Dato Anathkumar Alagu (a.k.a Kumar) grew up in a family food business, but his passion really began when he decided to set up a restaurant as a tribute to the days when his mother ran a stall. This successful businessman and his wife, Nalina Kumar now manages Tifin by Kumar’s, a brand new restaurant in DC Mall that is winning hearts and minds more than most. As with much of their work, it inspires anyone who has ever had a meal at their restaurant to rescue a forlorn herb, visit a forgotten spice factory or rediscover authentic spice vendors of Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. It speaks to a global generation who may live fast past lives but feel that a warm, well-made curry is the way that completes their day. Nalina Kumar, a natural raconteur, shares delightful anecdotes of her husband and mother-in-law over lunch, which made our conversation with Nalina at Tifin by Kumar’s a delightfully nourishing one. Here, she shares a few key lessons on how to succeed and flourish as a family business.
Lesson #1: Dream big, but work harder
“It all started when my mother-in-law opened a stall at Brickfields in 1969 as a source of additional income for the family. Her stall was named after my husband, Kumar (laughs) and it was doing very well. People loved her food. My mother-in-law would often recall of how her regular customers patiently waited in line for her food. She worked hard at her stall, and only stopped to give birth to the rest of her children. She never stopped talking about her stall at Brickfields and my husband decided to bring it back, and that was when we opened Kumar’s in Ara Damansara, which eventually expanded to Tifin by Kumar’s here in DC Mall and soon another outlet in Mont Kiara.”
Lesson #2: Find a personal connection, aim for authenticity
“Our menu is a mix of Malaysian, Northern and Southern Indian food. When we made the menu, we wanted to recreate how it feels like to eat in a typical Malaysian Indian home. The Southern Indian recipes are all from my mother-in-law and to ensure that the taste and flavours are exactly like how she used to make, we teach our chefs personally how to make them. But, for the Northern Indian dishes, we leave it up to them as we feel they make it so much better. We also have a selection of Malay traditional kuih like Bubur Kacang and Sambal Pau because we do not want to be constricted to the typical Indian restaurant stereotype. As you can see our interior design reflects the same philosophy of being at home, honest, fuss-free and totally relaxed.”
Lesson #3: Be passionate about quality
“We ensure that our food supplies are fresh, straight from the farms. Even our blend of spices are homemade and tailored to fit the exact ratio unique to our food. We do not use the commercial spices that are available in the market and if a particular spice isn’t up to standard here, Kumar will hop on a plane and fly to India to bring it back to our kitchen.
Besides making sure our ingredients are fresh, we only prepare fresh food upon request. Having it made fresh daily can be challenging to most because it takes discipline and skill to maintain the quality of the food consistently, but we’ve managed to meet that standard we’ve set upon ourselves. For example, when we make our best-selling dish – the fish head curry, we use generous chunks of garlic, spices and all. No expense is spared. Just like how a mother would cook for her children.”
Lesson #4: Create special dishes for special celebrations
“Keep customers coming back by creating special dishes for special occasions. For example, during the Tamil New Year, we created a 11-dish taali that is only available only during lunch hour. These 11 different dishes on a taali signify the 11 emotions that we face in our daily lives. It is a wonderful Tamil tradition that should be exposed and made known especially in a diverse country as Malaysia. For the upcoming Mother’s Day, we have a special treat to all mothers that come dine here at Tifin by Kumar’s, but you’ll have to come back to find out!”
Lesson #5: Turn challenges into learning opportunities
“Well, we started this business from scratch. We did not know anything about the F&B business but as a businessman, my husband applied the same business acumen he used in his construction business and made sure we gave it our best. It is funny to see him ordering tonnes of pre-stressed steel at one moment and 6 kilos of prawns at another (laughs).
The biggest challenge we had, was to try keep afloat when the food prices were becoming more expensive. Our clientele at our Ara Damansara outlet was quite limited. People staying near Tropicana, Subang were the only ones to know about us. We thought that we should expand our clientele since we couldn’t lower our prices anymore because we got to consider the way we meticulously choose our ingredients and the preparation of food itself.
Our costs escalated to the extent that we had to channel resources from our other business to keep the restaurant afloat. To save the restaurant, we made up our minds to give it one last try by giving our all and starting this new outlet, Tifin by Kumar’s at DC Mall. It paid off because in just two months, business picked up and here we are (smiles)!”
Lesson #6: Persevere, persevere, persevere, and then, persevere again
“In whatever business you do, you must always persevere and never back down from challenges. Whether we are young or old, we need to suffer before we reap the benefits. That is one main reason why not many Malaysian food businesses can survive long. That is something we should consider if we want Malaysian food businesses to sustain and evolve to meet market needs.”
With that, our lunch conversation at Tifin by Kumar’s came to an end. It was a wonderful experience for us to have an opportunity to taste the flavours of one of the best Indian restaurants in Klang Valley. With its honest and authentic take on food, it is no wonder Tifin By Kumar’s is the go-to place for people to find the authentic taste of a home-cooked meal.
Surprise your mother with a treat at Tifin by Kumar’s this Mother’s Day!
You can find Tifin By Kumar’s at: