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The Daily Fix
Photograph: Darinee Durai

Interview: Café owners on running the coolest spot in Malacca and opening a business in these times

They started with The Daily Fix but have expanded the business to include different concepts. Words by Darinee Durai

Delfina Utomo
Edited by
Delfina Utomo
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It was important to us that the space itself blended with the building; we wanted to coexist with what was already there and not to destroy what we considered to be our heritage.”

Every Malaccan knows that Jonker Street is a madhouse; endless cars trying to park, endless cars that have double-parked or are in the midst of it, endless tourists walking about, endless queues of people trying to get into restaurants… yet, this cacophony of cars and people are not deterrents in the least. And speaking of endless queues, one of the top-rated eateries in town which has people queuing is The Daily Fix.

Don't be fooled by the storefront – it is an antique and souvenir shop that you have to walk through to get to the sunny and homely café space. It is often busy, being frequented by both locals and tourists alike – yes, including us KL peeps that travel over two hours to get to Malacca. 

When The Daily Fix first opened its doors about eight years ago, its environment was not as it is today, though it seems hard to believe. In fact, it was quiet, and Jonker Street was not bedecked with cafés and eateries like it is now. One can even say that The Daily Fix is arguably the pioneer of cafés in Malacca.  It took some time to build up the components that contributed to the success that The Daily Fix has become. At its helm are owners Julian Yeo and Sung Soo Teng a.k.a. Josie. The powerhouse duo are partners in both business and life. Julian deals with the design aspect while Josie is involved directly with the menu – she roasts coffee beans, bakes sourdough, and takes part in the R&D. 

Tell us about who you are and the place you call home.
Photograph: Darinee Durai

Tell us about who you are and the place you call home.

We are Julian and Josie; we are both from Malacca. Josie studied accounting in Sydney and Julian did graphic design in Melbourne. We spent almost eight years in Australia and fell in love with the café scene there. We wanted to bring some of that experience back to Malacca and so we started The Daily Fix in an area that is rich with history.

How did you come to open a café and what was the idea behind it?
Photograph: Darinee Durai

How did you come to open a café and what was the idea behind it?

The Daily Fix was opened in 2014 and there were not many cafes around when we first started – it was an opportunity for us. We believe that a café needs to be well-packaged (tasty food, good coffee and nice desserts) and so we also wanted to serve what we love to eat ourselves; simple food that can be delicious too. In terms of taste, our menu is mostly western with local twists.

This place is where we wanted to create a concept where a souvenir shop and a café could complement each other. We truly owe a lot to our grandparents and relatives as the space is filled with antiques and other such old items that would otherwise be discarded. It was important to us that the space itself blended with the building; we wanted to coexist with what was already there and not to destroy what we considered to be our heritage.

While we were both abroad, we realised how we tend to take relationships and the things close to us for granted. This is how the concept fits in with our current ideals and values; we display items that are not old enough to be antiques but are subtly beautiful and deserving of a second chance. Many people categorise The Daily Fix as a retro café, but that wasn’t the idea actually!

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What does The Daily Fix do and is there anything you’re especially proud about?
Photograph: Darinee Durai

What does The Daily Fix do and is there anything you’re especially proud about?

There are a few things. The Daily Fix is a third wave café where we serve specialty coffee beans that are roasted in-house. Then, we have one of our signatures: pancakes, something we consider as a very homely and comforting dessert or breakfast. It was also something Julian’s mom would make when he was young – in fact, it was his mother that kickstarted the signature pancakes at the store.

In terms of our space and design, we want our customers to be able to appreciate the history of the area and the beauty of the past in the form of the fixtures in the café as well as antiques out front. Initially, we planned to become a creative hub or a sharing space where we would have workshops, exhibitions and even gigs. We tried it, but over time we realised that it was not working.

Let’s just say that we are rather fortunate and pleased that we have survived since 2014 – we started as a café at the back of a souvenir shop with hardly anyone knowing about our existence. Now, we are a fairly known café in Malacca.

Note from writer: Psst! Julian and Josie are playing it down. The Daily Fix is far more than a fairly known café in Malacca – many non-Malaccans that come into town usually make a stop here to dine and it was The Daily Fix that spearheaded many of the trends that have been expanded upon by other eateries.

Run through your other F&B projects with us and tell us what they are.
Photograph: Darinee Durai

Run through your other F&B projects with us and tell us what they are.

The Daily Fix – the beginning of all our F&B ventures. It is our café with our signature pancakes and coffee.  

