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Established in 2014, Table & Apron has undoubtedly become a staple in Damansara Kim. We’ve even featured the business back in 2017, speaking to its founder Marcus Low about how he revamped the business after losing his core team.

Now, nearly seven years after our last interview, Marcus has not only sustained Table & Apron, but has also opened a bakery right next door.

The birth of Universal Bakehouse was an organic page-turner for us, rather than a business decision,” he shared with us. “The opening of Universal Bakehouse made little business sense at that time.”

When the space became available, the team’s first thought was to expand their restaurant space. It had been five years since they opened Table & Apron, business was good, and they could do with more seating.

But, as we know, that wasn’t what happened.

Marcus explained, “We were compelled by a number of reasons: My team was hungry to venture into something else, and we wanted to see if we could apply our philosophy of running Table & Apron successfully in a bakery instead.”

Image Credit: Universal Bakehouse

This made sense in terms of productivity too. Since the inception of Table & Apron, the kitchen had been baking their own breads.

But at that point, the chefs had been complaining about how inefficient it was to make sourdough breads in the restaurant due to space constraints. On top of that, the breads didn’t contribute much in terms of sales.

The most compelling reason, though, was the honour of taking over a business that was very much part of the Damansara Kim community for 40 years.

Honouring a neighbourhood legacy

Those from the neighbourhood will understand that Universal Bakehouse is an ode to its predecessor in both its name as well as its concept.

Before it was a bakery, the space had been home to Universal Laundry, a laundry shop that had serviced its community for four decades.

Marcus shared that the owner was one Mrs Low (no relations to the younger Low), who grew to be an advisor to him.

Image Credit: Universal Bakehouse

“We spoke the same language of life, except she spoke in Cantonese, and I spoke in English,” the founder shared fondly. “At 80 years, she decided it was time to retire. When the owner retired her dobi, she left us with a week’s notice, and her blessing.”

Given her legacy and their relationship, Marcus shared that it felt like an honour and privilege for him to start a new business there.

Paying homage to the spot’s history, they kept the store signage to the original design, setting a purposeful compass for the team.

With that, funded by the profits of Table & Apron, Universal Bakehouse opened in October 2019.

An organic growth

As alluded by its nostalgic design cues, Universal Bakehouse is designed to be a neighbourhood bakery, evoking a sense of timelessness rather than trendiness.  

It was during the pandemic that the bakery really took off. With dine-ins for Table & Apron restricted, it became clear that opening a bakery ended up being a gerat business decision.  

Image Credit: Universal Bakehouse

But in any case, Universal Bakehouse had been popular from the get go, even though many had no idea they were related to Table & Apron.

“By design, we’re a multi-concept operator that seeks to define a space to stand on its own feet, independent of our other brands,” Marcus elaborated.

After all, running a restaurant versus a bakery is actually quite different, which was something Marcus had to learn.

“Coming to terms with the logistical and production challenges of a bakery business meant us re-learning how to operate a business from a much more procedural point of view, as well as adopting new terminology that was never part of our vocabulary,” he pointed out.

Image Credit: Universal Bakehouse

That said, his experience with the restaurant has taught him a lot about the service industry in general. One key lesson is that oftentimes, things have less to do with the food, but rather the entire experience.

“I’ve learnt that applying generosity when guests least expect it is one of the most underrated and affordable methods of being effective in this industry,” he said. “A disappointed customer is always an opportunity to create a loyal customer.”

Staying true to their craft

Over the past few years, the bakery and restaurant scene has been evolving at a rapid pace, with many new stores opening up at every corner.

And with that comes the temptation to be “on trend”. The key, though, is staying true to what one does best.

For Universal Bakehouse, this means sticking to the classic and beloved products like sugared doughnuts and butter cakes that stand the test of time.  

Image Credit: Universal Bakehouse

“Our biggest challenge has always been to maintain a strong sense of place and identity as a bakery, to our team, and to our guests,” Marcus told us.

But all that said, the founder believes that these bakeries mushrooming everywhere is a good thing, as it means more opportunities for aspiring bakers, stronger competence training in baking techniques, and better career paths for the average baker in Malaysia.

“The tide rises for all boats,” Marcus determined. “I’m a strong advocate for contributing to a healthier and sustainable industry in foodservice.”

From neighbourhood restaurant to F&B empire

Aside from Universal Bakehouse and Table & Apron, Marcus and his team are also behind another brand, Basic Wine Store.

Marcus revealed that they’re working to consolidate these brands under one management structure. In line with that, they’ve been restructuring the company and moving away from the “independent single-boss” method of operations.

“Think of it like parenting three children of different personalities, and nurturing them with the same value,” the founder explained.

A people-centric company, the goal is to become a group with strong career development structure for those who choose to commit their career to the hospitality industry. That’s why Marcus believes it’s vital to create an environment of autonomy with accountability.

Image Credit: Universal Bakehouse

“Having the opportunity to work with young chefs who turn into leaders is a great privilege,” Marcus shared. His group has had four alumni that went on to open their own establishments, and several who are doing well in their careers overseas.

After about a decade in entrepreneurship, Marcus shared that the experience has honed his craft and articulation of philosophy. But that doesn’t mean he falls back on what he knows and remains stagnant in his vision.

“What works today won’t work for tomorrow,” the F&B entrepreneur advised. “Change is constant, embrace it.”

  • Learn more about Universal Bakehouse here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about F&B here.

Featured Image Credit: Universal Bakehouse

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)