When I think of greenhouse cafes, Pokok.KL is one of the first things that comes to mind. It may be small, but each time you visit, the line never drops to less than 40 minutes.
As proof of its popularity, it serves up to 400 people per weekday and 1,000 people per day on weekends.
"Within 8 days of our soft start in October 2018, we had an overwhelming response on November 7, 2018, a Deepavali holiday."
“More than 500 people visited our little café that day. Needless to say, we were extremely ill-prepared for this, ”Datin Christine Bong, co-founder of Brickhouse Group, told Vulcan Post.
The Brickhouse Group stands behind Pokok.KL, alongside other F&B services such as more cafes, catering, and events.
However, their popularity and competitiveness in today's F&B industry stemmed from humble beginnings and a small greenhouse cafe in 2014.
Address the student crowd first
Before Pokok.KL, Datin Christine and her boyfriend at the time, now husband and business partner Dato ’Sharon invested in their flagship café called" The Glasshouse Cafe ".
Pokok.KL on a quiet day that rarely happens / Photo credit: Brickhouse Group
Dato’ Sharon Haniffa is the other co-founder of the Brickhouse Group, whose family owns and operates MAHSA University.
There was a place where Pokok.KL is located today, so the two of them jointly invested 60,000 RM in building a small 250 square meter greenhouse café.
In the same year the Brickhouse Group was founded, which operated cafes at several universities and finally in MaGIC.
The cafes in other university buildings were:
- Nottingham University, Tree House Cafe
- Multimedia University, Cyberjaya Campus, Warehouse Cafe
- MAHSA University, Bandar Saujana Putra Campus, Lakehouse Cafe
Event management was never their original intent for the cafe and the brand, but running cafes within universities gave them a problem: semester breaks.
They had to figure out how to keep business going during the 3-4 month semester break on average, so events and catering came into play.
Catering with class / Photo credit: Brickhouse Group
"When catering and events absorbed and overshadowed the income from our university cafes, we had the tough reputation of closing all university rooms and consolidating the team," recalls Datin Christine.
“We always felt that the Glasshouse Cafe, with a solid kitchen serving food that was well received by the customers we catered for, would appeal to the general public. In June 2018 we started building and developing Pokok.KL, and the rest is history. "
Hunger for growth
In just 6 years, the Brickhouse Group has 6 facilities, including catering, event management, food and convenience stores.
Her team often turned to seek business opportunities to grow the brand.
After learning how to run a small business, how to make coffee, and how to create simple SOPs for a cafe in the first year, they used that experience the next year to open the three university cafes mentioned above.
The following year they turned to catering and events to support themselves during the semester break. This meant working 20 hours a day, 7 days a week.
In the end, they closed some branches but continued to train their staff to familiarize themselves with catering and events.
Your fourth year was a significant year of growth. Although almost all branches were closed, their sales were actually three times that of the previous year.
“The first two months were a steep learning curve, while we had to hire, learn, unlearn and relearn because the queues never fluctuated. Serving fresh, hot and fast food is much more difficult than it looks, and all the more so when it is in large numbers, ”says Datin Christine, recalling the beginnings of Pokok.KL.
Two of their facilities next to each other for MAHSA reasons / Image Credit: Brickhouse Group
With additional workers from the event and account team of the Brickhouse Group, Pokok.KL was able to chug further and even expand.
They continued to improve their recipes and services and this year achieved sales of around 11 million RM in the Group's business areas.
This year, despite the pandemic, thanks to their hard work, they brought in 3.9 million RM.
Find ways to pan through the pandemic
Since events are a seasonal business, their monthly income inevitably fluctuates, but the pandemic has made things worse.
They went from feeding up to 2,000 people over 2 days to an almost immediate halt.
However, they are good at pivoting their business to adapt through such hiccups as they have demonstrated throughout their years of operation.
They are currently developing an Express Events and Virtual Events platform to cushion the impact.
"The first MCO was extremely difficult for us in all areas of the business, and we used our previous knowledge of groceries to start an online grocery delivery," said Christine Vulcan Post.
“We have an extremely resilient team that has come together to source, pack, deliver, process customers and carry out marketing activities that have all previously performed different tasks. That helped us survive. "
The Brickhouse team / Photo credit: Brickhouse Group
On the plus side, they are still looking forward to their future projects that would expand the Brickhouse Group.
Some of them include expanding their central kitchen, creating a stylish halal dimsum joint, setting up a colorful poolside cafe, and even a shared work area.
"The ability to pivot, manage costs, and stay positive during this pandemic is the only fuel to survive," concluded Datin Christine.
- You can find out more about Brickhouse Group and Pokok.KL here.
- Here you can find out more about other Malaysian startups we've written about.
Selected image source: Datin Christine Bong, co-founder of the Brickhouse Group