How Kenny Hills Bakers went from a small cafe to 5 brands, with an Italian eatery on the way
You’ve probably heard of Kenny Hills Bakers, and for good reason.
What started as a local bakery in a quiet KL neighbourhood has now expanded to five brands, and they’re not slowing down anytime soon.
Where it all started
Ex-filmmaker Mr Au Tai Hon initially founded Kenny Hills Bakers in 2014 because of his love for dense artisan-crafted breads.
Catching wind of Craft Bakers’ closure back then, he decided to hire the boulangers (bakers) for his own venture. “I invest in people who are passionate about what they do,” he explained.
As a creative who understood that ambience was important, he needed the bakery’s location to be perfect. Craft Bakers used to operate in a commercial area and he didn’t want to make the same mistake.
So Mr Au looked to areas such as Damansara Heights and Jalan Batai, and eventually set up shop at Bukit Tunku, which is also known as Kenny Hills to locals in the area.
When the brand started gaining popularity, it opened another outlet at The Waterfront, Desa ParkCity. The vision? To create a neighbourhood cafe that was extremely community-driven and inclusive.
But as the cafe-hopping trend began gaining traction, more cafes naturally started mushrooming. A once niche market was increasing in competition.
Yet, despite such concerns, the brand’s response to this was to perfect its crafts and grow at its own pace.
“The main goal is to really understand who we are as a brand. We look around and see what is happening but never feel the pressure to change what we do or who we are. We understand what makes us unique and have a laser-like focus on that,” Kai, the founder’s son, explained to Vulcan Post.
In the early days, mistakes were made, he admitted. Examples included not understanding the brand positioning they wanted to have, and the sort of narrative they intended to control in the mind of consumers.
“Who are you and what do you stand for? When you are not sure of these things, you can get quite lost among the noise of the industry,” Kai pointed out.
With that surety, in 2019, when the Bukit Tunku outlet was under renovation, the brand opened its third outlet at Jalan Ampang. They opened a kiosk in Bangsar Shopping Centre after that which caters to a larger market. It only serves pastries, cakes, and organic breads for takeaways.
The brand’s fifth location is in TTDI, while its latest outlet just opened a few months ago at IOI City Mall, Putrajaya. As one of the largest establishments, it boasts exclusive dishes that aren’t found at the others.
Along with the baked goods that Kenny Hills Bakers is known for, the one at Putrajaya offers Corned Beef Egg in a Hole and Mixed Berry French Toast.
According to the outlet’s manager, it is seeing high demand from the locals. “From the minute we start, before we open at 10AM, there’s already a queue building outside by 9.30AM,” Ashraf Farhan Yap said.
So it’s safe to say that the hype for Kenny Hills Bakers and its artisanal breads is here to stay.
But that’s not all that Kenny Hills Bakers has been cooking up.
It’s not just a bakery
Under the Kenny Hills Hospitality Group (KHHG) umbrella, there are currently four other brands—Nourish, My Humble Bowl, Kenny Hills Bistro, and Kenny Hills Coffee.
Each of them has offerings different from its founding company.
Nourish specialises in gluten-free and plant-based meals, while My Humble Bowl is a restaurant serving local Asian favourites.
Kenny Hills Bistro acts as the group’s bougie sister with its casual fine-dining European cuisine. Kenny Hills Coffee is similar to its other cafe, but focuses more on strengthening the brand’s coffee game.
Although Kenny Hills Bistro just launched in August last year, the hospitality group is already planning its next expansion. Kai, who also acts as managing director, revealed to Vulcan Post that there will be a new restaurant in its portfolio.
Somewhere in the fourth quarter of this year, customers can look forward to savouring Italian food and wine at Pastaia (‘pasta maker’ in Italian). The Italian restaurant will be opened next door to a new Kenny Hills Bakers location, though Kai teasingly declined to reveal exactly where.
“It’s inspired by my travels to Italy. We will be serving handmade pasta with shapes you don’t get anywhere else in Malaysia. Charcoal-grilled meats, a huge Italian wine list including natural wines, Italian-inspired cocktails, and of course—dessert!”
The design concept in mind is a rustic and traditional “hole-in-the-wall” trattoria.
Kenny Hills goes beyond
As of now, KHHG will be focusing on its bistro and coffeehouse, but Kai has big ambitions for the company.
“I want to develop and scale new brands across KL and beyond, hence why I am also thinking about new concepts for this year and next already,” he confessed.
Another expansion that he’s planning for the brand is an events and catering arm, as well as other international cuisines. Deviating from what you’re originally known for may be risky, but the company’s track records aren’t discouraging.
Despite having multiple stores, customers have reported consistency in its food and services in Google reviews. “Quality is never something that should be sacrificed with growth. As we continue growing, we want to make sure that quality actually improves,” Kai said.
He also credited the company’s success to keeping up with consumers’ demands. By introducing highly requested items into its menu, the brand remains popular and relevant.
“It is about responding fast to what customers want and giving them the best value you can.”
Of course, you should still consider your own brand positioning as well. You wouldn’t start selling chicken chop at a Vietnamese restaurant just because people ask you to, right?
In the long run, Kai hopes to bring the hospitality group to foreign lands.
“I think expanding internationally is a very exciting step to take. As a homegrown Malaysian brand, to put our flag down in other parts of the world would be incredibly gratifying.”
He added, “International expansion would represent a big success not just for us, but hopefully for other local brands who aspire to do so in the future.”
Kai revealed that he actually gets emails every other week about opening or franchising somewhere in Melaka, Ipoh, Johor, and even Singapore.
Though a fast and easier way to expand, he’s confident that Kenny Hills Bakers will never franchise, because “it just is not within our DNA”, he said.
Featured Image Credit: Kenny Hills Bakers
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