[编辑 Editor 吕大人 英译 Translator 刘大人 摄影 Photographer 刘大人]
Many of us have grown up watching the folktale “Journey to the West”, the story of an epic pilgrimage of a Buddhist monk and his three disciples on a mission to bring ancient Buddhist scriptures from India back to China. Along the way, they encounter monsters and other obstacles, triumphing through their wit and teamwork. Sounds familiar?
If the “Tripitaka” (or CEO) in you has set your sights on the corporate “pilgrimage” to obtain the management-sutras, would you succumb to your lieutenants or the detractors against making the trip? How about the temptations to change course, or the countless antagonists (aka demons) who will stop you at all costs? On the other hand, if you can also count on a trusted pool or resource, or a benefactor masqueraded by Guanyin Bodhisattva to lend a hand in times of need, would your decision be any different?
Navigating around these unknown elements can be difficult, a challenge that many startup founders and entrepreneurs will find on this road less travelled, would you still embark on this arduous, yet highly rewarding if you succeed, the journey to the West?
Our affinity with vburg stretched back two years ago, but for all the time Sean has spent mixing sugar and flour behind the scenes since September 2016, our paths would not have crossed, until now. Has he contemplated throwing in the towel there and then, this encounter would not have been possible.
“At the end of the second year, I arrived at a critical crossroad. I was almost on a breaking point, and to give this all up for good, if not for the timely return of Ian last June,” Sean introduced. Ian is none other than Sean‘s elder brother, who chose to give up on a successful career in Singapore to join him on this pilgrimage. Having reprise their respective roles well, albeit with some disagreements over the past year, vburg has grown from strength to strength. As we checked out the homely bakery space that really set the right ambience, the aroma of fresh bakes and pastries wafting from the back of the kitchen instantly lifted us up.
“What does the pizza, roti prata or the rougamo from the Chinese province of Shannxi have in common? “ Sean asked, while showing us his precious bakes before revealing the obvious. “Isn’t baking amazing, turning ordinary sugar and flour into flatbread, pastries and different kinds of bread that has the world craving for more!” Indeed, we nodded in agreement.
Unknown to anyone else before us, Sans frontières, which means baking without borders in French, was the inspiration and driving force behind Sean as he set up shop in his home neighbourhood in Taman Ungku Tun Aminah (TUTA) in Skudai. The lack of a proper menu from yesteryear is giving in to a fresh new “carte du jour” that not only celebrates good food but also openly acknowledge and promoting all his trusted suppliers, a rare feat in this highly guarded and competitive F&B industry.
Like many before Sean and Ian, including yours truly, who chose to return home to pursue our Malaysian dream, the decision wasn’t easy. Having spent 12 years helming the kitchen in boutique cafes and bakeries in international 4 and 5-star hotels, Sean chose to bide his time amidst the unconducive circumstances, while gaining experience and saving for his ultimate dream – setting up his own eatery. After all, “opportunity favours the bold and the prepared mind,” Sean quipped.
At the “ripe timing” of 29 years, Sean heeded the inner voice within to take the giant leap of faith, opting to take a month-long sabbatical to further hone his culinary skills from some of the greatest master bakers in Taiwan. The move proved to be a masterstroke as his short stint not only brought him more hands-on experience but also open up his network of suppliers, which otherwise would not be within reach. Even with a very small MOQ and limited cash flow, Sean was able to draw upon their support during a difficult startup period. “For an unknown entity like us, many would have been sceptical about offering us their supplies, let alone credit terms but we made it“, Sean expressed with gratitude. Being on the receiving end of numerous goodwill, Sean reciprocated likewise and is ever willing to share his resources with anyone in need, including his friendly competitors!
A staunch vegetarian from birth, naming his bakery vburg couldn’t be more apt. “As our family are lifelong vegetarians, it makes perfect sense to share the benefits of a plant-based diet, hence the idea of serving vegetarian burgers, or vburg for short,” Sean added. Due to a shortage of manpower, the idea did not materialise until only 6 months later. Instead, their original all-day breakfast menu turned out to be a real hit with their customers that became their mainstay. “In the beginning, we’ve had many customers requesting to mix and match certain ingredients, which set our minds thinking“, Sean recalled. “In fact, some customers want a bit of everything, while others still love their eggs, so we thought, why not let them customise it to their own liking?”
