If we went back 8 years to 2013, it would be safe to say that Lucas Siah would never have imagined running a gourmet burger empire born in Penang.
At the time, he and his high school friend Pell were in very different situations.
Lucas was helping with his parents’ cottage business which was barely making ends meet and therefore was being paid irregularly. Meanwhile, Pell had a real full-time job with his father.
During one meeting, they started joking about how they should just set up a roadside stall to sell burgers. “Somehow, our joke has come true,” Lucas mused in an interview with Vulcan Post.
Thus, at 25, Lucas and Pell became the founders of The Spade hamburger, opening a simple stall to begin with.
Taking risks despite stagnant sales
“From the very beginning, I was fully committed because I did not have an adequate income. During the day, I prepared the ingredients myself from my parents’ kitchen and these included buns, meatballs, sauces and toppings, ”Lucas recalled.
At night, Pell joined him at the stall. In their first few months, everything seemed to be going well and Pell also quit his full-time job to commit himself to Spade’s Burger. Then sales stagnated towards the end of the year.
“It was the best decision at the time for Pell to go back to his full-time job with his father rather than selling burgers from a stall with a future that seemed uncertain,” said Lucas.
As the Chinese New Year approached, Lucas was then left with the decision to close the business or take a leap of faith and open a proper burger restaurant.
“The call has been made and the rest, as you know, is history.”
Choose one thing to do and do it well
Did you know that Spade’s Burger could have been called Ace or Ace’s Burger (referring to a manga character)?
But the team found that an Ace Burger already existed globally, so Spade’s came to mind as a middle name that was still tied to card suits.
While they didn’t have the first choice of a name, it definitely looked like they had an ace up their sleeve when it came to conquering the market.
Knowing exactly what the Penangites wanted, all the team had to do was serve them and get it right.
“Our customers knew exactly what to expect when they came to visit, in this case pork burger,” shared Lucas. While they also offer chicken and beef patties for a variety of burgers, it’s safe to say that to this day they are even better known for their pork burgers.
The brand soon grew to 5 stores in Penang over the span of 4 years, but the main turning point that helped the business grow was their expansion out of the pearl of the east.
Instead of jumping straight to Klang Valley, the team chose Ipoh first as they believed it was a new market with little competition at the time. More importantly, it was strategically located on the way to Klang Valley.
Kampar, Perak was their next stop, albeit with a slightly different strategy: a less premium version of their menu to cater to students there.
In 2018, they entered the shores of Selangor and, by 2021, they would have 5 stores in the Klang Valley.
From stall to 10 outlets in 9 years
It is always said that having a strong core product can take a company far. For Spade’s Burger, Lucas shared that most of their burgers have been on the menu since 2013, including Baconizer, Dark Knight, 300, and Shinobi, to name a few.
Of course, they are improved and improved from time to time, and Spade’s Burger keeps it spicy by introducing new items on a monthly basis as well.
Since its launch, there is no doubt that Malaysia has seen a boom in gourmet burger shops, with many also specializing in pork burgers. Yet Spade’s Burger fan base seems to be growing all the time.
The plausible reason for this? “Let’s just continue with what we have done without cutting shortcuts. Healthy competition is always welcome, “concluded Lucas.
The right goal should be to make burgers a staple and make the pie wider. That means more people enjoying burgers on a regular basis instead of the more common rice and noodles.
Lucas Siah, founder and CEO of Spade’s Burger
With this mindset, the Spade’s Burger team was able to transform an open stall with a capital of RM5,000 into a multi-million Ringgit company with annual sales of over RM10 million.
They achieved this without the help of investors or even family support, Lucas said, allowing them to remain 100% owned.
Bringing better burgers to more?
Moving forward, fans of the gourmet burger brand can expect greater access to its products as Lucas shared that they are keen to open more outlets once the pandemic subsides and the market is ready.
He also added: “As license / franchise applications are growing rapidly, we may be looking in this direction to open up the opportunity for outsiders to join the Spade’s Burger brand.”
Should the brand decide to franchise, the quality of the ingredients would not be an issue as it has a central kitchen to standardize its offerings across stores. Instead, they should make sure they are working with the right partners to maintain service quality and customer satisfaction.
Sticking to what they do best (AKA pork burgers) seems to be the strategy not to be missed, but Lucas also commented on the great potential of the halal market in Malaysia.
“A completely new brand with a separate central kitchen aimed at this market doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all.”
Featured image credit: Spade’s Burger