PETALING JAYA: It was a YouTube video that got two novices started on a fried chicken business.
However, it would take several missteps and a decision by one of the partners to quit the business to set the enterprise on the track to success.
Today the FowlBoys, an American southern-style buttermilk fried chicken, usually served in a bun like a burger, is drawing in the crowd.
Co-founder Shafiq Saiful Aznir recalled how they were giving away generous portions of fries to go with the fried chicken only to realise later that it was too costly to continue on that track.
“We realised that cost (of ingredients) was something we had overlooked,” he told FMT Business.
Overly ambitious, Shafiq and his partner Johann Razali also opened new outlets, only to realise that they could not keep up.
“We were a bit ahead of ourselves,” he said of the debacle with an outlet in Ampang, Selangor.
But they were also quick to learn from their mistakes.
They closed the Ampang outlet, set a limit to the portion size and raised prices by 10% last year.
Shafiq said the price increase was justified given that they use premium ingredients, such as the fries, that are imported from the US.
Success fed by a pandemic
Shafiq and Johann started their business in March 2020 with a RM1,000 investment to ride on the rising trend of online meals. It was only meant to be a part-time pursuit for them.
That was when the movement control order was first implemented to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Cooking was done in Shafiq’s apartment. Given the limitations in terms of resources, they limited orders to only 20 a day. They were taking orders only through WhatsApp.
But demand grew through word of mouth and they soon realised that Shafiq’s apartment was no longer a viable place to continue their operations.
Rather than expanding into a full-fledged store, they continued under a cloud-kitchen concept. They struck a deal with Kitchen Connect that has kitchens in low visibility but high traffic areas.
This gave them the chance to assess the viability of expanding their business. In 2021, they felt confident enough to launch their first full-fledged outlet, which they did in SS15, Subang Jaya.
The reception was overwhelming, Shafiq recalled. There were long queues at the door. Even then-prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin gave their fare the thumbs up.
Buoyed by their success, Shafiq and Johann opened two more outlets — in Sri Hartamas and Ampang — this year, apart from expanding their first outlet in Subang Jaya, making it their flagship store.
However, the business was unsustainable with two additional outlets, forcing them to pull the plug on the Ampang store, which was not performing to expectation, and putting the brakes on further expansion.
Shafiq said that with a recession looming, they also did not want to be caught unprepared.
Making their business profitable was also a challenge. Shafiq said that in 2022, the FowlBoys managed to rake in RM3 million in revenue but there was hardly any profit.
This led them to reshuffle their management team. “With 45 employees, ours was no longer a small operation,” he said.
Later, Johann quit the business, leaving Shafiq alone to shoulder the task of managing the business. To get some help, he co-opted 12 members of the kitchen staff into the management team.
With the Covid-19 threat ebbing and life returning to almost normal, dining-in now accounts for 70% of the business, with online orders taking up the remaining 30%.
“We want to stay active in the food delivery space as it serves as a marketing platform,” Shafiq said.
While the future promises endless opportunities, he has chosen to hold the expansion plan for now.
“But we are expanding our menu. We recently acquired a lobster roll brand called Lobster Lobster that we will launch later this year,” Shafiq added.