of oven temperature for different models or brands. Which is why for each of our premixes, we bake and taste test it ourselves a few times before releasing it.”

Currently DougHappy’s operation days are reduced, as with many other businesses during MCO. Chuah says, “Our focus now is on pre-orders and takeaways as it is convenient for our customers. We are getting used to fewer face-to-face interactions as everything from orders to payment is done online.”

Hygiene awareness is another key concern due to the potentially asymptomatic nature of Covid-19. Chuah says, “Use of face masks when interacting with customers and frequent hand washing is a must for us. This is one of the main reasons we will try not to accept cash and instead opt for online payment such as bank transfer and e-wallet.”

The latest DougHappy creation: cranberry sourdough bread
The latest DougHappy creation: cranberry sourdough bread

Even after the MCO ends, the couple will have adjusted their business model permanently. Chuah says, “We will continue with our online baking supplies as it generates some income while still focusing on our bakery business as before. We will survey the coming months as we predict it will take time for consumers to regain confidence.”

For now, DougHappy regulars are simply grateful to have their fix of pillowy, doughy goodness and perhaps learn to bake bread too with bags of Lee and Chuah’s premix flours. Times are tough but we can still have our bread and eat it too.

DougHappy Food 鼎好

To order, check out the menu and instructions at:

https://www.instagram.com/doughappy_food/

https://www.facebook.com/doughappyfood/