In this world, there are sandwiches we eat and then there are sandwiches we get thrilled about eating. Naturally, food is infinitely more mouth-watering when it’s toasted and filled with melted cheese and so the toasted grilled sandwiches will always triumph over the boring sandwiches.
Meet Ken, the co-owner and co-founder of Pickle & Fig; he’s a humble gentleman in his early 30s, and ends every sentence with a sweet smile, but beneath that unassuming demeanor is a genuine will to succeed.
Pickle & Fig is now celebrating its 4th year anniversary, and still enjoys a substantial amount of success with a customer base of all ages – thanks to the simple goodness of wholesome pressed sandwiches and a creative menu that is ever-evolving to suit the taste buds of different customers.
While the team might be made up of a lean bunch of seemingly laidback millennials, the core of what makes them thrive is the powerful combo of good ol’ fashion hardwork and the passion to deliver the best.
Voted as Timeout KL’s Best Healthy Eats in 2014, Ken, being his humble self, still says Pickle & Fig is not perfect, and that every day presents a new learning opportunity. He credits the great synergy between the Pickle family that makes the business flourish.
Last month, he was kind enough to sit through an interview session with us to provide some insights into the life and struggles of a café owner.
What’s the story behind Pickle & Fig?
As cliché as it sounds, I wanted to have something that was my own, but it definitely wasn’t as easy as what society perceives. It took 1 year of planning and regular concession meetings with my partner. This 1 year involved a lot of research, surveys and food trials with friends & families.
Our poor friends had to bear the brunt of the smoothie-testing-sessions. Everything was done from scratch in our kitchen. We needed to be sure what worked, and what didn’t. It is through this strenuous process that we learnt everything through and through! We didn’t just learn the depths of managing a cafe, we also gained much-needed kitchen skills.
What are your top 4 tips for budding café owners?
- Don’t mix your passion with business, there needs to be a good balance between passion, and the tenacity to work hard and understand the ever-changing market behaviours.
- There’s no shortcut – while work-life-balance is important, with the first year of business – you need to sacrifice your time for everything. There’s the food menu ideation, to the accounting knowledge, to understanding supply & distribution.
- Everyone is opinionated, everyone’s going to have their 2 cents – but always believe in yourself. This is your brainchild, and once you’ve conducted adequate research and gained knowledge, you will have the confidence to trust the decisions you make.
- We don’t really believe in bragging or huge shout-outs. What gets you ahead is positive word of mouth from your customer service and quality of food.
Who inspires you?
My dad inspires me the most. We cane from the humble beginnings of a home-operated wholesale fish business. I used to work the midnight shift with him in Penang, and it was through all these on-the-ground learning experiences, that I was able to absorb the pains and gains of operating your own business.
When you decided to open this spot a while ago, I imagine there was a lot of smoothie and panini testing?
I remember those times fondly. It involved a lot of unexpected but pleasant bonding with people. It also taught me the importance of managing expectations.
Is running a café harder than you expected?
No, because I already knew it was going to be a lot of a hard work.
What item are you most proud of?
I’m proud of them all, as everything is made fresh from scratch, including the sauces. But if I had to pick a favourite, our top seller is the Rotkraut Pastrami.
(Rotkraut Pastrami is an Austrian delicacy of red cabbage cooked in vinegar and apples that adds a tantalising sweetness and tang to the piquant Russian dressing-slathered beef pastrami. Source: TimeoutKL)
What would you wish someone had told u before u started?
The ideation of the different items on the menu and the pricing that comes with it! There needs to be a steady flow of low, mid and high tier buckets. That was quite a challenge for us. Also, the forecast and managing of inventories and usage. We had to manage wastage, and all these were picked-up through trial & error. Perhaps there is no better way to learn this.
What do u feel about Kiple and would you recommend this to another merchant?
Mobile wallet is a norm in developed nations, everyone’s moving towards a cashless society, so I strongly encourage the use of Kiple at our stores, and I also encourage F&B outlets to adopt this.
Everyone should definitely take advantage of tech advancement in simplifying their routine habits, among which involves meal purchases.
Pay with Kiple and enjoy Free Tatchos with a minimum spend of RM30 – exclusively tailored for Kiple users only. On top of that, you get to earn 10% rebate, anytime, every time. No minimum spend required.
*Pickle & Fig is located at 26, Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad 2, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, 60000, KL. Opening Hours: Mon-Sun (9am-11pm).