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Chi Chi, M’sian cafe selling ciabatta and Asian food in KL

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Founded by husband-and-wife duo Helene Hatta and Armand Ahyahudin, Chi Chi‘s journey began three years ago, a delicious tale that’s as heartwarming as their signature ciabatta bread.

Helene, a former PR executive with a knack for baking, started small. “I started baking from home, initially just for fun,” she recalled. 

“My Instagram handle was Lil’ Chi, where I sold ciabatta and spreads like olive tapenade and chicken liver pate. It was a humble beginning, but it sparked something in me.”

Helene’s love for food can be traced back to her school holidays spent working as a waitress at her late aunt’s restaurant in Penang. 

“Watching my aunt run her restaurant left a lasting impression on me. It was then that I realised the joy of sharing delicious food with others,” she told Vulcan Post.

Unlike Helene, Armand, her husband, had no prior business experience. Working a corporate 9-to-5 job in banking and management consulting, he was far removed from the world of entrepreneurship. 

However, his unwavering support for Helene’s passion led him to take a leap of faith.

“We decided to turn her home baking into something bigger. It was a risk, but one we were willing to take,” Armand shared.

The birth of love

Helene started off selling homemade ciabatta and spreads through Lil’ Chi on Instagram.

Image Credit: Chi Chi

Soon, friends and family were raving about her creations, with Helene’s biggest fan being her own father-in-law. His weekly requests for fresh bread became the catalyst for something bigger.

Together with her husband, they envisioned a cosy brunch spot, built around Helene’s love for ciabatta. This dream found its first home in January 2021, tucked away within Fugu, a Japanese restaurant owned by Helene’s father-in-law.

Here, Chi at Fugu (as it was then called) offered a unique brunch menu, featuring dishes made with their signature ciabatta. The concept was simple: delicious brunch, all on ciabatta. 

“We initially aimed to create a small, quaint brunch spot centred around ciabatta.”

Image Credit: Chi Chi

“But soon, we were operating at full capacity regularly. That’s when we realised it was time to expand into a physical outlet,” Helene explained.

A unique fusion of flavours

Thus, in March 2022, Chi evolved into Chi Chi, a standalone cafe brimming with personality. The location shift, from Ampang to Dang Wangi, was strategic. They wanted a space that was easily accessible, catering to their loyal customers spread across the city.

Chi Chi’s menu reflects Helene’s culinary adventures. Inspired by her travels through Australia and New Zealand, the cafe offers an “Asian fusion” experience.

Image Credit: Chi Chi

“The dream menu concept of the cafe was always Asian fusion,” they said. “However, we incorporated kopitiam elements because the crowds in KL love their Asian breakfast. My mum, an amazing cook, helped us put a little of that into the menu.”

Chi Chi’s menu features a range of delightful dishes that keep customers coming back.

“Our Salt Beef Sandwiches, brined for 10 days, and Brioche French Toast with poached pear, cream cheese, beef bacon, and homemade brioche are customer favourites,” the founders shared. “The cream cheese pancake is also a hit.”

The cafe has also incorporated top-selling dishes from Aunty Nee Nee, a sister eatery of Chi Chi that’s named after Helene’s mother. “Aunty Nee Nee is actually my mother and all recipes used were hers,” said Helene.

Other than their ciabatta, they have now expanded their bread offerings and included items like focaccia, sourdough, and brioche.

Image Credit: Chi Chi

Growing pains and triumphs

Like any entrepreneurial journey, Chi Chi’s path has not been without challenges. The decision to expand into a standalone cafe was driven by the need for a more accessible location and the desire to create a unique identity.

“We wanted to be a standalone cafe and branch out to a better location since our customers come from different parts of town,” they said. 

Helene and Armand’s commitment to quality and consistency is evident in every aspect of Chi Chi. They have a dedicated team, including their longest-staying chefs Nurhasniza and Nurshahadah, who ensure that every dish meets the highest standards.

Image Credit: Chi Chi

“We started with just four staff members, and now we have eight.”

“Our kitchen team is crucial for maintaining quality, and we’re often in the kitchen or on the floor, monitoring the plating and consistency of each dish,” they shared.

Besides, financial limitations, a natural hurdle for any new business, were tackled head-on by Armand’s resourcefulness. 

He explored government funding for small businesses, a testament to their dedication and the cafe’s potential.

Their efforts paid off, and while profitability isn’t the immediate focus, the couple happily reported that revenue is growing.

Looking ahead

As Chi Chi looks towards the future, their vision is clear: to become a long-standing culinary landmark in Kuala Lumpur. But their ambitions don’t stop there. 

The dream of grab-and-go kiosks offering their signature sandwiches and coffee across Malaysia is a delicious prospect.

Image Credit: Chi Chi

It’s a way to share their love for good food with a wider audience and make the Chi Chi experience accessible to more people.

With its warm atmosphere, delicious food, and passionate founders, this cafe is more than just a place to eat—it’s a story waiting to be savoured, one bite at a time.

  • You can learn more about Chi Chi here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Chi Chi





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