When someone utters the word “kayu”, it is normal for Malaysians to think of Nasi Kandar, rather than a piece of wood which is the actual Malay word for it.
That’s how much of a household name the Original Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar has become in Malaysia.
A serious contender in the restaurant business, Kayu, as it is often referred to in short, continues dishing out plate after plate of steaming white rice sloshed with a medley of tantalisingly delicious curries, to its steady stream of ravenous customers who just can’t seem to get enough of it.
In this article, owner and managing director Burhan Mohamed shares the real story behind the Kayu name and what it takes to make it in this business.
“I am the second generation in this line of business after my late father and in fact, Kayu had a humble start in this very spot where my father rented a stall,” says Burhan.
That tiny spot where the stall was has been expanded to a couple of shoplots now and has come to be known as the Original Penang Kayu restaurant in SS2.
Nine branches strong, with one in Penang, many have wondered where the name Kayu came from.
“Actually there are two versions to this story — the popular version refers to the bamboo or the wooden pole used to carry baskets of rice and curry back in those days.
“However, the truth is, the name is from a funny memory of my childhood when I was called “kayu” (colloquial Malay for dim-witted) by a regular customer at my father’s stall, because I was quite slow.
“Since then, the name stuck and even to this day, I am still known as Uncle Kayu by my longtime customers,” laughs Burhan.
However, far from being a “kayu”, Burhan has proven to be a brilliant businessman who built an F&B empire that is still going strong to this day.
“Transparency is key in this business, and I am a firm believer it should be a factor in any business.
“In our line of work, food hygiene is very important and it is evident in all the Kayu outlets — from the front floor to the back burners of the kitchen and preparation area,” Burhan said, adding that he would gladly take any critic on a tour of the kitchen if they had the slightest doubt about the cleanliness of his Nasi Kandar outlets.
On the issue of price, Kayu has received its fair share of brickbats for its slightly premium prices compared to those of their competitors.
“Yes, I believe premium food comes at a slightly higher price. Here, I let my outlets do the talking as we offer a comfortable environment for our customers.
“I have returning customers who are from five generations ago, coming in for the comfort of the amenities as well as our impeccable service.
“Also, we do not skimp on quality because we use only the freshest of ingredients on a daily basis as well as keep our menu focused on authentic mamak specialties like Mee Goreng Mamak and tandoori sets, and of course Nasi Kandar dishes,” says Burhan.
Apart from that, did you know that Kayu was possibly the first Nasi Kandar brand to send nasi kandar in the sky?
Not literally of course, but Kayu was the first local restaurant to work with an airline to serve their food to flying passengers. In fact, Kayu still works with private charters from time to time.
He added that he makes it a point to visit all his branches every day to oversee the operations and visits Penang once a week to check on the northern region’s Kayu branch at Bayan Lepas.
Well, he did say he works 400 days a year!
Original Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar
No 64, Jalan SS2/10,
47300 Petaling Jaya,
Selangor Darul Ehsan.
Opening Hours: Daily, 24 hours
This article first appeared in uppre.com