Monday July 2, 2012
By CHRISTINA LOW
Photos by LOW LAY PHON
SERVING Indian food has always been a passion for Abdul Malik Abdullah. His love for authentic Indian cuisine has taken him on a roller-coaster ride.
“Being in the food industry is not easy, you think you can achieve what you want, but along the way you face all kinds of unexpected challenges,” he said.
Abdul Malik, who is D’Tandoor Indian Restaurant’s founder and managing director, said he opened his first restaurant with his girlfriend Mumtaz Mohd Sidek (now his wife) just six months after working in a restaurant together.
The Penang-born restaurateur said that he was working as a manager while she was a cashier. Together, they saved up enough money so he could open a similar restaurant as they both loved food.
At just 22, Abdul Malik opened Shikara with two other partners in Damansara Jaya serving northern Indian cuisine.
They each forked out RM25,000, which Malik said was a huge burden for him. “When I told my father that I needed RM25,000 to open the restaurant, he shot my idea down right away.
“He told me the hefty amount took him 30 years to save and giving it to me would not make sense as I was young and might not be able to handle that amount of money,” he said, adding that a quarrel broke out between them and he soon left their family home in Penang for Kuala Lumpur.
Living alone, Abdul Malik took a loan of RM15,000 from a bank while the remaining RM10,000 came from his savings and salary.
However, luck was not on his side as 18 months after opening the restaurant, the outlet started taking a toll as business was not encouraging.
To make matters worse, the friendship between the three partners broke and Abdul Malik soon found himself in debt.
“I was clueless to how I would survive the ordeal, whether I would end up in jail or not as I really did not have a lawyer and no money to pay anyone at that time,” said the 49-year-old father.
Thankfully, a former customer came to his rescue by volunteering to be his lawyer with hope that Abdul Malik would repay him in due time.
A job offer came by not long after for Abdul Malik at Kelab Aman in Ampang where he has to run an Indian restaurant with only one cook.
He worked daily and even ended up washing the dishes as he could not afford to have a kitchen helper.
“All I could think of then was to pay off my debts with the moneylender and food suppliers,” he said, adding that the difficult times was tough training for him.
His debts were paid off in four years and, in 1990, a customer offered him a job as a restaurant manager in Sydney, Australia.
Going to Australia alone was not what he intended to do. He thought bringing Mumtaz along would enable them to save up more money in a shorter period of time.
The couple got married before he left for Australia. Mumtaz tagged along and gave birth to their twin sons a year later.
“The boys must have brought us luck as we both worked really hard and we were back in Kuala Lumpur in 1993 and invested RM150,000 to open our very first restaurant,” said Abdul Malik referring to the D’Tandoor outlet in Damansara Utama.
Three years later, he went on to invest in another outlet in Subang Jaya which was also the shop where he first met Mumtaz. He later converted it to a franchise outlet.
“The demand for northern Indian food is good and more people are opting to try it as we do not use coconut, MSG or any chicken stock. Everything is made with yogurt, vegetable oil and low fat milk,” he said.
Most of his dishes such as chicken, fish, prawn, lamb and bread are prepared in a tandoori oven.
The food served at the restaurants is prepared when ordered and not pre-cooked.
He said controlling and ensuring that the franchise outlets operate with the same standard is not easy, so he supplies each franchisee with two chefs from India or Pakistan who have been trained, and a restaurant manager.
“This is to lift the burden of the franchisees looking for chefs and teaching them how to prepare food,” he said after dealing with inexperienced franchisees.
The franchise fee for a D’Tandoor restaurant in Malaysia is RM60,000 and another RM14,400 a year for management and advertising, while the set-up cost varies from RM250,000 to RM500,000 depending on its size and location.
Besides looking into the growing franchise outlets locally, Abdul Malik also has six partnership and franchise outlets overseas in Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East.
Adding to the list will be another four franchised outlets in Malacca, Bukit Mertajam in Perak, Kuantan in Pahang and Penang. Three more outlets overseas are also in the works in Jakarta, Saudi Arabia and a another in Australia.
Last year, D’Tandoor opened its first franchised kiosk concept outlet, Mr. Tandoor in Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s food court, serving fast, affordable dishes in the mixed-rice concept.
Abdul Malik has introduced a central kitchen for D’Tandoor in Taman Mayang, Petaling Jaya as he ventures into catering, take-away food, delivery and cooking classes as part of his business plans.
His most memorable catering work was at Genting Highlands when Malaysia hosted the Indian Filmfare Awards in 2004.
The kitchen, he said, had to prepare some 100 varieties of Indian cuisines ranging from the north, south, Kashmir and Chettynad for some 8,000 people.
The event inspired him to expand further in 2006 by investing RM500,000 in Al-Malik Catering, a subsidiary of D’Tandoor.
Its core business, he said, is providing Chinese, Muslim, Western, Indian and even Arab cuisines.
Currently, it serves a host of open houses and government events.
The latest addition to the D’tandoor business is five mini cafes in Saudi Arabis that were set up last year for local pilgrims who were performing their Haj.
“Our cafes served Malaysian food and we were there for a month, so no one could say that they are missing our local dishes,” he said.
Currently, Abdul Malik said there is little competition between the northern Indian restaurants in the country as most of the pioneer northern Indian restaurants are no longer around.
That, he said, does not mean D’Tandoor could take things easy as customers are always on the lookout for better choices of food, hence the need to innovate and change menu from time to time.
“We used to only have northern Indian dishes, but now that takes up some 60% while the remaining 40% are Arabic and local dishes,” he said.
Dishes like Mumtaz Chicken (Butter Chicken), Garlic Naan, Sizzling Tandoori Chicken, Fish Mehti (Fish cooked with Fenugreek leaves) and Raan Sikandri (Leg of Lamb) remain favourites.
Abdul Malik said, over the years, he had been invited to speak about how to start a restaurant and the secrets of running one, and conducting public speaking classes.
It was only after his son mooted the idea of starting a public speaking institute so Abdul Malik could share his experiences, that the Hard Knocks Institute of Management (Hakim) come to be.
Of late, Abdul Malik, who is also president of the Malaysian Franchise Association, has been busy juggling running and organising the restaurant business, catering at open houses and giving talks for Hakim as well as in franchise conferences held overseas.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to study business and I had to learn the hard way, I hope to be able to inspire those who are planning to do the same business as me through my talks and experiences,” he said.