Driving along the main road of Jalan Tanjong Bungah, Penang, you will be able to see Baa Baa Black Sheep cafe from afar. Capturing the attention of passersby with its minimalist yet unique charm.
If you love the smell and taste of an aromatic freshly-brewed coffee then this is definitely the place to be - where great food and bright cheerful décor await you. As its name suggests, the main theme of this cafe is of course sheep. With its family-friendly atmosphere that is complemented by the bright and spacious environment, you will not regret a visit there with your friends and family.
Shiau Yi, the founder of Baa Baa Black Sheep shared that all she wants for the cafe is to serve good coffee and delicious food with joy.
“Although it's just a single outlet business run by me and my family from scratch, seeing how it brings other friends and families together at a table makes me feel accomplished.”
How This Cabin Crew Turned Into a Cafe Owner
When we asked Shiau Yi where she got the inspiration for the business from, she shared that the idea started while she was working for Malaysia Airlines (MAS) as an air stewardess.
Her first coffee experience at a cafe opposite the hotel she was staying with her colleagues in Beijing made her fall in love with the latte that they served. From then on, whenever she traveled overseas, she would look for any opportunities to spend her 'me' time visiting as many cafes as she could to explore good coffee from all around the world.
That’s when she realized that the idea of owning her very own cafe in her hometown, Penang, seemed like the ideal path for her. After 3 years of working as an air stewardess, she decided to resign from her cabin crew job and went back to Penang. It took her a few steps before finally opening her own cafe, and she believed that it was serendipity that got her into the coffee industry.
As if by fate, coincidentally a friend of hers was looking for a barista. That’s where she started learning more about coffee and kick started her training as a barista. It ignited her passion and made her more determined than ever. After one year of full-on barista training, she decided it was time to embark on her own journey and opened her very own cafe.
“Personally, I enjoy having a good brunch and coffee, it is the best to pair with, so I've taken the path to start my own cafe, Baa Baa Black Sheep after a year of barista training.”
After opening the cafe, many of the customers had asked her, why she chose the name Baa Baa Black Sheep, and her answer is that;
“I was born in the year of the goat (sheep) in the Chinese zodiac. I also happened to collect a lot of sheep plush toys with various sizes and designs when I was traveling, which are currently all displayed in the cafe now.”
Their Mission to Serve Only The Most Ideal for Local Taste Buds
Generally, most people would describe a coffee’s taste as either acidic or bitter. Not many know that there are many different types of coffee aromas and profiles which include flowery, fruity, nutty, smoky, and etc.
To serve coffee varieties that are suitable to nearby customers, Shiau Yi began by doing some research on personas around the store location.
In the first year of opening the cafe, she experimented with different types of coffee beans to find the perfect and ideal brew for her customers. After a few rounds of feedback, she came to the conclusion that medium-dark roast arabica coffee beans blended from Brazil and Columbia give them that perfect coffee blend that has made customers come back for the rich aromatic taste.
She shared that since their coffees are known to have their own distinct and familiar tastes, her regular customers are highly sensitive towards any changes to the coffee bean. Some of their customers love their coffee so much that they purchase a big bag of their coffee beans for daily consumption at home.
On the other hand, their signature Hainanese chicken chop that comes from an authentic recipe taught by her uncle; who was a chef in a Hainanese restaurant before is also famous for making locals return to the cafe. Most customers tend to have a misconception of this dish as oriental chicken chop’s gravies are usually sweet with tomato-base.
However, this dish is different as it’s less starchy and tastes more savory than sweet. This is to ensure that they bring out the authentic Hainanese flavor that people just love. It’s an item that has been on the menu for the longest time and it has been there since she launched the cafe because many customers would always come back requesting it.
They are also known for their fluffy yet crispy waffle that pairs heavenly with chocolate drizzles and ice creams. Compliment that with a great cup of good coffee or any hot beverages and you have the perfect recipe to making people come back to get more of this simple yet amazing combination.
The Challenges of Operating a Cafe
Before the pandemic, Shiau Yi shared that the most challenging thing she faced in running the business was ensuring the consistent food quality and kitchen management. To overcome it, she ensures that all ingredients are not ordered in bulk and are well-stored to maintain the freshness. Aside from that, she will also try out her own dishes once in a while for quality control purposes.
During the MCO, the biggest challenge they faced was having to rely solely on food deliveries as they were not allowed to fully operate and customers are not allowed to dine in. The expensive cost of third-party services didn’t help them lift the burden of the new environment as they were not able to make any profit and sales were less than 10% compared to normal times.
She also said that they had no choice but to temporarily close down the operation, taking that opportunity to experiment with new items for the menu and implement set menus.
They reopened the store back in May and started doing the deliveries themselves to cut down on costs. Thankfully for them, customers were able to discover their store through their Facebook posts and the nearby stores feature from the Fave app.
They were glad that they set up FaveDeal with several set menus available for takeaway to increase the discoverability during that period. Despite being closed, they still managed to pay out the salaries of all the staff and they did so through the SOCSO subsidy given by the Malaysian Government to help businesses through that period of time.
Their Experience of Going Digital
Shiau Yi mentioned that their experience going digital so far has been great! As a customer herself, she prefers using cashless payment for safety reasons. It saves up a lot of time by reducing the need to go to the bank, plus, it’s convenient that we can walk out by carrying only our phone.
Aside from that she also pointed out that her customers love Cashback and the best thing about FavePay was not needing to top up, and the convenience to easily link their preferred payment method to make transactions.
After enabling FavePay with Cashback, she has seen significantly more returning customers because they’ll return to utilize Cashback.
Taking this as an example from a business perspective, Shiau Yi further explained that On average, for every RM1 of Cashback that they issued, the customers will return and transact another RM10 - 13 in addition.
There are also many elderly customers that became her regular customers after seeing the standee and being taught how to use FavePay to earn Cashback by Shiau Yi.
“I’m so glad to see that the elderly these days are very keen on learning in order to keep up with the technologies.”
Apart from that, she also loves the insights she receives from Fave as it gives her an overview of the new and returning customers of the business.
An example of customer trends in FaveBiz insights.
This has been helping her access data sets of new and returning customers, and their average spending. It allows her to understand her customers’ behavior and spending habits which have helped her tremendously is making her business decisions. She also noted that it’s useful especially for laying out priorities for marketing strategies.
When asked what her advice was for new entrepreneurs, it was to be mentally prepared that it’s not as easy as it seems. It takes a lot of time and effort to maintain an F&B business and we can’t agree more to it.
Going through her story, mindset and passion might help you persevere during tough times, but to grow and expand, you will also need the right combination of the right tools and strategies to get you that extra boost.
Therefore take this example to find the right combination for your business. Be it a combination of offline or online strategies, the key is to deliver an overall experience that will make customers come back to your business and continue to be a part of your growth in the long run.