KUALA LUMPUR, March 23 – If you’ve been to The Red Beanbag, you’ll know it’s one of the best brunch places in town. During the weekend, you’ll also observe that nearly half of the Klang Valley has heard of the café’s well-deserved reputation; the queue for a table can be formidable.
Fans have been clamouring for a second outlet of The Red Beanbag for ages, and now their wish is about to come true.
A sibling café wittily named the Yellow Brick Road will be opening for business at the recently rejuvenated Jalan Batai on Wednesday, April 1.
Yellow Brick Road is set up by Lee Yew Kheong and Hai Lin Lee, the husband-and-wife team behind The Red Beanbag, and two other partners. The third will be a familiar face to regulars of The Red Beanbag: Jason Loo, the café’s head barista and the current Malaysia Barista Champion.
The newest member of this quartet is Shaun Liew, who had previously worked with Monin, the French purveyor of flavoured beverage syrups. Shaun says, “I had always wanted to work with a strong team and also own my own café. I was introduced to Yew Kheong and Lin Lee through Jason, whom I knew through the Malaysian Barista Championship 2013. We all soon became friends and are now partners in crime.”
“Partners in crime” is a good way of describing the concept behind Yellow Brick Road. Lin Lee explains, “We envisioned the four of us as friends on a journey and walking the long road together – hence the name Yellow Brick Road. We believe that everything that we want is within ourselves. Really, we are all still kids at heart.”
Given the Wizard of Oz-inspired name, one has to ask who of the fabled four friends they each represent. Laughing, Shaun explains, “We rotate characters. For now, Lin Lee is Dorothy, Yew Kheong is the Lion, Jason the Scarecrow – because he’s so thin – and I’m the Tin Man. Of course, occasionally, I’m Dorothy at night…”
Jokes aside, the new café will not have an overtly Oz theme. “It’ll be different from The Red Beanbag but not hipster-ish either,” says Yew Kheong. “While The Red Beanbag is more homey and rustic, Yellow Brick Road will have more greenery since it will be on the street level. We’ll be able to do more landscaping. Expect more white tones and a comfortable alfresco dining area.”
Coffee will continue to be a draw. Yellow Brick Road will use a house blend specially roasted by Artisan Roastery, the home-grown coffee roaster that provided Jason with his champion beans two months ago. Another feature that differentiates Yellow Brick Road from The Red Beanbag (which offers only espresso-based beverages) is the introduction of a brew bar dedicated to filter coffee.
“The customer’s palate for coffee is changing. Nowadays they will ask questions about what you are serving and they have specific requirements such as a double shot of espresso or less acidity in their cup. It’s great that customers are becoming more educated about their coffee,” says Jason.
Food-wise, there will be more fusion flavours and Malaysian touches compared to The Red Beanbag menu. “We did market research and noted that there are many expatriates who live in the Jalan Batai area,” says Lin Lee. “So we wanted something familiar with a local twist.”
Look out for newly-created dishes including beef rendang shepherd’s pie, French toast with kaya sauce (which could become a successor to the popular Red Beanbag almond French toast), and a most promising prawn sambal omelette. Cakes will be supplied by One Ate Zero run by Jason (who was a pastry chef before he became a barista) and his girlfriend Claire Diong.
The foursome had waited a long time before launching Yellow Brick Road despite the overwhelming success of The Red Beanbag and Jason’s win during the 2013 Malaysia Barista Championship. Was it caution that delayed their expansion?
Jason explains, “For us, it’s less about the money as we believe the rewards come later if we work hard. So timing this right and creating the best team possible is key. This isn’t a franchise: there will only be one Yellow Brick Road, just as there will only be one Red Beanbag.”
Listening to customer feedback will be key for the Yellow Brick Road team, thanks to lessons learned during the set-up of their sibling café. They believe to have staying power in this industry, besides the food and product, it’s the service.
“Social media is not just about getting followers but interacting with them. We weren’t great at this when we started The Red Beanbag but we built it slowly, one customer at a time,” says Yew Kheong. “When we receive complaints, the first thing we do is to find out the root cause and always get back to our customers. It’s imperative for us to stay humble.”
To promote the café’s upcoming launch, the Yellow Brick Road team has been releasing images of yellow bricks scattered all over the Klang Valley throughout the month. “We’ve been dropping the bricks off at familiar landmarks or cafés. Those who find one can bring it to Yellow Brick Road when we open for an RM50 dine-in voucher at the café,” says Lin Lee.
Even before opening, the quartet is already planning their next venture. The floor above Yellow Brick Road will be the future site of Wicked Pancake Parlour, another Oz-inspired eatery. We’re predicting green-coloured crêpes, maybe with pandan?
At the end of the day, what does the Yellow Brick Road mean to each of them? Lin Lee aka Dorothy hopes it will become “a happy place with happy faces.” For Scarecrow Jason, the café is “a sharing ground for coffee lovers.” Shaun the Tin Man is confident Yellow Brick Road will be the best brunch place in town, “Well, maybe one of the two best brunch places in town, since we can’t forget The Red Beanbag!”
But perhaps the Cowardly Lion says it the best. For Yew Kheong, “Yellow Brick Road is a journey, to build people.” And what a long way they’ve come, growing both as entrepreneurs but more importantly, as friends.
Yellow Brick Road
8-7, Jalan Batai, Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur
Open daily 9am-6pm, beginning April 1, 2015