Given the growing popularity of their vburg brand over the past couple of years, many would have capitalised on their new-found fame and jump on the bandwagon for aggressive expansion, but not Sean and company. “We have been receiving an average of 10-15 franchising enquiries every week, but we want to take things in stride. We believe in quality over quantity, so let’s see“, Sean insisted. In fact, he advised us against setting up eateries to grow our wealth. “In F&B, we only grow our waistlines,” Sean joked! We concur! 😂
Apart from meatless cuisine with no preservatives added, Sean also has something else up his sleeves for those always on the move. With grab and go concept in mind for the health-conscious to cater for their hectic lifestyle, LifeXtyle by vburg has made available a variety of healthy overnight oat, cold brew coffee, cold-pressed juice, sandwiches, salads and Swiss rolls at their bakery, as well as specific AM PM Pharmacy outlets. To satisfy the cravings of their croissant lovers, Sean is also supplying up to as many as 40 cafes in town in a strategic partnership under the Future Food banner, whose “food” prints also include 2 franchise eateries in Singapore. “Thanks to the continuous support, we can grow vburg organically without compromising on our quality,” Sean added.
Come to think about it, we have actually savoured a taste of vburg on numerous occasions even without setting foot to their bakery in TUTA. Using only premium quality ingredients from around the world such as France, Japan and Taiwan, Sean has managed to preserve the taste of traditional bakes using modern techniques to come out with tasty and vegan-friendly options that appealed to many first-timers and regulars alike.
To Sean, every customer is a blessing, no matter the quantity they purchased. He was especially mindful of those customers who only bought one or two pieces without fail, rain or shine. “We wouldn’t be who we are without their support.” Like most businesses, who wouldn’t love customers who buy in bulk? “As you are aware, our bakes are made using only the freshest ingredients with no added preservatives, so it’s best consumed within the same day or next. Anything more and the taste would go awry,” Sean enlightened. “We rather our customers to buy in moderation so that they will return for the freshest bake the following day,” he added.
To top it up, customers can also enjoy fresh coffee with compliments with every purchase starting from 8am. What better way to start our day with a quality daily brew and freshly-baked bread that’s only a stone’s throw away? Seriously, you guys in TUTA are so lucky!
At this point, one burning question remains. “Why, TUTA?”
“Given our initial shortage of manpower and funds, some things have to give way, but we would never compromise on our quality,” Sean admitted. A great location in town or the regular hotspots would have been sexy, but that would also put an unnecessary strain on a new startup. Drawing inspiration from the master bakers who are mostly found off the beaten tracks or in hidden alleys where purveyors of good taste would still be willing to brave the distance, Sean decided to stay true to his roots and serve quality bakes in the familiar surroundings of their home neighbourhood. “To ensure we can solely focus on baking good bread, we have also decided against visibility along the congested main road to preserve the tranquillity and peace of mind,” Sean explained.
Judging from the walk-ins regularly streaming in and the rate of replenishment on the shelves, we’ve reasons to believe their efforts have not been in vain. This also strengthens our resolve to help spread the good gospel about the benefits of going meatless.
Our attention was fixed on the wall upon entering the cafe next door, with the many photo frames holding sweet memories of their vburg journey and a testament to their global food and footprints. While taking in the pictures with gasp and admiration, Sean relates to the story of the Chinese bamboo trees. “Like any plant, growth of the Chinese Bamboo Tree requires nurturing. In its first year, we see no visible signs of activity. In the second year, again, no growth above the soil. The third, the fourth, still nothing. Our patience is tested, and we begin to wonder if our efforts will ever be rewarded,” Sean described with a heavy heart. “And finally in the fifth year, and behold, a miracle! We experience growth. And what growth it is! The Chinese bamboo tree grows 15m in just six weeks!” His face changed from gloom to glowing pride.
Seriously speaking, does the Chinese Bamboo Tree really grow 15m in six weeks? Or, was the little tree growing underground, developing a root system strong enough to support its potential for outward growth in the fifth year and beyond? The answer is, of course, obvious now.
The Chinese bamboo tree is a perfect parable to our own experiences. It’s slow to show any progress, and it can be frustrating and unrewarding at times. But it can be sooooo worth it, especially if we can be patient and persistent. From a team of three to thirty in three years, the vburg story is no miracle but one of those lessons that really stick with us. The Chinese bamboo tree certainly taught us something on patience, faith, perseverance and growth, but most important of all… human potential!
Now everything becomes self-explanatory, as we ponder the words on the wall and the back of each staff uniform. The words of the great Nelson Mandela ring loud and clear as Sean and Ian proudly declare “It Always Seems Impossible Until It’s Done“! In a culture driven by instant gratification, we take heart from the team’s enthusiasm and never-say-die-attitude. So long as we keep watering and fertilising our dream, it will come to fruition, just like the Chinese bamboo tree.
Having nourished our mind and soul for the past hour, it’s about time we feed our body with some plant-based goodness from vburg‘s latest offerings.
The Horizon + Pink Lady + Purple Storm with Asahi Zero + Spicy Tango
One doesn’t always have to involve booze to have fun, and having spent nearly two hours yakking away about everything under the sky (vburg included), the refreshing and non-alcoholic “mock”tails comprising The Horizon, Pink Lady, Purple Storm with Asahi Zero and Spicy Tango couldn’t have arrived at a better time! Granted, the combination of black pepper, Tobasco mixed with mango and passion fruit may sound a diarrhoea-inducing concoction, but if you’re feeling adventurous, this tangy and Spicy Tango will be an awakening experience for your tastebuds.
