When Hail’s hit (Up)town in November 2015, founders Jason Chong and Jess Au were in for a rollercoaster ride serving up scrumptious soft serves. In the first month, orders poured in. Subsequent months, Hail’s was hit with a plateau in sales. Having previously worked in a café, the founders quickly adapted on their feet and innovated to stay relevant in the unpredictable food and beverage market.
The coffee industry is no stranger to Jason where he currently owns a string of coffee chains. Under his care, Jason also took Hail’s in stride to grow the ice cream joint. Jess graduated with a degree in economics and finance from Monash University before furthering her studies in Deakin University for a Master’s degree. Though the education earned her a good position in a bank, Jess said the job bored her to wits. “I got to a point where I abhorred coming to work because I would be sitting in front of the computer every day. I didn’t want to wake up for work!”
Then something unexpected happened. A suggestion to work in a café owned by her friends in bustling Melbourne, Australia greatly piqued Jess’s interest. A self-confessed foodie who loved trying desserts, Jess jumped at the opportunity. Struggling to keep up with the pace at the busy cafe, Jess kept her nose up and learnt as much as she could about baking and working in the dessert joint.
“On the first day, I didn’t even know what a spatula was! But my friends were kind enough to teach me everything from scratch like beating an egg white to making cakes and pastries.”
Through peak hours, Jess grit her teeth to gain “invaluable first-hand experience” at becoming a pastry chef. “12 hours spent every day at the café was simply refreshing. Right there and then, running a cafe was something I wanted to pursue for good.”
Jess returned home where she started her own cake and events venture, a small side business to kick-start the sweet dream. Her cakes which included strawberry rose and lemon cheesecake were requested for weddings and birthdays. Through word-of-mouth and strategic marketing, her cakes became an overnight hit as customers flocked to Facebook and Instagram to place orders.
An all-rounder at baking fine cakes coupled with the experience in business management, Jess bagged all the expertise needed to step up her game. With blessings from her family and friends, Jess started Hail’s soft serve parlour at Uptown Damansara. Right from the start, Jess fronted the business.
Whipping Up Perfect
With two invested partners, Jess and Jason coughed up the initial start-up capital where most of the funds pumped into the café’s renovations and machineries. However, it was not all easy from the beginning, as Jess professed. “I thought that I could intuitively capitalise on my baking skills to produce soft serve. Boy, I was so wrong!”
Designing, flavouring and baking cakes required a lot of preparation which Jess thought she could do away with making soft serves. What she learnt whipping up the perfect ice cream required more than just experimenting with fresh ingredients. A lot of time and effort were spent getting the right technique to master the right proportions of ingredients.
“Too much or too little of something churned out at the wrong temperature would be completely disastrous.
“As it turned out, making soft serve is not easy feat. If I got it wrong (which I often did), I would have to start over.”
Hail’s Lemon Cheesecake flavour, for instance, took nearly a month to perfect. Several attempts ended up much in frustration as the flavour and consistency fell flat. At any standards, the ice cream was unpalatable as it was too cheesy and lemony. One time, the ice cream dough was too solid for the machine to beat evenly.
Until the ice cream tasted exactly “or at least 90 per cent close” to what Jess had in mind, the perfectionist would shut herself in the kitchen to work at refining the ice cream.
The toughest attempt yet so far finally paid off when Lemon Cheesecake became a popular choice for the delectable crowd.
Success Is Sweet-aaahh!
Of course, the Lemon Cheesecake soft serve was not the only one that delivered its promise of fun flavours. Since its inception, Jess has gone on many experimental adventures by putting her taste-bud to the test. Taking inspiration from life that breathes a kaleidoscope of surprises and flavour, Jess concocts funky and exquisite tastes of soft serves in Hail’s kitchen. With new flavours introduced every month, Jess continues to please the crowd with many unexpected swirls and twists to her soft serves. Even common flavours like chocolate was infused with a dash of earl grey, just like creamy Bandung Syrup Soda.
The secret to producing great flavours lies in the fresh and unique ingredients used. Not only are these ingredients sourced from local Halal suppliers but internationally. Seeds for seasonal flavours Osaka Black Sesame and Pink Peppercorn were sourced from Japan and Peru respectively while Hail’s latest creation of Roasted Teh Tarik sourced its tea leaves within Malaysia. The same is said about another signature flavour, Gula Melaka Blue where the Nyonya-inspired creation took off with the wonderfully-sweet Gula Melaka infused with Bunga Telang or Blue pea flowers.
Getting everyone to try out Hail’s soft serves was essentially the vision. The use of Halal ingredients made “perfect sense” to cater to the large Halal market. Where many have asked if alcohol were served on the premises, Jess made it clear that no alcohol or meats are used as ingredients.
Hail’s has a strict policy in food management where Jess reinforces the word to the team that its cutlery and utensils are only used solely in its kitchens. This practice is part of Hail’s standard operating procedures.
“I understand that Halal is not just about the ingredients used in the recipes but also the assurance that the place is to be kept clean and away from other outside food. The SOP helps to iterate this point such that we do not even want to risk having the oil from outside food to be in contact with Hail’s premises.”
As far as Hail’s future is concerned, Jess has no plans to experiment with alcohol in its soft serves creations. With new flavours already in mind, the excitable Jess squealed in delight, adding she simply cannot wait to share it with the world.