It’s always exciting to see old iconic buildings brought back to life, and one notable icon is REXKL. Located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, this seventy-year-old building survived two fires, and was subsequently abandoned for more than twenty years before local architects Shin Chang and Shin Tseng breathed new life into its structures. REXKL now houses a collective of social enterprises, and urban food and retail merchants.
This is a series highlighting the people behind The Back Ground, the urban food hall located in REXKL.
How did you get started in hospitality?
Growing up, my dad had an Indian restaurant in Seremban. I was 9 back then and the restaurant was my playground. I spend most of my time after school in the restaurant. Some days, I was helpful but most days I was just terrorizing the whole place. In 2011, I joined an agency that did PR for Laundry Bar. A few months later, I was recruited by the company itself, Chaswood Resources to do the marketing for 2 brands – Laundry and Malones.
It was an interesting experience working for an established company that owned 13 brands and had a total of 33 outlets. From here, my interests in F&B grew. I decided I wanted to learn more about operations and dream about owning my own bar. I was later introduced to the owners of Pisco Bar as they were looking for a marketing person. I took the job and worked a couple of years with them, learning the ropes on how to run a successful bar (hands down, they are the best to learn from). Being able to work closely with the owners gave me the opportunity to develop the knowledge that I needed.
After years in Pisco, I moved to Poland to explore other fields. However, the passion for curating and conceptualizing menus never left. I started home delivery for Malaysian cuisine in 2018 and created an online platform to simplify the order process which then took things to another level. Establishing this online platform came in useful 2 years later when MCO happened and e-commerce started to boom. This allowed me to continue my home delivery during MCO with ease since I had already gone digital.
When I was back in Malaysia in 2020, through a friend I met Shin Chang and Shin Tseng (co-founder of REXKL) who offered me to do a pop up for a month. I decided to take a bold step and sell cocktails made from Tuak and toddy since there was not many of this kind of cocktails in town. We received positive responses and now Tuak Bar has become a permanent fixture.
For those that haven’t visited, tell us a bit more about Tuak Bar in your own words?
Tuak Bar is situated in Rex KL – it is your go-to place for tuak and toddy. It is very Malaysian in terms of style and flavour. We have a wide selection of tuak such as ginger, dragon fruit, pineapple, apple, casava, black pepper and many more. Our tuaks are locally sourced and home-made – this helps to support the Sarawakian and Sabahan community.
Tuak Bar serves cocktails priced at $20 nett. When I started making cocktails I wanted to make sure the drinks I serve were delicious and most importantly, affordable.
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Tell us more about your offerings. Which aspect is the most challenging that you wish your customer know?
Most Malaysian’s have a hard time finding tuak and I am trying to establish Tuak Bar as the point of contact for this. There are many different types of tuak and its delicious that most Malaysians arent aware off – we tend to look internationaly when it comes to alchohol yet we have some really interesting ones in our own backyard.
When it comes to toddy alot of people have never tried it and those who have frown upon it due to its smell. And so they have an immediate mental block due to this.
I want to change the stigma most Malaysian’s have towards toddy and educate them about its health benefits.
Sum up a career in hospitality using three words
Exciting Work Environment
What’s the best thing about working in the hospitality industry?
It doesn’t feel like work. Hospitality industry drives your creativity and allows you to keep growing.
What keeps you going?
Knowing the work I do for others is appreciated. Seeing happy and smiling customers goes far beyond the satisfaction that you can get out of a Excel spreadsheet.