Sin See Tai – the base for the coffee roastery (The Daily Fix Coffee Roaster) and the bakery (The Curious Bakers). This building is also where our kombucha is produced.

Sharing Plates – this is where several of our signature dishes from The Daily Fix like our pancakes are part of the menu. Just like the name suggests, there are plates for sharing as well. This is also the space where we can hold private events. 

The Daily Fix Roasters – here is where our specially curated coffee beans for the café is roasted. It is currently housed in Sin See Tai.

The Curious Bakers – The breads, pizza doughs and cakes that people are come to The Daily Fix for are all made here by our team. We also bake bagels, sourdough, croissants, donuts, tarts, cream puffs and canelés here. Some of these items are on display and our customers can go upstairs to enjoy them. The Curious Bakers is also housed in Sin See Tai and is responsible for all the special donuts that appear during the festivities.

Kin by The Daily Fix – our latest project that will be launching soon and the first outside the old town where all our other projects are in.

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How did the decision to open multiple projects come about?

The idea of opening multiple outlets was never the plan; it was more about specialising in certain things and also exploring new ideas that will get us going as well as keep us excited.

What are some memorable moments you had when running the café?

When business was brisk, and our morale was low, we had a couple that encouraged us. They ensured us that we will do well when we first started The Daily Fix. They were so nice and made sure we were on the right track.

We will never ever forget those kind souls; their positive words have pushed us this far.

Then, meeting Julia Gillard – the first female Australian prime minister from 2010 to 2013 – in person in The Daily Fix was rather funny. Julian didn’t recognise her at first, but Josie knew instantly who it was.

We went to her and asked her, “Are you…?” and she just nodded before we could finish our sentence. We took a photo together and left her to it as she wanted her space. We did see her again in a London bar during our honeymoon.

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How has the customers’ taste changed over the years?
Photograph: Darinee Durai

How has the customers’ taste changed over the years?

Customers nowadays are much more travelled and have better exposure, which means that their expectations and taste buds have become much more refined. This makes them more critical, but we see it as a positive challenge because it’s a good drive for us to stay focused on what we do best and improve as we continue.

For instance, when we first started back in 2014, it was especially hard for us to sell speciality coffee as our coffee was always being compared to local coffees in kopitiams. So, we find it to be a great change that we do not get people complaining about the price points and how our coffee is not ‘gao’ (intense or strong) like local coffee; people understand more of what we are doing.

Where do you source your ingredients form and how often do you change your menu?

We aim for quality and the consistency of our supplies. All our vegetables are grown locally and our coral lettuce for example, comes from a hydroponic farm in Malacca.

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How has Covid-19 impacted your business and how did you manage?

It is a nightmare for any person in business. The streets were empty and all we could rely on was food delivery platforms – this itself is great but it comes along with a price. We barely scraped by, and we focused our efforts on minimising our losses.

How do you think Covid-19 has affected the F&B sector in general and what are people’s sentiments?

We think Covid-19 has proven to us all, how fragile we all actually are. It’s the biggest wake-up call as nothing is impossible and we just have to constantly adjust with the times. It is also during this period where many people spent a lot of time cooking and baking at home – this has affected us and the rest of the folks in the F&B sector.

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How did you keep yourself motivated in these tough times?
Photograph: Darinee Durai

How did you keep yourself motivated in these tough times?

We had to keep creating new products and dishes for the menus; this helped us to stay focused and positive. We didn’t allow ourselves to be stagnant as that will give room for negativity. We knew we needed to keep moving forward to survive and we needed to keep innovating (as long as the results are still in line with the brand that we have built). We managed to release our retail range (we have nut butters, jams, and hot sauces) and, we also started our bakery (The Curious Bakers).

The pandemic has restricted interstate travel which in turn shrank our customer base tremendously. So, we coped by creating new dishes for the café and such to keep ahead of the game. It helps to keep things fresh and interesting for our regulars – it is challenging for our team but also exciting. For example, in our bakery, we strive to create new flavours and also have a rotation system for our existing ones. We do this with and for our doughnuts, cream puffs, bagels, and canelés.

Any future plans for you?

We are opening a new outlet just outside Malacca’s old town. This won’t be the last for us, but one step at a time.

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Advice to anyone who wants to open a cool café in town?
Photograph: Darinee Durai

Advice to anyone who wants to open a cool café in town?

Serve up a menu that you personally like – we all have reference points and the key things here are to explore. Derive ideas from afar and redevelop them here as this can make the industry grow. Understand that this is a business, but you can enjoy the process despite the difficulties. You should also listen to your customers and learn through constructive feedback.

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