|Andrew Wong, Acme Bar and Coffee|
The Yum List recently chatted with Andrew Wong, owner of one of the hippest joints in Kuala Lumpur, Acme Bar and Coffee.
What exactly do you do and how did you get into the industry?
By day I work in an architecture, interior design and branding firm called Quirk & Associates. We have been around since 1996 and most of our work involves lifestyle oriented projects - restaurants, hotels, clubs, bars, retail shops, supermarkets, department stores and shopping mall development. I am mainly involved with clients in concept creation, developing the brand experience - which means translating their brand into a spatial expression, and even sometimes right down to merchandising planograms where we work with our clients to plan in detail how their merchandise are presented.
Most of our clients come to us when they want to "reinvent" their business or brand, or want us to create a concept from scratch where we even conceptualize the logo design and logo names. Nowadays, interior design or architecture for lifestyle projects are more than just selecting fabrics or choosing furniture, but to present a cohesive story for the product, our design service encompasses multiple facets on the creation of it. Unlike advertising, a brand experience is three dimensional and very tactile. And although most of our work is on the hardware side of things - the walls, floors, furniture, lights; we also try to understand the software side of it - the business model and processes, human resource, customer profiles, future market trends and anticipate how it all works together holistically.
We’ve designed quite a few known restaurants around the region, including KL, and we thought we should put our money where our mouth is when we decided to venture into this business. We wanted it to express fully, what we thought could be a great restaurant. We travel quite extensively and enjoy dining experiences, and we know that a really good restaurant isn’t just about design only but must also provide great service and food. It’s all the small little details when added up becomes a much bigger picture. Armed with an idealistic dream we crazily jumped into it, with many friendly warnings from friends that running a restaurant is very different from designing one. Looking back, it was indeed a crazy idea. But we are loving it, and having fantastic partners who are equally crazy in believing in us made it fun and exciting. We are still learning every day, but I guess that keeps it fresh and fun for me.
Where have you lived around the world?
I lived in Miami, Florida for a while when it first started its rejuvenation on South Beach. It was just starting to get cool and hip when I left, so I missed all the Versace and Madonna blitz. And then I was in London for a few years, and Singapore for a few more. I have lived in KL most of my life.
What's an interesting experience you've had since starting in the industry?
We had just started training our barista on creating coffee art, and we gave our team free reign in expressing their style. One day, a lady came into the restaurant and it was pretty obvious to our barista that she was not having such a good day. She ordered a latte and it was served at her table. She broke into a little smile. He had put a smiley face on it with the word “SMILE”.
I love moments like this. Little experiences that can change the day, make it memorable, something personal. That’s when I realized that having a restaurant like ABC is not just about coming to eat and filling your belly. It is also food for the soul. We can’t promise it happens every day, but that’s what we aim for.
What's the best/ worst part of your job?
The best part of it is seeing people having a great time! To see a table with people enjoying themselves is the best part of it. Good energy is addictive and it spreads out and everyone gets a bit of it.
The worst part of it? People that won't even give us a chance to correct the mistakes or problems. Sometimes we fail, but I know we try hard. There are people who won’t call the manager or server to correct the mistake first but have already decided on us poorly. Luckily, there isn’t too much of that.
What's your favourite Malaysian food?
Without a doubt, nasi lemak! And a close second, assam laksa. I love simple nasi lemak wrapped in old newspaper and bought from hawker stalls to the gourmet ones where it has salted fish and serunding sprinkled on top.
What's your favourite meal at ABC?
My current favorite one has to be the Parmesan Pot Chicken Pie. It represents our food style best. Taking a familiar, comfort food but made it in our own style. Chunks of creamy chicken encased in a pie crust made from a parmesan shell. The shell is made daily in our kitchen, and we can’t do many of them at once as it crumbles if kept too long. Although it looks like a simple dish, it is made each time it is ordered. We don’t freeze them ahead and reheat them.
What's your perfect food and wine pairing?
I know there are certain rules to food and wine pairing, but I am not religious about it. Perhaps I didn't come from a restaurant background before, or maybe there’s an anarchist streak in me, I tend to drink what I like with whatever I am eating. But, now that I am a restaurateur, I may be expected to behave so I try to be more politically correct. I’ve got to say I really like this blend of grapes from the Catalan region - Macabeu / Paralleda / Xarel.Io. It is traditionally used to make Cava, but equally delicious as a white and it goes beautifully with salads (which I eat a lot), or with slightly heavier pastas. Basically, I like eating foods that are light and tasty, and this wine from the grape blend has a fresh tint to it without being too boring.
What can guests look forward to in terms of Food and Beverage at Acme Bar and Coffee in 2013?
One thing we have done since September last year is to introduce seasonal menus. Each “season”, we have a theme and our kitchen will come up with new dishes that will only be available for that season. Our familiar favourites will always be on the menu, but to keep things fresh and fun new dishes will be added to it. The same goes for our wine list. We do not carry a large inventory because we like to also keep the wine list in sync with the theme. For Spring 2013 - we have “Bloom” and it will be revealed some time in February.
There are also more things that we are going to do with ABC, and all I can say is… watch this space!
Thanks Andrew for a great interview! We at The Yum List look forward to what you have in store for us in 2013!
Previous reviews on Acme Bar and Coffee