S02E11: Michelle Yeo, Co-founder and General Manager of Dandy Modern Food, Malaysia

I actually started a few businesses before this and my father was my counsel, always giving me ideas and feedback about my business. And he was really proud. He always asked me, “What are the sales of the day? And what are the problems?” 

Michelle Yeo

This week, I spoke to Michelle Yeo who is the co-founder and general manager of Dandy Modern Food in Penang, Malaysia. She and her husband have two outlets in Penang with a third coming soon in the Klang Valley. 

Dandy is an all-day casual eatery, bakery and café serving contemporary Mediterranean dishes including pastries and desserts. 

michelle yeo dandy penang malaysia
Trust yourself and start now – Michelle Yeo

Opening an F&B outlet, says Michelle, is the craziest thing she has ever done. It’s because both Michelle and her husband, Jamal, have no experience in the food business and she admits it is a capital intensive business. Putting in a huge chunk of money without knowing if there’s a return to the effort is rather intimidating.

And yet, Dandy seems to have its formula perfected although the F&B business is a tough one. 

Michelle and Jamal opened their second restaurant in Queensbay Mall just a little over 2 years after she opened her first one at Arena Curve, which is a stone’s throw away. And yet she humbly acknowledges that one success doesn’t make everything a success. It still involves a lot of fine-tuning and she and her team still work hard at making things go smoothly! 

Michelle who is from Kuching, Sarawak and her husband Jamal who is from Lebanon were already running a security systems business in Penang when they sparked the idea to start a food business. 

She said, “It’s hard for him to adapt to Malaysian food. [As Malaysians] we like sambals and stir-fries and until today he cannot get used to the taste. We felt that there is a gap to fill and there are not many options at that time for this kind of concept restaurant and it gave us an idea to solve these problems for the market and also solve that problem for ourselves as well.” 

When she first started her business, her mother secretly asked her sister to ask if Michelle was having financial problems! In her mother’s mind, owning a restaurant meant washing plates and getting down and dirty! Little did she know that Michelle and her husband were investing in people, equipment and systems to run the business instead of doing it the traditional way! 

Still, the pandemic has been tough on food businesses and hers is no exception. She knows that she and her team will get through this pandemic together and emerge stronger and to underline this, they’ve even planned their third outlet for Kuala Lumpur. 

When asked about her inspiration, Michelle says it was her late father, who ran a textile business in Kuching, that encouraged her in business.

I was already very settled down in Australia. I felt I would spend almost all my life in Australia… to start my own business and have my architectural career there. When my father was diagnosed with cancer, we decided to seek treatment in Germany. So we both left Australia and went to Germany.

Michelle Yeo

There are a lot more gems in this episode so you will just have to listen to find out more.

In this episode, Michelle talks about:

  • The first day a customer ordered a caramel macchiato and she had no idea how to make one
  • How she keeps her team strong although the restaurant is a tough business with long hours to keep
  • The culture and principles she holds firm when managing her team 
  • Why she wasn’t sure if she should open Dandy in a shopping mall and why she now feels it’s the best decision she ever made!
  • What keeps her customers coming back for more  
  • Why she intentionally creates a number of vegetarian options for her menu
  • The marketing she and her team does for Dandy – all using in-house talents and crew 
  • How she and her husband prioritize their time between the security business and the restaurant business
  • How they run the restaurant without stepping on each other’s toes
  • Her first few business ventures with her sister when they were both in Australia 
  • Why she didn’t dare to inform her mum that she was starting a restaurant business 

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