Over the past nine years, the Malaysia-born actor has set up two food businesses – Restoran Selayang in Singapore, a joint venture with fellow actor Terence Cao selling roast meat, and restaurant Niu Taste in his hometown of Kuala Lumpur, serving Taiwanese beef noodles. Both eateries have since shuttered, but that hasn’t deterred him from taking another stab at F&B.
Yaodong, who is perhaps best recognised for his role as a cop-turned-villain in last year’s Ch 8 police drama C.L.I.F 4, tells us jovially: “I’m a foodie and I love to eat. Everyone around me knows that if they want good food recommendations, they should look for me. So it’s natural that if I were to invest in a business, I’d go for the food industry.”
The serial entrepreneur opened Maru early last month with three other partners, two of whom are Vietnamese. The quartet invested close to $1 million in the restaurant, which serves contemporary fusion dishes with a Japanese-Vietnamese twist – a bold move, considering that of the four, only Yaodong has F&B experience.
Not that he isn’t confident he can make it work this time. “The failed businesses taught me that I have to always think ahead and predict what kind of food customers want and like to eat. A lot of patience and logical thinking is required,” says the optimistic chap.
“I’m confident that Maru will do well as the cuisine we serve is new and trendy, and not that common in the local market yet. Most importantly, we’ve seen many returning customers in the last month who have told me that the food here is delicious!”
Ahead, Yaodong talks grub and grit.
Congrats on the opening of Maru. What gave you the idea to open an Asian fusion restaurant?
Thanks! I’ve done some market research and noticed there are very few fusion restaurants here, and I can see the potential.
We didn’t know you’re such a foodie. Do you cook at home?
I used to cook frequently when I was studying in England in the late 1990s. I was a poor student, and only had a few pounds to survive on daily. In order to maximise my pocket money, I prepped meals at home. That was how I got into cooking in the first place.
What’s your best dish?
I can make a good plate of char siew. I can also cook braised pork, fried rice and instant noodles well. I used to eat so much instant noodles when I was in school! (Guffaws)
It’s not easy running an F&B business. What challenges have you faced so far with Maru?
We’ve had a lot of staffing problems. It’s hard to hire good chefs and floor managers these days. I can cook but I can’t possibly be here cooking on my own every day (laughs)! We also received complaints during the first two weeks of operation as we didn’t expect so many people to turn up and we couldn’t cope with the high volume. I welcome feedback all the time as it allows us to improve. We’ve since increased the number of chefs in the kitchen to three, so that they can cope even when we’re running at full capacity.
Both your earlier food businesses failed. Why did you decide to open another restaurant?
I guess it’s got something to do with my personality. I get knocked down all the time, be it when it comes to my acting career or my investments. For example, I was in showbiz for eight to nine years before I got my first leading role. Before that, I only played supporting roles. Many people would have given up, but I persevered.
I adopt the same mentality when it comes to my F&B investments. It’s not about who can rise the fastest, but about who can go the furthest.
Read our review to find out what to eat at Maru.