From a quaint little cafe settled in a row of shophouses in Uptown Damansara to an expanded cafe located at the top floors of posh Pavilion Shopping Centre, Japanese-themed dessert cafe Miru has indeed grown. Not only in its menu offering many delectable desserts and beverages but also in its team of coffee connoisseurs, baristas and bakers.
Behind the successful birth and expansion of the dessert cafe are founders Rodney Ng and Jolyn Tan who remain to be very involved in Miru’s daily operations. They are the proud chefs of the superb Matcha Lava Cake and more recently, the Kakigori or Japanese shaved ice dessert.
Boring Office Job
Before the major Miru kickstart, both Rodney and Jolyn were full-time university students in Melbourne. They majored in Actuarial Science, a discipline that applies mathematical and statistical methods to assess risk in insurance, finance and other industries and professions. While the degree proved its worth, securing them both great careers in the finance and banking industry, they soon withered with sheer boredom over their jobs. As they recalled, there was something greater to achieve in life than counting figures. Back then, Jolyn worked in a boutique consulting firm while Rodney in an investment bank.
At their desks, they daydreamed to set up a cafe of their own; a dessert and coffee chain similar to one of many that lined the streets of Melbourne. Melbourne, as they admired, carried a strong al fresco coffee and cafe culture that served great desserts and coffee. The bustling street was indeed a place to be seen and heard for the young and old, dessert lovers and coffee aficionados alike.
By the third year into their banking profession, they had their last straw. Rodney and Jolyn called it quits to set up their dream cafe.
“We were dead serious to do this badly!”
Finding Inspiration for Miru
Still, Rodney and Jolyn had no prior experience in handling food and beverage, let alone manage a new set-up. The only consolation perhaps was Jolyn’s background in home-baking. All the while, Rodney cooked savoury meat dishes once in awhile.
And so they embarked on an adventure to find inspiration. Through their travels to Japan, Thailand and Taiwan, they explored and seek ideas. Soon, they chanced upon a plausible opportunity to become a franchisee of After You Dessert Cafe from Bangkok. However, the cafe was newly-launched with its owners hesitant to take its expansion elsewhere at the time.
That proved to be a validation for the duo who then decided to lay the bricks from scratch. “And that’s what we did!”
From designing to establishing the concept and formulating dessert recipes for the cafe, Jolyn and Rodney took the hard work and long hours into their own hands to create Miru.
Coming up with a name for the cafe, the duo had the help of a branding team. Taking inspiration from their previous travels to Tokyo and Shibuya, Jolyn thought of “Miru”, which was found to be a common name amongst Japanese girls. “Miru” means peace and clarity which Jolyn thought was apt for the cafe. It was also the perfect name for its honey gnome mascot, an adorable iconic girl character representing the cafe.
The name was indeed catchy, easily identifiable and pronounced. More importantly, it was a name people could easily remember by.
With the name in tow, Miru mirrored a Japanese-minimalist theme with colours and simple wooden finishings to represent purity.
Dessert items on the menu also took inspirations of desserts from overseas. For instance, Shibuya’s honey toasts and lava cakes, available today in Matcha and Chocolate, were inspired from cafes in Bangkok. Right from the beginning, Rodney and Jolyn sat down to perfect the recipe with the staff.
The ordeal was tough. Being picky while commanding a high level of expectation in terms of taste and quality over the desserts, the founders tirelessly sourced for the “right” ingredients for each recipe. Many times, their baked products did not sit well with their own tastebuds. Unsatisfied, they explored other ingredients from several suppliers. As a result, many versions arose from one recipe but the founders did not mind at all; they were determined to find the best version.
“If we don’t like it, we cannot expect our customers to like it.”
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. The trial-and-error of formulating and finalising the menu took the Miru team nearly a year to finalise. The finished products of home-made butter and toast remains to be dear creations of the duo. Till today, ingredients are freshly sourced and flavours lovingly made in-house.
Every now and then when Miru introduces a new dessert item on the menu, it would take the team months to perfect it. For the Miru founders, it is worth every minute because “customers deserve the best.” The results also paid off. For instance, the Kakigori (Jolyn simply refers it the Japanese Ice Kachang) took 6 months to perfect but when it first launched, it was a hit. Today, Miru serves flavours like Milo, Horlicks and Homemade Strawberry Cheesecake Kakigori.
Everyday is Learning
Patience and perseverance, as confided by the founders, were key ingredients to successfully launch Miru. The journey was not smooth but often marred with tribulations and filled with doubts.
The first months upon Miru’s launch, sales suffered. This was a time when the dessert culture was still new; a concept unheard of among the locals. People simply could not understand the motivation behind indulging in desserts instead of main full-course meals.
“People came in and went after they figured that we do not have pastas on the menu but desserts like cakes and drinks.”
Getting suppliers to partner with Miru proved to be tough too as many have never heard of the new cafe. “No one believed in cafes at that time. Many assessed our authenticity by asking where were we from. No one had any idea what Miru was.”
Over time, both customers and suppliers began to put trust in the founders when Miru desserts started to get more popular. In fact, the desserts began to sell out by the hour. The cafe was the talk to the town where weekends were always packed with patrons. There was always a queue forming outside of Miru.
The next challenge was then to keep up with the high standard they had establish for themselves. That also meant keeping up with supplies of fresh ingredients for their baked goods. Several times, its central kitchen struggled with the demand. Ingredients unexpectedly ran low. That resulted in out-of-stock desserts. “To our horror, half of the menu was unavailable at mid-day!”
Fortunately for the founders, the founding team of hardworking, loyal and understanding staff always got their back. Miru pulled through the most challenging days.
Through thick and thin, the team continued to stand by Miru’s principle.
One of those principle Miru undertook since its inception in 2015 was to cater to all customers so that anyone could have a try at their desserts. As such, Miru sources its ingredients only from Halal suppliers.
“Many have asked if we are Halal. We’re proud to say that from the beginning, the whole team has been committed to take steps to ensure that we are Halal.
“For one, no meat is involved in any of Miru’s production processes. According to Miru’s standard operating procedure, only the production team is allowed at one time during the making of desserts. The room would be sealed where the team would have to adhere to strict dressing including gloves and aprons. Machineries, equipments, tools and cutlery are strictly to be used only in the production rooms as well.
“Malay-Muslims staff have also been employed since day one to monitor the practice of Halal procedures and hygiene. Non-muslim staff have also been very considerate not to purchase non-halal items to be brought into the store and central kitchen.”
Founders Rodney and Jolyn are looking into applying for the JAKIM Halal certificate in the near future especially when operations are a lot smoother and time allows for it. As of late, both have been busy with the newly-launched Miru cafe at chic Pavillion Mall right in the heart of Bukit Bintang.
“To Muslim customers, rest assured that our items are indeed from halal sources. Once Miru has the time, we’ll definitely apply for the Halal cert!”
62, Jalan SS 21/58,
47400 Petaling Jaya,
Shop Hours: 12- 11pm (Sun-Thurs)
Shop Hours: 10am-10pm