Otak-otak Croissant + Vburg Rojak with Fried Baguette
Everything on vburg‘s new menu is vegetarian, and all the items can be modified to fit a vegan’s requirement. With a clear indication of whether the dishes contain eggs or dairy, the menu is pretty suitable for any diet. Having had our fair share of croissants, never did we imagine trying an east meets west fusion in the form of their signature Otak-otak Croissant. Paying homage to our traditional favourite food, we loved how the non-meat soft fish and complex chilli spice blend went well together, rounded off with the fragrance of buttery croissant. It’s definitely not an easy dish to prepare from scratch, and we have to commend Sean for a job well done.
A traditional messy mix of vegetable and fruit salad, rojak is very common, but when you take out the fried dough fritters from the customary mixture of grilled pineapple, guava, jicama, cucumber and crushed peanut, we can imagine something genuinely amiss. With a stroke of genius, the addition of fried baguette is almost phenomenal, albeit life-changing, and we dare say we the improvised Vburg Rojak with Fried Baguette did not give us any “mixed” feelings after all!
Signature Shroom Soup + Trufflelicious Vegan Mashed Potato
Probably the ultimate comfort soup for any season, we’d say mushroom soup is a universal favourite and vburg has got their version of Signature Shroom Soup made with four different blends of mushroom down pat. And O-M-G! These velvety Trufflelicious Vegan Mashed Potato are infused with the intense and savoury flavour of truffle oil and truffle jus, making them perfect on their own or smothered in our favourite vegan gravy. Being a truffle sauce enthusiast ourselves, we’ve no qualms about polishing the whole thing off with the accompanying baguette instead of the usual garlic bread.
Fried Lion Mane Mushroom with Vegan Curry Mayo + Korean Yangnyeom Duo Mushroom
Apart from the days when we go vegetarian, we declare ourselves proud carnivores who absolutely love meat, so trust us when we say that you shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss these meatless Korean “fried chicken”. Available in “original” flavour made from Fried Lion Mane Mushroom with Vegan Curry Mayo, or the sweet version Korean Yangnyeom Duo Mushroom (Korean-styled seasoned fried king oyster mushroom and button mushroom) equally addictive, sometimes we couldn’t quite tell that these two are vegetarian dishes!
Five Cheese Sourdough Pizza
Meet the Five Cheese Sourdough Pizza, the new crust on the block. With over 48 hours of natural fermentation and meticulously made using fresh mozzarella, parmesan, danablu, emmental and brie cheese, we found this vegetarian pizza palatable. Like us, we’re sure you had no idea vegetarian pizza could taste so good. Even if you’re traditionally a meat pizza lover, this dish is perfect to kickstart a vegetarian diet.
Korean Rice Burger with Kombucha Kimchi + Malay-styled Tartine with Belacan Hummus Kang Kung
If Korean “fried chicken” is not enough, try this vegetarian “bibimbap” in the form of a makeover Korean Rice Burger with Kombucha Kimchi. Using premium pearl rice and homemade kombucha kimchi (without cheese and egg), we were initially very sceptical about how the main ingredients sandwiched between soft charcoal buns (aka hot stone plates) with unseasoned vegetables and a spoonful of gochujang would taste like, but we were proved wrong with one huge mouthful. The flavours of gochujang sauce and the well-seasoned rice and “meat” still lingered in our mouths long after it was all gobbled up.
French in origin, tartine literally means “a slice of bread”, and this open-faced sandwich is another perfect, albeit unusual showcase of Malaysian’s favourite ikan bakar. Using a thick slice of country bread as the base and topped with chickpeas, pickled ladyfingers, kang kung, tempeh and served with a side of tortilla chips and salad, the Malay-styled Tartine with Belacan Hummus Kang Kung is a decent reminder of what our vegan friends are missing! 😂
As we round up our meals with even more sugary treats, we rejoice at the thought that life is sweet for Sean.
We can also confidently say vburg‘s new menu items were absolutely scrumptious, each meticulously prepared with care and shining with personality from their unique flavours. Always up for change and creativity, vburg‘s menu undergo regular trials to incessantly indulge us with new flavours, so go forth and try them for yourself! And the fact that it’s all meatless just blows our minds.
Be it sugar and flour or bread and love, we couldn’t be most glad to enjoy the best of both worlds, thanks to Sean!
vburg boulangerie cafe
📍 72 & 74, Jalan Laksamana 2, Taman Ungku Tun Aminah, 81300 Skudai, Johor
📞 +607-288 7118
🕙 Monday to Thursday 10.00am – 8.00pm, Friday to Sunday 9.00am – 8.00pm
🍽️ NO PORK, NO LARD