Cooking up creative ideas

By K. S. Usha Devi

ONLY THE BEST: Ong believes using natural flavours in his products may cost a lot of money but it brings out the best in a product.

IT was an abrupt change of career for Sani Ong when he was left with a pastry and confectionery business to handle. 

A dealer in automobiles, he had been a sleeping partner in the business called Pastry Pro Sdn Bhd until 1989. 

When one of the directors, a Singaporean, left to return to his home country, Ong had to take over even though he did not have any knowledge about pastry, baking or the confectionery business. 

“Being a sleeping partner, I was not involved directly in the running of the business, so I had to start from scratch,” says Ong who is now managing director of the company, which is the importer and largest supplier of premium quality bakery and confectionery ingredients, utensils and other related products. 

It carries more than 30 product brands from all over the world and has seven distribution networks throughout Malaysia. 

“The company was very small and operated in a rented shop lot in Jalan Ipoh,'' recalls Ong, who went for a three-month baking course to learn some of the skills he needed.  

The first thing he had to do was turn the company around, and for this he borrowed money from relatives and friends, whom he also encouraged to invest in Pastry Pro.  

“At that time, I had to also give up my position as an auto parts manager in Auto Bavaria to join Pastry Pro, with minimal benefits and a pay cut,'' he says.  

Helped by a positive and enterprising nature and a sharp business acumen developed while working in automobile companies such as UMW Toyota and Auto Bavaria, Ong set out to make the business successful. 

His strategies include maintaining premium quality products, throwing new and creative ideas and running training and developing programmes for customers. 

“These are two automobile companies that are truly professional with good and solid corporate governance. They are in good shape up to now because they have the right attitude in doing business,’’ says Ong. 

“I am using skills and experience acquired from them in running my business.” 

His work ethics have sometimes led to problems, but he says he has no qualms in losing a business deal if his integrity is at stake. 

“I am not afraid to lose as I neither subscribe to business corruption nor on a level playing field. I have lost sales because of that but I am not unhappy,” he avers. 

That Pastry Pro has increased from a net worth value of RM250,000 when he took over in 1989 to a whopping RM9.5million in 2002 shows that Ong’s way has worked. 

He ploughs 60% of the profits back into the company to ensure that better facilities and stocks are available for the customers, which include hotels, bakeries, confectionery manufacturers, restaurants, clubs, resorts, airlines and shipping lines. 

“My customers and my staff are the biggest beneficiaries of the business. This I feel is only natural as they are the ones that contributed to the profits,’’ he says. 

An innovative thinker who is always on the lookout for new ideas, Ong has also developed his own products, which include ice-cream made from teh tarik, ciku, mangosteen, durian (D24) and longan. He has also produced chocolate truffles with durian puree, pisang tandok (buffalo horn banana) pie and pro-biotic Atta (wheat) bread made from Atta flour. 

“I like to fine tune Western products and incorporate local flavours to produce different and special items,'' says Ong, who conducts testing of the new products in Pastry Pro's test kitchens. 

“For instance, the idea of teh tarik made into ice-cream was because I love drinking a strong glass of local tea at the mamak shop. The hot weather made me think of consuming something cool and the teh tarik ice-cream was born,'' he says. 

Ong is also open to new ideas and suggestions from anyone who wishes to share them. However, he acknowledges that commercially these might not be viable because of high costs incurred in production. 

“These are artisan ice-cream which use real fruit juice extracts and made with a high quality ice-cream machine,'' he says, adding that good things are hard to come by unless you are willing to pay for it. 

Despite the good showing, the business has also suffered some setbacks especially of late with the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the war in Iraq. 

“SARS and the recent war in Iraq have affected sales badly. Profits have dropped more than 40%,’’ Ong says. 

“The low occupancy rate of the hotel industry has affected Pastry Pro.” 

Furthermore, with the depreciation of the US dollar against the Euro, the price of the products had to be increased by 10%. 

“This has affected the business badly as 80% of our products come from Europe,” he says. 

On future plans for Pastry Pro, Ong says this includes increasing their warehouse space and building a bigger training area to assist local pastry chefs to raise the standard of baking in Malaysia. 

A larger show room, which is an exhibition centre for baking and confectionery industry, is also being built. 

“The company has acquired the factory lot next to our existing area. With this I can continue to develop a higher standard of baking in this country,’’ says Ong.  

Pastry Pro is located at 8, Jalan 3/37a, Taman Bukit Maluri, Kepong, Tel: 603-62721155. 

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