Is there really a Malaysian who hasn’t heard of Secret Recipe?
Even the logo—that familiar crimson colour and swirly script font—evokes so many memories for me. As a kid, I would always order the sliders from their children’s menu, some apple-flavoured sparkling drink, and a banana chocolate cake to share with my family.
In college, Secret Recipe would be the go-to place to get a friend a slice of affordable but quality cake for their birthday.
While I haven’t set foot in a Secret Recipe for a while now, it still remains a dependable, reliable brand in my eyes. And I wouldn’t be surprised if such is the same for many others, too.
After all, in January 2023, the homegrown chain celebrated its milestone of opening 350 stores in Malaysia with a new outlet in 1 Utama.
In commemoration of that, let’s take a look back at the Malaysian F&B chain’s story.
The start of the secret recipe
Back in 1997, Dato Steven Sim—who was 41 years old at the time—opened the first Secret Recipe in SS2, along with his three nephews who were also in the baking industry.
The founder felt like there was a gap in the market for a lifestyle cafe, where customers can enjoy a delicious slice of cake paired with a cup of coffee and a good ambience.
At the time, there were only either full-on bakeries or coffee shops. Other popular coffee brands had not gained prominence in Malaysia yet. The first Starbucks and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf stores would only open a year later in 1998.
By then, though, Secret Recipe had gotten its big break by winning the Best Cheesecake award in the Kuala Lumpur Cakes Competition 1998.
After gaining more recognition through the Best Cheesecake award, Secret Recipe began expanding to more outlets through its own branches as well as franchising.
The brand would continue to win awards for its cakes. But with time, the brand began to diversify its offerings with a variety of food, beverages, and other desserts.
Now, 26 years later, cakes are still a driving force behind the brand, which has just launched two new flavours in its Platinum Collection—Red Velvet and Sweet Potato.
One main difference, though, is that a new generation is now leading the brand, with second-generation managing director Patrick Sim at its helm.
Staying hungry for growth
Today, the Secret Recipe Group carries two main brands—Secret Recipe and Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart.
There are now more than 500 stores globally of these brands, in countries comprising Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, Maldives, USA, Australia, Vietnam, and Bangladesh.
To stay relevant, Patrick shared that the team keeps track of whatever’s trending and introduces new offerings regularly, including hot meals and new cake flavours.
The brand has revamped its outlets to have a more modern look and feel to attract customers looking for photo-worthy cafés to visit.
Secret Recipe also offers a loyalty and membership programme through its Secret Recipe MY app to reward customers with promotions.
“At the end of the day, you can’t expect to do things in the same manner and garner different results,” Patrick explained.
To keep up growth, Secret Recipe offers franchising opportunities, boasting close to 100 different franchise partners.
“Most of our franchisees have been with us for a very long time and are making a healthy profit,” Patrick shared.
“Being one of the early café chain pioneers in the F&B industry, we have worked our way into understanding what the market likes and what they are interested in,” Patrick explained.
The road to 400 stores
Secret Recipe’s journey so far definitely hasn’t been a cakewalk, if you will.
It has been reported that in the early days, Dato Steven Sim had to walk and distribute flyers with the offer of free coffee to attract customers.
Furthermore, the company’s foray into Australia back in 2010 had not managed to bring in enough revenue, resulting in the chain pulling out of the country in 2013.
The most recent challenge came during the pandemic. On the bright side, this also catalysed the digitalisation of the brand.
Going forward, what sort of new challenges might Secret Recipe face?
“Consistency is one of the biggest challenges for most F& B chains when they scale up,” Patrick answered.
With this in mind, the Secret Recipe group has invested a lot into training its team members to continue developing their skills.
Moreover, the company is looking to grow more internationally and is on the lookout for opportunities to establish the brand in other countries.
Ushering in a new era
After starting 2023 off with a bang by opening Secret Recipe’s 350th outlet, the team is now aiming to hit the big 400-store milestone by 2025.
Certainly, the brand has come a long way since it first started in 1997. In fact, a lot has changed since Patrick joined the company as a cost control manager in 2013. He took on the role of managing director in December last year.
There’s Secret Recipe’s digitalisation, for one. The chain now offers its products online, through the Secret Recipe My membership app and website, as well as through ecommerce platforms.
“Our group revenue has doubled compared to when I first joined, attributed to our new store openings, great marketing campaigns, as well as the introduction of new menus,” Patrick said.
“This is not a single person’s effort, but the collective hard work of all our team members,” the managing director added. “In fact, most of the ideas, innovations, efforts, and initiatives come from them and I am very thankful to have them while our company progresses.”
The group currently employs over 2,700 people.
When asked about the secret recipe behind Secret Recipe, Patrick brought up the brand’s tagline of creating “Sweet Moments Together”.
“Whether you are celebrating an occasion, a life milestone, or casually catching up with a friend over a cup of coffee and a slice of cake,” he listed. “It is these memorable moments we want to be an essential part of through offering our delicious products, warm services, and appealing outlets.”
“I think the experience we create is what makes us special.”
Thinking back to all the memories I have as a child, eating burger sliders at Secret Recipe, I think he might be right.
- Learn more about Secret Recipe here.
- Read more articles we’ve written about F&B businesses here.
Featured Image Credit: Secret Recipe