Containers are becoming more than just something used for cargo transportion. It’s hip to be boxy these days, and they are increasingly being renovated into hotels, cafes and even labs, writes MEK ZHIN.
ONCE known solely as a storage device for cargo transportation, shipping containers are now gaining a cooler image as people turn them into housing space, hotel and now, thanks to the ever-changing F&B industry, cafes.
Enter Le Gardenz Cafe, one of the largest – if not the largest – container cafes in Malaysia, with a setup consisting of more than 13 containers.
Opened in October last year, it now features six different seating settings, including a garden, diner booth and even a double-decker bus – all in the name of providing varied ambiance in order to continuously engage their customers.
According to chief operating officer Joel Lee, business is often overwhelming on weekends when they are usually fully booked.
“Apart from the individual customers, we have also hosted a lot of company events and are able to seat 222 pax easily,” he says, adding that they offer pasta, pizza, grilled food and beverages, among other things.
Le Gardenz barely does any marketing, relying instead on social media to help boost its presence. And it has worked for them, especially with a setup that just begs to be photographed and posted online.
If you are from the Klang Valley and wondering why you haven’t heard of it, then, well, it’s really little wonder because the cafe is situated in Balakong, past The Mines Shopping Centre, roughly half an hour’s drive from the city centre.
Le Gardenz’s parent company, MSM Group, was founded in 1973 in Ampang under the name Mann Seng Metal Industries. In the 1980s, it was established as MSM International Ltd, an integrated metal engineering company offering design, product development, production and assembly services for all kinds of metalwork.
In 2003, they set up their first factory in Balakong, and now have four in the area around Le Gardenz.
They cater to customers in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the US in such sectors as oil and gas, semiconductor, healthcare, food and beverage, as well as hospitality.
The group operates various showroom outlets, including Le Gardenz Cafe, which serves to showcase the creative use of a container in a well-designed manner that meets local authorities’ standards.
MSM Group’s chief executive officer Chan Wen Chau, better known as Charles, says the company started promoting the concept as far back as five years ago.
“We went to international shows and such with our containers and got plenty of interest. Unfortunately there were no takers because it was still a very new thing, especially here, so people were worried about the returns,” he explains.
The company is probably the only one-stop centre for container cafe solutions, and Chan says their designs are backed by the combined resources of the group, including in engineering know-how.
“Many think setting up a container cafe is as easy as buying a container and putting up some table and chairs and equipment. A good design is more than just the outward appearance. It also addresses the container’s limitations,” he says.
According to Chan, a new 20-foot container can cost about RM20,000, whereas a used one is between RM8,000 and RM10,000. Among the biggest issues that containers face in our tropical weather is that they are prone to becoming as hot as an oven on sunny days while on wet days, they might spring a leak.
The integrity of the walls of a container is also not as solid as it looks, with support coming only from the eight corner beams. And this can be further compromised when holes are punched into the container to make windows and doors. This is why MSM’s containers feature reinforced walls.
Chan says their containers are also built to be mobile, with electric wiring done in such a way that it only uses a single power source inlet as well as a proper drainage system.
He says that there are no specific local laws for building container cafes, meaning you could go through the usual renovation applications.
The price for a 20-foot container that is leak-proof and insulated, or in other words, ready for outdoor use, is about RM35,000. But one that is inclusive of a basic set-up for a coffee cafe with basic kitchen equipment is RM150,000.
“Pricing differs according to the set-up and type of business or purpose for which the container will be put to use but the coffee cafe is one of the most basic.
“We are able to provide for any set-up, from the examples seen in our cafe here,” Chan points out.
He adds that they do not have any competitor as a one-stop solution that offers everything, including the container, kitchen equipment and research and development in design. In fact, they even create some of their own furniture.
The group has been fielding enquiries for container projects almost every day, and this makes them feel certain that containers will be the next big trend.
“We have enquiries locally, as well as overseas, from all quarters including the government. The projects range from F&B set-ups to showrooms and even for use in a laboratory,” he elaborates.
In the meantime, Chan intends to introduce more container concepts and settings at Le Gardenz in the near future in order to keep things fresh and help to show the vast possibilities of containers as more than just a storage device.