TWO years ago, an unassuming coffeehouse opened its doors in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. While the décor was simple, the owners were particular about each cup of coffee served. They sold only hand-roasted beans, and coffee that was not fancy but of high quality.
Little did the owners know that this simple formula would make the cafe so popular, that they opened two more outlets in just two years.
New Zealander Michael Wilson says that he had done many things before turning 30. He was a soldier in the United Kingdom, worked as a construction worker and guesthouse operator. Along the way, he ran programmes to raise funds for charity and designed travel websites.
In 2007, the coffee lover opened his own coffee house in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was then 29.
“My hometown has a long culture of coffee-drinking and I have always liked to hang out at cafes. When I was in Edinburgh, I realised it was difficult to find good cafes, so that made me open one,” he said.
Wilson met his Malaysian wife, Amira Mohamad, in the city. They got married had children, and decided to move back to Malaysia.
The couple’s road to opening a café in Malaysia was not all rosy. Their first outlet was housed in a gallery in Jalan Ampang. Even though the location offered a nice environment, it was away from the main traffic. This prompted them to move to TTDI.
Funding is usually the biggest challenge when it comes to starting a business. The couple had only about RM150,000 to use when they first started. After paying rent and buying equipment, there was not much left for renovation.
Wilson insisted on not getting a bank loan.
“That would have been just too troublesome. I work within my means,” he said.
So he did the outlet’s renovation himself with several employees, from laying the cables and gas pipes to building the partition walls and making the tables and chairs.
When the outlet first opened, the couple had to work 18 hours a day. Wilson ran the storefront while Amira roasted coffee beans and did the baking. He had to continue with the kitchen’s renovation work after business hours, sometimes so late that he just spent the night there.
Wilson detailed his journey setting up Artisan on Facebook and websites. From planning, renovation, purchasing to his interaction with customers and suppliers, he shared it all online. This helped promote the outlet.
Many of the young employees at Artisan aspire to become cafe owners in the future. Wilson generously shares with them not only his knowledge on coffee, but also setting up a business and running it.
“When they become cafe owners in the future, I will be more than happy to be their coffee bean supplier. Together we can build a strong coffee culture here,” he said.
Enthusiasm is his only requirement from his employees.
“My workers enjoy a lot of freedom so that they will always find working here fresh and fascinating.
“With that attitude, they will provide service that is as good and fresh as our coffee,” he said.
As the fame of the brand spreads, many have shown interest in opening branches with them.
“It is difficult to take care of so many outlets, therefore we have turned down quite a number of invitations. Profits aside, we have to keep our standards.
“Good products and service, good staff training and a good relationship with customers are what we prize more,” he added.
Get your copy of Red Tomato, the country’s first free Chinese weekly, every Friday at most RapidKL LRT and Monorail stations, as well as selected convenience stores and shopping centres nationwide.