Anyone who has visited Korea will definitely notice the ubiquity of cafes in the country. In recent years the nation’s caffeine consumption has increased steadily, causing large café franchises like Caffe Bene and Hollys Coffee to continue growing, while there are also many success stories about quaint little cafes run by independent owner. In Malaysia in recent years, a similar trend is also observed, what with the rising living standard of the urban Generation Y population. The café business has been thriving with coffee spots mushrooming all around Malaysia especially in the bigger cities like Kuala Lumpur.
In the past, cafes were merely a place visited by coffee aficionados, but these cafes have gradually evolved into the perfect hangout spot for youths to pass time, work or gather with friends. In fact, a hobby known as café-hopping has become popular after the surge of coffee endeavors, referring to the action of exploring many different cafes and spending a large portion of time there. With its huge potential and lucrative market, there is no surprise in the existence of the fierce competition among café owners in attempting to establish their businesses. Serving good coffee is not a selling point sufficient to attract customers anymore but merely a bare minimum. In order to stay afloat in the market, it is absolutely necessary to cleverly utilize social media to one’s advantage, so many establishments put in herculean effort to ensure that their food and interior are highly ‘Instagram-able’ for the social media-savvy Gen Y customers.
As a result, many unique cafes with an interesting combination of architecture and food emerged. Among them are Merchant’s Lane, a former brothel which was successfully transformed into a hip brunch place. Situated in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, or more familiarly known as Petaling Street to locals, the owners have done a marvelous job in reviving the dilapidated building into a popular coffee spot. Instead of a total makeover, the owners chose to preserve many historical elements of the building while combining it with modern architecture. One can easily take a peek into the past through its peeling walls, hanging courtyard and the impressive traditional paraphernalia painstakingly scoured by the owners. The results of the owners’ efforts are gorgeous and well received by locals and tourists, as proven by the huge crowd especially during weekends.
The emerging coffee scene in Petaling Street is somewhat well-received, and seems promising enough to inject a breath of fresh air into Chinatown. The previously bustling street famous for its plethora of good restaurants and being home to quirky shops is undeniably past its glory days, having almost been reduced to a street with countless counterfeit item vendors and homogenous souvenir shops, with businesses sustained by curious foreign visitors. Just recently, a well-established local bookstore in this area that has been in business for 32 years had to close down after suffering huge customer loss. Hopefully these hip cafes will be able to revive the tourism scene of Petaling Street by bringing in more local visitors. Apart from providing an economic boost for Chinatown, hopefully the visitors will be able to learn more about the legacy and heritage left in Chinatown, particularly the younger generation who are becoming increasingly less appreciative towards the country’s historical places.
By LIEW Jeen Vern, ASEAN Correspondent from Malaysia