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5 brands in 3 yrs: CC by Mel’s team opens a new Bukit Jalil bakery that redefines pastries

Melanie Pong is a familiar name here on Vulcan Post.

She’s the “Mel” behind popular Bukit Jalil café CC by Mel, founded by her and her husband Damien Lee in 2021. In 2022, CC by Mel expanded to a bigger outlet. Later that year, they went on to open Zen by Mel, a fusion Japanese fine dining restaurant.

Now, Melanie and Damien are further establishing Mel’s Group’s mark in the F&B realm with another brand—BAKE by Mel.

As the name suggests, BAKE by Mel is all about baked goods.

Speaking to us during a visit to the store (which is also located in Bukit Jalil), Damien shared that pastries are something the team has always wanted to do.

Just because Mel and Damien have had plenty of experience in the F&B scene, though, doesn’t mean that starting a new brand happens with the snap of a finger.

In fact, it took the group more than a year to go from ideation to the actual launch of BAKE by Mel.

Launched in October 2023, it almost feels like Mel’s Group is a bit late to the pastry party. After all, well-known brands such as Kenny Hill Bakers or Croisserie have been in the space for years, with many more small but established bakeries and cafes dotted around the Klang Valley.

“Pastries have been around for a long time already,” Damien acknowledged. “It’s about refining the pastries now. Different dough, techniques, combinations.”

Refining and redefining pastries

The operative word from what Damien said is “combinations”. BAKE by Mel is all about marrying various doughs and pastries to create new, unique offerings.

In recent years, hybrid pastries such as the cronut (croissant and donut) and the croffle (croissant and waffle) have become café mainstays.

Instead of just defaulting to those popular options, though, BAKE by Mel offers some lesser heard of (or even just unheard of) combos such as the focassant (focaccia and croissant) and the tacro (you guessed it, a taco and a croissant).

The focassant is essentially a croissant base topped with a focaccia tart. Meanwhile, to create the tacro, the team spent three months to come up with the current croissant taco shell and invested in custom-made steel moulds.

Another unique hybridised product at BAKE by Mel is the dodol burger, which features dodol and yam between croissants. This is inspired by the fried nian gao popularly enjoyed during Chinese New Year.

BAKE by Mel also has fine cakes available as well as a range of creative drinks, concocted by the team’s head barista who has been creating drinks across Mel’s Group.

To make their desserts more accessible, there’s something called Last Affair. From 6PM till 1AM, BAKE by Mel is offering finely plated desserts, like what you’d see in fine dining courses, but in ala carte form. Therefore, they tend to be more affordable too. 

Beyond that, the bakery emphasises on freshness too, never selling overnight pastries but instead donating leftovers to orphanages.

They also pipe the creams on the spot upon order, which results in a 15-minute waiting time for some options. Although some patrons might not understand this longer wait time, it’s something that the team is willing to educate them on.

Making dreams a reality

Coming up with unique ideas is one thing, but having that idea materialised is another.

Damien revealed to us that finding bakers who actually had the experience and expertise to do what they envisioned was challenging.

The few knowledgeable bakers they could find tended to be working overseas, and those who were left in Malaysia were typically more traditional and averse to trying new concepts.

“Malaysia’s hot pastries are not that advanced. Those bakers with crazy ideas, Malaysia can’t accept it,” Damien explained.

In fact, the first baker he worked with told him merging focaccia and croissant was impossible, even before he tried doing it. But eventually, after a month of failing, he managed to get it done.

Yet, it was too soon to celebrate. The baker ended up telling Damien it wasn’t something he wanted to do, so he left.

“So, my whole journey of creating a new brand, came back to zero again,” Damien shared.

He talked to a few bakers in Singapore too but their salaries were too expensive for them to afford. 

So, the question is why? Why go through all these lengths just to fulfil their vision, which they didn’t even know for sure would work or not?

“We had to,” was Damien’s answer. “Pastries are too competitive. After the MCO, everyone is out, everyone is baking somewhere. If we’re going to sell something similar, how are we going to make a name for ourselves?”

Mel added, “From what we have learnt, we need constant changes and creativities in F&B. We knew that if we want to step out from our competitors, we need to take the risk.”

That risk refers to whether or not Malaysians would even want to eat these unique pastries in the first place. As Damien expressed, “I’m just so afraid that people can’t accept our pastries.”

During our visit to the store, though, we noticed families and some older folks enjoying BAKE by Mel’s coffee and pastries. Perhaps Malaysians are more willing to try new foods than Damien believes.

Building an F&B empire

Aside from BAKE by Mel, the team has actually launched another brand—Buns by MEL.

A Japanese fusion inspired bakery, Buns by MEL is more of a ready-to-eat bakery where they merge Japanese ingredients with Malaysian flavours. Freshly baked every day, these breads can be found at The Food Merchant in Pavilion Bukit Jalil.

When asked why diversify these two seemingly similar brands, Mel explained, “It’s quite difficult to put everything under one roof.”

Even though both brands’ products fall under the category of pastries or baked goods, Mel said that they involve a totally different range of operations and techniques. Therefore, they’d need a different team to run them.

“Moreover, we want our brands to be known by our specialties rather than to be known as a bakery that serves everything,” Mel pointed out.

Aside from expanding the myriad of “by Mel” brands, the group also has a brand called Liang’s Dining.

Headed by Chef Liang, it soft opened on November 29. The restaurant took over a former CC by Mel location in Mont Kiara, as Mel and Damien realised that the demographic there didn’t quite fit CC by Mel’s target audience.

Liang’s Dining serves modern Chinese contemporary cuisine, offering Chinese flavours with Western techniques and ingredients. Mel’s Group has actually already worked with Chef Liang in the past for limited courses at Zen by Mel.

It’s interesting to see how Mel’s Group has grown in three years, going from just having CC by Mel in January 2021, to now having multiple footholds in the Bukit Jalil area, and a separate dining experience in Mont Kiara.

And they’re not stopping here.

“We are looking to cover as many segments of F&B [as possible] in our group of companies,” Mel shared. “We are looking into grab-and-go business models for the upcoming ones.”

Although it’s easy now to marvel at the journey of Mel and Damien, it definitely wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows during the couple’s journey to accomplish what they have.

“It has been a roller coaster for all of us in the company,” Mel opened up. “Some of the plans had been planned beforehand, and some just came in the middle while we [were] working on the brands. We were often told to seize the opportunity therefore we took the risk to do it.”

With that, she shared some advice for budding entrepreneurs in the scene, “I would say embrace the challenges, and no storm lasts forever. The sun will shine after the storm.”

Learn more about BAKE by Mel here. Read other articles we’ve written about F&B businesses here.

Also ReadWant to work in companies like Bursa Malaysia? This programme could be your entry ticket.

Featured Image Credit: BAKE by Mel / Vulcan Post

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