Delectable By Su: Making lemon meringue out of lemons as business climate sours

June 29, 2020

With Tim Tam cheesecakes, banana bread and praline tarts sitting pretty on the counter, lit by sunshine streaming through floor-to-ceiling glass panels. Delectable By Su's cafe in Glasshouse at Seputeh is not only one of KL's most beautiful dessert parlours but a coveted venue for every sort of event, from family celebrations to formal corporate ceremonies.

While events have evaporated for now, this 11-year-old baking specialist is not packing up its measuring spoons and mixing bowls anytime soon, underscoring the long-term resilience of respected F&B brands that promise perennially popular provisions.

“We’re going to be a business that’s here to stay, by continuously doing what we know is a good product," says founder Huen Su Yin, the 'Su' in Delectable By Su. "Cakes, cookies and gifts are never going out of trend. They just have to be updated according to what our customers want to buy."

Delectable by Su might be best known by casual shoppers for its long-enduring mini cafe and kiosk at The Gardens Mall, but its beating heart since 2015 lies in Glasshouse at Seputeh, home to its central kitchen and main cafe, where customers have high tea sets and hot meals like penne and pies.

The space in Glasshouse - a for-rent property that comfortably fits 400 seated guests - has offered opportunities for Delectable to branch out into events. 

“We used to have events every weekend at the cafe, for a maximum of 50 to 60 people. It's a very versatile space. Universities would have meet-and-greets. There'd be florist workshops, photography workshops, for people who rent the space by three-hour slots to teach their own work," Su says.

"On weekdays, we'd do maybe three to five events every week. We had insurance agents, we had leasing companies that came to sit down with their clients.

"The space is for people who want something different from a hotel setting, something more open than a conference room. We have all the requirements like projectors and sound systems, and we also offer nibbles and lunches."

Events aren't Delectable's main engine of revenue, but the steady demand buoyed the brand until March, when clients began cancelling or postponing events indefinitely. Cancellations span the rest of 2020; Delectable has offered to host the events later or let clients use the booking fee for other products, such as cake orders or a running tab for cafe visits.

No events have been held here since March, but enquiries have resumed, mainly for small family gatherings. The cafe now permits a reduced capacity of about 20 persons, but Su says her priority is bolstering Delectable's online store services, which help offset weakened sales in Glasshouse and The Gardens.

"We're encouraging people to buy from our website - delectable.com.my - with free delivery for purchases above RM100 in the Klang Valley. So we have one online system trying to make up for the average sales of three physical shops. We've had people calling us to order cakes, expecting them now or tomorrow morning."

Su initially did deliveries herself in March, but when the Movement Control Order peaked, she had to hire drivers, while ensuring they carefully handled Delectable's beautifully decorated cakes and party boxes of sandwiches and desserts. "We had to adjust a lot of things to make the same amount of income that we usually do.

“With free deliveries, we’ve got a new base of customers from farther away, like Klang, Sungai Buloh and Rawang, who wouldn’t usually buy from us. Now that we have free delivery all around the Klang Valley, we’ve definitely opened up to a bigger market share."

Other demographics are also digging Delectable a bit more. While the brand has long been beloved by mature clients, who treasure its top-tier craftsmanship, Su recently took over its social media accounts herself to post daily updates that target a younger audience to broaden its base. That data-driven effort is paying dividends.

"Now we know for sure we're able to get the younger crowd as well, as long as we make it convenient for them. Before, younger customers chose to get their desserts from newer hipster places. For Delectable, they'd think, 'my mother buys from Delectable.’ Nobody wanted to buy from the shop that their mother buys from."

Su was initially skeptical of her social media skills, but she's now a convert.

"If I post a picture of a carrot cake, tomorrow it’s all orders for carrot cakes. Customers do buy what we ask them to. At first, I wasn't sure what I was doing, but I've also started posting random stuff, videos that remind people of our brand and what we do. We have to move with the times."

Still, Delectable won't go online-only, though Su briefly considered that at the MCO's height. Its presence is strong at The Gardens Mall, which yields high foot traffic and draws patrons who might not purchase from a website.

"Now that our shops are open and we’ve counted the eggs in our basket, the eggs are still more in the retail sector. At the end of the day, people still want to see desserts with their own eyes.

"Desserts are all about impulse. Online, customers have more time to deliberate while shopping, so they might only order one item, a cake for someone's birthday or a gift for an occasion. But in the store, customers tend to buy several items - it's a visual thing."

In other dessert developments, the crowd of home bakers who accept orders has surged this year, but Su believes they cater to a different market.

"I feel that customers who buy from home bakers will be the ones who've always bought from them. We try to remain a trusted brand that focuses on corporate sales and consistent customers who want a premium product and professional service."

Without sugarcoating the situation, this isn't the first time Delectable has seen a slowdown, so Su knows the brand can adapt.

“For us, I think the economic slowdown during the main Bersih protest periods was worse. Then, everyone was worried about the government, about what was going to happen to Malaysia. Everyone was in a pessimistic mood; nobody was buying cakes, nobody thought of gifting their friends with cakes. Right now, people are still buying cakes.

"There are lots of food fads out there, but I’m not really fad-driven. The cupcakes, the macarons, the cronuts - these fads have come and gone."

Reporting by EDKL writer Aiman Azri. Interview excerpts were edited for brevity. Images are courtesy of Delectable By Su.

Delectable By Su is one of nearly 250 restaurants and retailers on our online store for vouchers and subscriptions. Shop at eatdrinkkl.com/store

This is the 18th part in our series on how people in Malaysian restaurants, cafes and bars are confronting their current challenges.

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