Often it’s the endeavours made out of genuine devotion—the type that comes from a deep-rooted love for something—that tend to produce the best results. And if you ask mother and F&B entrepreneur Michelle Chai, it’s this exact type of devotion that she pours into her cooking.
Michelle currently runs a snackfood business called Kintry (short for Kindred Pantry) that sells a variety of home-style favourites such as salted egg potato crisps, oatmeal cookies, and granola, and all of her recipes were birthed from strong family ties, particularly the one with her daughter Amelie.
“I was going through a difficult time with my mother’s passing and she loved to cook, so I took her cooking journals and stared cooking on my own,” she explained. “At the same time, my Amelie had major allergies to eggs and nuts, therefore I was always at home cooking.”
“Sometimes I’d make extras for my friends,” Michelle said. “One day I passed some granola to a good friend of mine and she loved it and told me to try selling it.”
One thing eventually led to another, and she began her business in August 2017, initially making small batches to order. Towards the end of 2017 however, she came across a crossroads in her journey and felt undecided on whether or not to take on the business full-time.
It was only after receiving encouragement from her friend and eventual business partner Andy Wong that she finally agreed to commit to Kintry fully.
“He saw the potential and encouraged me into taking a leap of faith,” she said. “He became my partner, and in April 2018 we looked for a small shop-lot to operate out of and then started out full force in August.”
Currently, Kintry’s selections include their specialty salted egg potato crisps, uniquely flavoured granola packs, and butter oat chocolate chop cookies. The recipes for the snacks coming out from Kintry were all created by Michelle as a result of countless of nights of trial, error, and research, with some help from her friends.
“People who know me know that I’m a super random person—it would just suddenly hit me that I want to test out a certain recipe,” she said. “Many times, I’d wait till Amelie was asleep before spending the night just testing recipes.”
“While I was testing the Salted Egg Yolk Crisps, one of my neighbours told me she could smell the curry leaves at 2AM!”
“Currently, I can produce a much larger amount than when I first started due to having a bigger kitchen, so things are looking better in terms of production.”
It’s Not All About Competition
On the subject of growth and differentiation, Michelle offered her opinion that for smaller brands like hers to find footing and grow, it was important to work alongside others instead of always just trying to compete.
“Working together with small companies to do something different just makes the business more fun and fruitful,” she noted. “I’ve met many other entrepreneurs along the way, and their stories really inspire me.”
That said, Michelle also explained that the main objective for Kintry is to now build itself into something Malaysians can identify with, and as such are always looking for new ways to work with others.
For one, the art on Kintry’s packaging is done by a local Malaysian artist, with a refreshed look expected to debut in December in conjunction with Christmas and next year’s Chinese New Year.
“I also have a small social initiative called Kintry Kindness, and we work closely with Sze Women Of Hope running classes and helping out where we can with refugees,” she added. “We donate when we can to various homeless shelters around KL, and I hope to get more involved with girls and women—especially anti-bullying causes like WOMEN:girls and UNICEF.”
Building A Name
In order to take awareness for her brand up a level, Michelle also actively joins in pop-up markets around the Klang Valley and engages with customers to gauge reception and gain insights about their tastes and preferences. So far, she’s happy with the warm reception to her products.
“The first event we attended was Riuh and we sold out in a couple of hours—I had to rush back to bake a couple more batches for the next day and we kept grabbing more stock to the venue itself.”
She’s also quite happy with how her products have now ended up in retail outlets such as Ruyi & Lyn, Atlas Gourmet Market, and selected BIG Supermarket and Village Grocer locations.
“I remember thinking a few months ago about whether our snacks would be on supermarket shelves,” she added. “So when our first batch of stocks was placed on shelves, we were so happy—it was a major milestone for the brand.”
Looking ahead, Michelle explained that Kintry would be introducing more variety in regards to their product line, and that they’d also look to receive Halal and Mesti certification to enable the brand to reach a wider market.
“The ultimate goal is to go international,” she said hopefully. “It’ll be a long process, but I’ll try to make it happen.”
“I hope to bring our locally hand-made artisanal Malaysian snacks out there into the world, and I hope to make us proud.”
Finally, Michelle also had some advisory words for others intending to try out F&B entrepreneurship for themselves.
“Taking control of your finances and making sure you don’t overspend,” she cautioned. “There are so many costs that we don’t see—certifications, equipment, staffing, day-to-day operations—but you’ll learn as you go through it.”
Feature Image Credit: Kintry