The last time we saw Hj Md Saifullah Hj Awang Chuchu (pictured main C), he was over the stove of his home kitchen making one of the Crepes of the Galaxy’s signature soft crepes.
Then a full-time draughtsman for Royal Brunei Airlines, the 34-year-old would be up as early as 4am to prepare the day’s orders, assisted by his wife who also runs her own home business, More Zest Cookies.
Fast forward to now, Saifullah is now a full-time business owner with eight employees, and recently opened his first commercial outlet at Darussalam Enterprise’s (DARe) Kontena Park (KP), with a determination to make Crepes of the Galaxy a household name.
“It was definitely a gamble. Having a full-time job was my comfort zone. But staying in that kind of mindset wasn’t good one for me, I think. I needed to challenge myself,” reflects Saifullah. “With employees under you, it also gives you that urgency and motivation to set and hit sales targets.”
The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic put Saifullah at a crossroads: his career with the national carrier was uncertain, with the border closure bringing the aviation industry to a near standstill, while his home business – which he had gradually built up over three years – began to show promise.
The choice for Saifullah was clear, if not easy.
So, just as the first wave of the pandemic died down, he quit his job and hired two kitchen assistants.
The first few months were a struggle, but his wife Nurol Fatihah Hj Zulkifl convinced him to expand their crepe offerings into cakes.
“Crepes of the Galaxy started out serving Western-styled crepes; we have savoury and sweet options,” said Saifullah, whose crepe-focused menu was initially inspired by his travels to Europe.
“But my wife said ‘Your business name is Crepes of the Galaxy. With a name like that, any and all crepes should be under your roof. So, it’s not too far-fetched for you to start doing crepe cakes.’”
The introduction of crepe cakes helped break their plateau; so even as the second and third wave of COVID came, Crepes was well positioned on delivery services like GoMamam in addition to selling whole cakes to cafes and crepe platters to families and offices.
Leveraging the DARe ecosystem to grow further
Running Crepes before and after his office job stretched Saifullah’s capacity in their first three years. He did not have the funds to hire and delegate, nor the time to upskill himself fully as an entrepreneur.
“Doing business, it’s a learning process. When I was working and running the business at the same time, it was really hard for me to have the time to join classes and workshops,” said Saifullah.
In June 2021, he enrolled to DARe’s Micro Bootcamp, which covers the fundamentals of operating a small business. The four-week programme helped Crepes reaffirm certain practices, while also filling in some gaps.
Being in the DARe ecosystem, he was advised to apply for KP; a one-year food and beverage incubation programme which helps entrepreneurs gain experience operating in a commercial setting, while also providing curated training specific to their industry.
Crepes’ team of eight are split into a group of five who focus on making crepe cakes at his house, while another three are stationed at KP.
“Since we’ve never had a shop before KP, this gives us an opportunity to trial; how do we cope with the sales, how we prepare the food within the time limit. We are here to gain experience, so we can hopefully expand to another outlet after,” said Saifullah.
Another option on the 34-year-old’s mind is opening up a central kitchen to replace the operations still based out of his home, which will help scale production for deliveries, consignments, or smaller outlets.
When we interviewed Saifullah five years ago as he personally prepared orders from home, he spoke of his dreams of branching out with his own outlet, team, and signature menu.
He’s checked off a few of those milestones. Not one to be content – he’s aiming for the stars.
Because for business called Crepes of the Galaxy, figuratively at least, it can’t settle for less than the moon.