THE STORY of Las Vacas is the tale of two friends who came up with the idea of having a boutique butchery run by expert butchers that specialise in premium cuts of meat.
Yusof Dayan Iskandar, who had more than a decade’s experience in the livestock industry, saw the potential in selling quality cuts of meat, but packaged into a lifestyle butchery and small restaurant business.
He roped in Freddy Azman Safahan, 48, a friend he had known since college days at the then Mara Institute of Technology.
“Instead of heading to the market or supermarket, we wanted to give the public the option of buying good quality-cut meats — similar to what they can get in Australia or Europe,” said Yusof, 44.
“We pooled our savings and borrowed from family to come up with the RM300,000 initial investment that went into setting up our company, stocks, cold rooms, trucks and cash flow.
“We knew no banks would want to finance us as we had no collateral for loans.”
Yusof said Las Vacas initially went into the distribution business, selling low- to high-end beef and lamb to restaurants and hotels.
“It was challenging to travel across the country and knock on doors to solicit business, while also ensuring the quality of the product,” he said.
“We even went through a period when both of us did not get salaries and that put a lot of strain on the partnership.”
After 1½ years, they realised that the credit business was tough as “it was easy to sell, but difficult to collect money”.
“That was a blessing in disguise as we had to restrategise our business and find a way to feed our families,” said Freddy.
The partners decided to venture into the retail business, but experienced a 90% drop in sales.
They also had to figure out how to get people to walk through their shop door.
“Part of service then was to recommend to customers how they could cook, treat and marinate their meat,” said Yusof.
“One day, a customer suggested that we grill and serve the meat we sold. We took up the idea and started with two tables; we were soon fully booked as word got around.”
Las Vacas’ premises in Kelana Jaya was refurbished, and now has 20 tables with a regular stream of customers dropping by for a good steak or burger.
Its popularity grew through word of mouth, and the business took off even further when Las Vacas opened a second outlet in Mont Kiara in mid-2010.
“Our Kelana Jaya outlet is more laidback, while the one in Mont Kiara is more contemporary,” said Freddy, adding that the restaurant sizes are 2,000sq ft and 1,500sq ft respectively.
“They each have their own identity to blend in with the neighbourhood, but their common factor is the products they offer and personalised service for customers.”
Freddy estimated that it cost between RM500,000 and RM1mil to set up each outlet.
Licensing matters posed another challenge for Las Vacas, as they had to acquire separate licences to operate as a meat distributor and restaurant, and to import the meat.
“It took us about half a year to get the necessary licences from the local councils, due to the lengthy process of inspection and meeting the required standards for operating licences,” said Freddy.
“A separate licence was also required from the Department of Veterinary Services Malaysia (DVS)