birü by Feebay serves up solution for Feebay.Co’s pandemic woesPublished on 23 September 2021
Taman Sri Hartamas is a quiet, family-oriented neighbourhood in the nation’s capital. It has a big park which is popularly used for outdoor activities including jogging and cycling. Parents also often bring their children here to play. Nowadays, the area isn’t just bustling with people going about their daily lives. Local residents and visitors alike are flocking to get their nasi lemak and specialty coffee fix at an unmissable blue stall aptly called birü by Feebay.
birü by Feebay and its newest addition birü Bike are extensions of Feebay.Co business operations. This establishment has three outlets in Sunway Nexis, Publika, and Avenue K. You might be wondering why a café is expanding its business to a roadside stall concept when many food and beverage (F&B) owners aspire to grow their business and move from outdoor spaces to indoor shop lots.
The COVID-19 pandemic and unpredictable lockdowns that come with it have posed new challenges for many businesses, including the F&B industry. The situation forced Feebay.Co to shut down their kiosk in Publika, while the main outlet remains open. The company’s manager, Daniel Amin Fleischer shares with Jiran how they have navigated their business strategy to keep the business afloat and retain their talented staff members.
To sink or swim?
“The lockdowns have impacted our businesses,” says Daniel. “Even though there are options for take away and having food delivered, not many are ordering because delivery charges can be pricey for some.” They have even tried different ways to attract customers to purchase products from their cafés. During the first lockdown, they introduced care packages that included bottled drinks and homemade paste made from the ingredients available in their café, but that didn’t work.
They tried to sustain their business as much as they could when the second lockdown was implemented. When the third one hit the country, they knew they had to find another way to generate more income for the company, and most importantly for their staff. Needless to say, it has been an emotional rollercoaster for Daniel and the rest of his team.
“My goal has always been to retain our people (the staff) first. Even if we don’t make money, I want us to be able to keep all of our excellent staff members who have contributed so much to the company,” he says.
They decided to open a roadside stall in Taman Sri Hartamas for numerous reasons. One, it is near their Publika outlet. Secondly, the neighbourhood used to have a coffee shop nearby called Podgy & The Banker. With that in mind, they thought people would appreciate having a place where they can get their daily coffee around the area again.
The Feebay.Co outlet in Publika was the most affected as the rental is high and the majority of their employees work there. “Most of our senior staff are working at the stall right now. I didn’t want to let them go so I had to figure out a way to keep them and at the same time continue to generate revenue.” After a discussion with the team, they decided to apply for a temporary licence under DBKL’s Lesen Sementara KL Prihatin programme and received approval two months later.
Choosing the right location
“We initially wanted to set up at the area near Petronas where all the other food stalls are located but then we thought it was oversaturated. That’s why we decided to move here instead,” Daniel explains. The park area is busy with people jogging and cycling, and the response they received on their first day of operations was encouraging. They started out serving coffee and then added nasi lemak to the menu. After getting feedback from customers, they added more food selections, including fried mee hoon and fried kuey teow.
“With the limited space available, we didn’t really want to bring a stove so we thought people would appreciate simple local favourites to go along with our specialty coffee.” While regular customers do come by for their coffee fix, their nasi lemak has become a crowd favourite. A basic packet costs RM3 and customers have an option to add dishes like fried chicken, beef rendang, and sambal sotong.
Not long after launching their roadside stall, they introduced birü Bike, a mobile kiosk located in another quiet neighbourhood in Taman Melawati. “We started birü Bike because of the uncertainties of the dine-in rules. If there’s another lockdown, we will at least have another avenue that can help sustain our business.”
The challenges of operating a roadside stall
One of the differences between operating a café and a roadside stall is the working hours. Their chefs now have to start working earlier to prepare the food items. Preparation also includes packing up the coffee machine and essential items they would need for the day because of the limited space in the roadside stall.
“The team focused on analysing the customers during the first week of operations. We keep track of how many cups of coffee and how much food we sell so we don’t have a lot of wastage or bring insufficient ingredients,” says Daniel. Setting up the stall takes a bit of time because it involves heavy machinery like the generator and coffee machine.
According to Daniel, there aren’t that many differences between operating a roadside stall and a café in a mall. “It’s just that there is more manpower included in the process in terms of heavy lifting and prepping stuff. The weather can also pose a challenge especially when it rains heavily. Once, the rain suddenly came pouring down hard and it led to our tent flying off.”
Achieving unexpected results
When they launched the stall, they didn’t have high expectations, especially considering the fact that it was a smaller operation. The products are also cheaper than the items featured in their cafés. For instance, a cup of coffee costs RM9 at the stall while the café sells it for RM12.
Daniel set out a sales target of between RM300 to RM400 as the stall only operates from 8am to 2pm daily. They exceeded expectations when they garnered RM900 on the first day. By the second week, they were making more than RM1,000 a day, which is something they could not have predicted.
“Many appreciate us operating our stall here so they can easily get their daily coffee fix. Being near the park is an advantage too. It’s a huge space so people can practise social distancing and follow the SOP easily,” says Daniel. The park also has ample space for patrons to park their vehicles. They can also pull up in front of the stall and be served.
In a short period, they have successfully gained regular customers and more are trickling in. This situation baffles Daniel, particularly because they have not done any marketing campaigns to promote birü by Feebay aside from creating an Instagram account. “We have been gaining a lot of traction organically without having to spend anything in terms of marketing. I guess word of mouth and good-quality products helped us grow the business.”
Sustaining the overall business
“We are happy that we can continue to sustain our staff and the company even though we’re not making as much money,” Daniel exclaims excitedly. The positive response that birü by Feebay and birü Bike has currently achieved has inspired them to retain these two entities in their portfolio in the long run.
“You never know, dine-in might not be allowed again down the road. If that should happen, at least we have these two additional outlets to supplement our income.”