Cover Atelier Binchotan's name is derived from binchō-tan charcoal, long considered one of the best coals for barbecuing (Photo: Atelier Binchotan)

A dance that was partly choreographed, mostly improvised, these restaurants' first year of operations proved equal parts trying and rewarding. We asked modern French restaurant Akâr Dining, barbecue specialist Atelier Binchotan, and fried chicken fanatic Fowlboys to share their messages of hope and gratitude

How does it feel to have ridden out the pandemic in your first year of operations?

Shaq Aznir, head of marketing at Fowlboys: It's been a hell of a ride. My partner Johann Razali and I started off in our apartment kitchen and have always had the advantage of being delivery-centric, but it was a challenge to get everything up and running with the MCO restrictions. Since it wasn’t the best time to go out, we purchased a lot of our equipment from Shopee (for example: our deep-fryer that we're still using to this day!).

At the peak of MCO, we were doing 50 to 100 burgers a day, and it took a toll on us physically and mentally. But the first few times that MCO restrictions loosened up and restaurants were allowed to seat customers again, we saw a dip in sales. It was worrying at the start, but we kept making improvements to our menu and pushed through. Thankfully, we've managed to grow our fanfare and keep our sales steady since.

Aidan Low, executive chef at Akâr Dining: It was definitely not a dull year. At any point in the first MCO, we could have shut down for good. And to go back and forth between delivery and dine-ins is not simple—we've had to go through this dilemma many, many times. How do we sustain ourselves financially while maintaining the right image in the eyes of our customers? There's no win-win; there are always sacrifices. But we've pulled through, and being able to talk to you about it is a win for us at Akâr.

Lau Ka Hong, chef-proprietor at Atelier Binchotan: To be honest, we were quite calm when the pandemic happened. Save for worrying about our finances, there was nothing much we could do.

What's been an especially rewarding part of your journey thus far?

AL: Seeing the team grow. There's nothing more rewarding than surrounding yourself with the right people, or grooming them to become their best. You learn a lot about a person during tough times. Our team has doubled from when we first started.

LKH: Returning guests who have not stopped supporting us since we reopened in May 2020.

SA: Getting positive feedback from our customers. While our friends always praise our food, you can't discount their bias. So having customers compare us to the brands we look up to is a massive compliment. Oh, and to have the Prime Minister try our chicken sandwich was pretty cool too! To have started an F&B business from scratch and to do well during a pandemic is almost unbelievable for us. We're still kicking ourselves to this day.

When things return to normal, will your eatery’s model change?

LKH: No, we are satisfied with our current concept. The only thing we will consider is increasing our seating capacity to accommodate more guests.

SA: While we've had great success with our delivery model, we've always wanted to accommodate dine-ins. It's a whole other experience to have our food fresh from the kitchen. So we're excited to announce that we're moving to Kitchen Connect Mont Kiara on March 1, 2021, as they have a small facility for customers who prefer to dine in. On top of that, we're working on opening our very own chicken joint on the other side of the Klang Valley—it's top secret information for now!

AL: I have no definite answer for this; inspiration is hard to come-by during this pandemic. One thing's for sure: we will and want to start exploring again. At its heart, Akâr has always harboured a mission to provide avant-garde meals at affordable prices.

TATLER TIP: Akâr Dining was recently recognised as one of Tatler Dining's Top 20 Restaurants of 2021.

3 bestsellers at Akâr Dining

3 bestsellers at Fowlboys

3 bestsellers at Atelier Binchotan