MyLaksa’s Co-Founder, Daniel Ong On Unifying Malaysians With The Taste Of Unity

Taste of unity
By: Balqis Ariffin
April 18, 2022

Recognized amongst the world’s best food by CNN, a hearty bowl of Penang asam laksa captures the complex flavours that are deftly layered with tangy, spicy and sour. Originated from the coastal towns of Peninsular Malaysia, this dish is an essence of multiculturalism that is loved by all walks of life. For Daniel Ong, the years of catching up over numerous bowls of Asam Laksa with his friend, Hee has kickstarted the idea to launch MyLaksa. With over 16 outlets in just three years, MyLaksa is a chain of restaurants that serve authentic Penang asam laksa across the nation. Glitz gets up close and personal with Daniel Ong, the co-founder of MyLaksa as he shares the secret to thriving against uncertain times and his mission to unify Malaysians through the brand’s ethos.

1. Can you briefly introduce yourself?

Daniel Ong, co-founder of MyLaksa

Penangite, age 32, Aerospace Engineer by profession, with lots of love for both aviation and technology. However, I decided to venture into starting a business in the F&B industry instead of staying in the aviation industry. F&B industry normally thrives in any developing country and I’m lucky that this decision has proven to be correct & fruitful as the pandemic has hit the aviation industry hard. With the interest to explore, I would be expecting more ventures to come up!

2. How did the idea to launch MyLaksa kick start?

Two of the co-founders, myself and Hee are best friends since college days. I went on to further study majoring in Bachelor’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering in the USA, and Hee went on to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Management & Finance in Australia. Whenever we are back in Malaysia during the semester break, the first thing we do after landing in Malaysia is to immediately catch up over a hot bowl of Asam laksa, sometimes in the airport itself. We could hardly find Asam laksa both in the US and Australia. That’s the food that we miss a lot when studying abroad for years.

Both of us eventually got together to start our F&B ventures, creating our own Japanese cuisine brand in Penang.  However, with the entrepreneurial spirit, we both have, we know we wanted to create something more impactful for the local food scene. We were hunting for something that can appeal to the mass and all Malaysians. We then stumbled upon reminiscing the usual catch-up over the good old Asam laksa back then. With us being Penangite, and with our understanding of the local food scene (on top of the cultural values asam laksa) has, Asam laksa become an apparent choice. 

3. MyLaksa is known for its taste of unity tagline, why is such a phrase important to the brand?

This has to do with our brand vision and mission. MyLaksa brand vision is to be an iconic household brand in the Asam Laksa segment internationally. Locally, we hope to bring all Malaysians together over a good bowl of hot asam laksa. Internationally, we are on a mission to promote the Asam Laksa to be the face of Malaysia’s vibrant food scene. It uses complex ingredients, hours of boiling, and the taste is rich and unique, and it is fascinating to the travellers visiting Malaysia. 

Why do we think laksa is symbolic of bringing people together? It is one of the most famous street dishes found in the area, and a favourite with both locals of all races and tourists. This is one of the few staples that can represent Malaysians altogether. It is believed that it originated in the coastal areas of Malaysia among the local fishermen who assembled the dish out of available ingredients. Many people provide a simple conclusion that the dish is of Peranakan Nyonya origin, a cross-cultural mix of Malay and Chinese.

While that may be partly true, the explanation omits an important element of asam laksa. That the dish was never created by one person or one generation, but it evolved over layers of history. Variations of asam laksa can be found throughout northern Malaysia, for example, Kedah Laksa and on the east coast of Malaysia, for example, Terengganu Laksa. Therefore, it is clear that the humble beginnings of the dish came from the Malay coastal communities.

4. The F&B industry is known for its competitive environment, how do you thrive against the challenges? 

It’s about keeping things simple. The F&B industry is about giving what customer wants. Fundamentally, Asam laksa being the Malaysian’s staple dish, it doesn’t require any education and introduction. We hit the ground running and focus on expansion. Remember the good old days when we had our bubble tea at pasar malam? The same logic applies. Being Penangite, we know we have good asam laksa to share with the world. We ensure the consistency using an engineering approach in our preparation. From there, we can expand and share with every Malaysian our good bowl of asam laksa!

5. When people think of Penang asam laksa, they are reminded of the one that they have in Penang. How does MyLaksa retain the authenticity taste of the Penang asam laksa to the customer? 

Hee’s mom is a good cook, which dishes out delicacy using their family’s multi-generational recipes that were passed down. She helped us formulate our recipe back then during the Japanese cuisine day. Naturally, we asked for her help again starting out and with tried to improve the formulation with a more engineering approach to achieve the consistency in food quality, a key success factor in order for us to promote Asam laksa to be the face of Malaysia internationally, and to promote MyLaksa as an iconic household brand in Malaysia.

Being Penangites, we’re proud of our food scenes, and we insist on keeping the authenticity, using complex preparation and cooking methods, and not resolving to use a shortcut and artificial ingredients. For instance, we use real chilli and not the commercially produced chilli powder that has the consistency. Hence our laksa spiciness may fluctuate according to the seasons and weather, but we believe that’s part of the beauty in the authentic asam laksa itself. 

6. MyLaksa offers varieties of Penang asam laksa, snacks and frostee, can you share with us your personal favourite?

I love the Asam Laksa Royal, with Chilli Lekor, and Oh My Durian frostee. This combination could be easily the crowd’s favourite too!

7. MyLaksa managed to expand over 16 outlets across 8 states in just 3 years, what’s your recipe for success?

We have a clear vision and a strong mission and we have a dedicated (growing) team! Again, we keep things simple. We educate and align with our teams on our vision, mission, and strategy. We all have a very strong focus on expanding. We have opened our first 6 outlets in the first 6 months of inception and were slowed down by pandemic. We’re picking up our momentum again as the economy slowly recovers!   

8. Any advice you would like to share with our fellow readers who dream of launching their own business?

Do tonnes of homework. Be sure with your end goal. And go do it! It’s never easy to start but focus on progress instead of perfection. Changes are the only constant. Don’t be afraid of adapting and changing course along the journey. Any progress will eventually lead you to your destination. 

9. What’s in store for MyLaksa and is there any upcoming new dish or frostee that you want to share with our readers? 

We’re launching a series of thirst-quenching drinks soon, of course with MyLaksa’s tweak as usual! Stay tuned!

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