Jolyn Tan and Rodney Ng created Miru Dessert Cafe to share their love for sweet things with other like-minded people.
It took a while to find them, though. When the cafe in Kuala Lumpur opened its doors four years ago, the first few customers walked out without trying anything.
“They wanted pasta or asked for rice [dishes], but were surprised that these items were not available,” Tan explains.
The initial response shocked the Miru Dessert Cafe team, Tan says. Both she and Ng, now 30, are actuarial science graduates who had given up jobs in the finance sector to start what they thought would be a sweet new gig.
They persisted with Miru Dessert Cafe because they wanted to focus on serving what they love and know best: mouthwatering desserts. They pulled through the first few slow months, and slowly built their sales. The hard work began to pay off.
Tan says that looking back, the operation managed to rack up healthy sales in its first year. She says understanding the Malaysian market was critical for their success.
A key decision, made at the very beginning, was to gain halal certification for all ingredients – from the butter to the various creams – so the cafe could cater to Muslim customers. No meat or alcohol is served on the premise. Fruit also must be from halal-certified suppliers. Based on Islamic law, halal foods are those that are free from any component that Muslims are prohibited from consuming.
The founders say that these two strategies – sticking to their strengths and appealing to Muslim customers – have given Miru Dessert Cafe an edge over its competition.
The first cafe is housed in the middle-class suburb of Damansara Uptown, in Petaling Jaya, some 10 kilometres from the centre of Kuala Lumpur. Soon after opening the first outlet, they launched a second outlet at the Pavillion shopping mall in the heart of the city. The upmarket shopping centre gets more foot traffic, Tan says.
Everyone loves a sweet thing
Based on the cafe’s data, 60 per cent of the cafe’s patrons are female and the majority are in the 21 to 35-year-old age group. That makes up 70% of the total clientele. But the cafe appeals to families and couples, too.
Miru Dessert Cafe’s crowd puller is the Shibuya Honey Toast, an adaptation of the traditional Japanese toast originally served at parties and karaoke joints in Japan.
“In Japan, each town has its own style of honey toast, and they serve it with many scoops of ice-cream and several layers of toast. It’s done in an extravagant way,” Tan explains.
Miru Dessert Cafe takes a more refined approach to this toast. Two scoops of ice-cream accompany a generous single slice of homemade baked bread with a drizzle of honey on top.
Some patrons were a little surprised with the size of the toast, but Tan assures that after tasting it they will come back for more.
And true enough, the classic Shibuya honey toast with vanilla ice cream has remained their bestseller since day one.
It may look like ice-cream and bread to the untrained eye, but Tan explains that it took nearly a year for the team to refine the recipe to find a winning formula.
“We tried different flours to make the bread, tried different butter, different ovens, different temperatures,” she explains.
The toast is made to the taste of Malaysians, who she says seem to favour fluffy bread that is crispy on the outside, and less sweet on all fronts.
The research and development team at Miru Dessert Cafe consists of culinary experts whom Tan and Ng rely on. Aside from that, the business owners turn to their servers at the cafe for input as their frontline know best what customers want.
Miru Dessert Cafe has since expanded its menu to offer up to seven types of dessert. Aside from the toast, they serve pancakes, waffles, layered cakes, lava cakes, brownies and kakigori.
Kakigori is made up of shaved ice with hidden cakes or sweet surprises under the ice – at Miru Dessert Cafe, the shaved ice hides a strawberry cheesecake. “It’s like a Japanese-styled ais kacang,” Tan explains, referring to the Malaysian dessert made up of shaved ice topping jelly and peanuts and drizzled with sweet rose syrup or brown sugar.
Miru Dessert Cafe’s kakigori again adopts a refined approach. The founders were so determined to achieve a specific ice texture that they ended up making their own ice to ensure the shavings are fine and light. Their strawberry sauce is also made from scratch, using fresh fruit.
New flavours, new tasting
The team at Miru Dessert Cafe rolls out a new flavour every two to three months depending on demand and season, drawing inspiration from visits to Japan, Korea and Thailand. Popular drinks like Milo and Horlicks are incorporated into their desserts, as well as the matcha flavour.
Thai milk tea and mango sticky rice are the current themes of their promotional desserts with these two popular flavours incorporated into the cafe’s usual toasts and kakigori. This proved popular so the cafe is serving them again.
Tan says that there’s an art to knowing what trends to ignore. The cafe is experimenting with durian but is staying clear of the salted egg flavour.
“We don’t just blindly follow trends, we always do something that is sustainable,” she says, noting that if a particular flavour floods the market, customers are likely to get bored of it.
For durian, the fact that the fruit can be watery or has a light taste is a challenge for the research team. Consistency is important to keep customers happy.
Aside from stress that comes with owning their first business, Tan says there are other “sacrifices” from running their dream dessert cafe.
The founders have both put on between 10kg and 30kg since the cafe first opened, Tan says, because they are constantly eating and trying out new flavour combinations.
But it has all been worth it. Miru Dessert Cafe is expanding to two new locations this year with more products planned for their fans.
The founding team are adopting their mascot Miru’s story, by seeking new dessert adventures so their patrons can enjoy a sweeter experience.
To find out more about the cafe’s desserts, click here.
Photos courtesy Miru Dessert Cafe