Angeline Tan believes that her mother Maria has always had a passion for cooking. Being a homemaker, Maria had the opportunity to attend many baking and cooking classes. In the past, she’s even hosted chefs from overseas to cook in her home kitchen.
During one of the financial crises, Angeline’s now-late father, Phillip, faced some challenges with his business, and Maria started baking to supplement the family’s household income.
Phillip saw this as a business opportunity and decided to open a café, which would eventually materialise as the first Maria’s SteakCafe outlet in Ipoh.
It didn’t even begin with steaks
While Maria’s SteakCafe now is known for its, well, steaks, the business actually began with serving pies and pastries.
In the 1990s, Maria started her F&B business in her home kitchen, operating purely as a delivery and takeaway business. Customers at the time consisted of supportive friends, and the business grew from word of mouth.
In 1999, Maria and Phillip launched their first physical outlet in Greentown, Ipoh, named Maria’s Pies and Pastries, which had a capacity of approximately 100 seats.
Business was good from the start because the couple had already made a name for themselves serving good food in Ipoh, according to Angeline, who’s the fourth of five siblings.
“In fact, we were also one of the first cafés in Ipoh that had an espresso machine,” she told Vulcan Post, adding that their coffee was likely the main draw for customers.
Pivoting to focus on meat only happened sometime in 2014, due to popular demand.
“The steak culture in Malaysia was not that rampant [then] but now with more steak awareness, people are becoming more susceptible to [the idea of] eating steaks regularly,” Angeline said, addressing the competition today.
Some items you’d find on Maria’s SteakCafe’s menu would be Grain Fed Ribeye, Wagyu A5 Miyazaki Striploin, and Angus T-Bone. They are cooked on a high-heat grill so when customers bite into the meat, there’s a nice crust on the outside, while the rest of the steak remains juicy.
“I think F&B is a timeless business. Trends come and go but as long as your food quality is good, there will always be customers,” she added.
Emphasising its motto of “simply good food”, the family aims to deliver fragrant and thick steak with just the right doneness, and most recipes have remained the same since the beginning.
Expanding after a loss
As the business was thriving, the family later decided to expand to KL, since it is the capital of Malaysia where all the hustle and bustle is, said Angeline.
Around the same time, Philip passed away; now it was up to Maria and her children to carry on.
“My mother has always been cooking alongside my father, so her workload increased as she not only had to do the pastries, she also had to do the cooking,” recalled Angeline.
Phillip wasn’t just cooking the steaks, he was also the main person running the entire restaurant’s operations, from hiring to training the team.
“It was a really difficult time but my mother managed to get help from her siblings [for] the cooking,” Angeline told Vulcan Post.
“Also timely, my [elder] sister, Mary, graduated not long after, and she stepped in to run the operations of the restaurant and bring confidence back to the customers. It was really a family effort.”
Damansara Perdana was the location for the first Maria’s SteakCafe outlet in KL. It shares the same concept as the one in Ipoh, albeit with more premium beef brought in since it was easier to find better quality beef and suppliers in KL, Angeline said.
Maria’s SteakCafe has five outlets now, with four of them in KL. When asked why the family chose to focus on expansions in KL, Angeline explained that it is much easier to maintain the quality of the food and services when the outlets are nearby.
She added that it is also in the family’s plan to franchise the business. However, food quality precedes everything else. Therefore, they intend to only pursue franchising when the team and systems are ready for it.
Continuing the family legacy
Angeline took over Maria’s SteakCafe at 26 years old. At the time, she was working in Singapore as an actuary after graduating from Nanyang Technological University.
The circumstances that led her helming the brand was her elder sister’s decision to step down from the family business, and at the same time, finding out that her mother contemplated selling the business.
Luckily for Maria’s SteakCafe, Angeline has always dreamt of taking over the business since young. She took this as an opportunity to realise her ambition and has been the CEO of the restaurant ever since.
Now, Angeline has been leading the family’s business for 10 years.
With the family restaurant having more than 20 years of history behind it, Angeline has hopes that it will continue for the foreseeable future, and maybe even beyond.
Although, she acknowledged that she has not yet thought about passing the baton down to the next generation. Her nieces and nephews are still in kindergarten, after all.
“It will be lovely to be still able to walk into Maria’s SteakCafe outlet when I am 80 and reminisce about the food my father created,” Angeline shared.
“However, I believe that people should be given the liberty to choose what they want to do in life. Therefore, it is really up to the next generation if they want the business.”
Featured Image Credit: The team at Maria’s SteakCafe