An exclusive interview with David Nathan, co-founder of 23aubergine, a local catering business that has taken the industry by the storm with its artisan canapes and French-European flavours. He shares the challenges 23aubergine faced and how they got through them all.
23aubergine has been around for 12 years and has built quite a niche for themselves with a clientele base all over Malaysia, especially in Kuala Lumpur and Klang Valley.
David and Jessica Nathan, founders of 23aubergine got together and found a common goal of bringing the Malaysian catering scene up to another level where caterings are not just home-cooked food and rustic presentation but also with fine taste and creativity.
A Catering Business that Begun with a Humble Dream
The inspiration and story behind the creation of 23aubergine begins when Jessica, David’s partner and the Picasso behind the beautiful, creative canapes, decided to open a business that aims to create something handmade and artisan.
Both Jess and David used to work in F&B companies previously and worked together in a project. With their shared experiences, they decided to apply them and create a new-age business venture, which later on took off in a different direction.
David recalled that “…at first, we planned to create a food delivery service. But since this is before the smartphone and app days where everyone is connected through them, it was hard for us to go toward that direction and Jess was already booked up with a lot of catering gigs. So we decided to go that way, instead, becoming a catering business.”
For such strong, experienced figures working closely together in the F&B business, it was a difficult challenge for David and Jess to find a balance in their dynamics as partners. This was especially the case in the matters of business expansion and establishing the brand 23aubergine as it is today.
“Both of us contribute equally in matters of growing our business or the strategy that we are going to apply in ensuring the best possible way our business can grow. However, when it comes to numbers and accounts, I take responsibility on it. Jess is great in the creative aspect. She is an expert in the food department. However, when it comes to the little details in operations, like how much flour costs and such, that is where I come in,” he said.
Strategies for Unique Catering Services
For a catering business that has managed to survive as long as they have, there must be an effective strategy that they applied in order to ensure the longevity of their business. In actual truth, there is no specific strategy being used but a simple principle that you will not believe has contributed so much in shaping the business direction of 23aubergine.
“There is no exact strategy used, to be honest. We only go with the flow and persevere. Doing catering is unlike most businesses. It is a tough one indeed. You cannot be too prepared because you never know what will go wrong. All you can do is take the criticisms, if given, on a positive light and remember that there is always light at the end of the tunnel, if you know what I mean,” David quips.
In these 12 years, 23aubergine has surely done a lot of catering gigs, either both personal and intimate parties and grand, large scale functions. With their business creating such buzz, the bulk of their calendar is filled with multiple catering gigs. However, 23aubergine has proven to be different than your regular catering companies.
David asserts that “…we do not set a number of gigs we will accept to do in a month because with catering, it is usually very incidental. We tend to go with the flow and take up as many as possible that we can handle. We usually are able to take up a lot of catering gigs because we work fairly fast. Although it depends on the size of the event itself, we typically are able to prepare within 3 days. However, this does not include the purchase and event day itself.”
23aubergine has an impressive portfolio of handling about 100 to 120 events annually. With their detailed planning and quick execution for every event, it’s no surprise that they are able to handle back-to-back events in a calendar year.
The Practicality of Having Your Own Menu
Although at first they planned to not have a menu, after being urged by their regulars, they have come up with a menu list that is available online on their website, 23aubergine.com. Lover of creativity and new creations, David and Jess do not limit themselves to food that they are comfortable with.
“At first we do not plan to have one but with the advice of our clients, we put up a menu list on our website. Why? So that potential clients can see what we can offer and what we can do for them. However, we are flexible to receive requests to tailor-made our menu according to their tastes,” he said.
To ensure that 23aubergine stays relevant, David and Jess are always experimenting and discovering new food that are now in demand. Their new Globyte menu brings a new twist to comfort food with a healthier and nutritious spin. Besides, 23aubergine ensures their food are exactly as they promised. For them, “what you see is what you get.”
David goes on to explain that “…so far, our menu is quite wholesome that caters to everything a customer would want. We always place the utmost important to the quality of our ingredients and the way we prepared it. Our best-selling food item is the mini-burgers. Why our clients love it so much is simply because we make everything from scratch, bread and all.”
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Ain’t No River Wide Enough
Being a caterer is not a walk in a park and managing a catering business is unlike managing a cafe or restaurant. Issues such as insufficient food, lack of servicing staff, and many more, are always an inevitable headache that every caterer will face. How did 23aubergine managed to overcome these issues during their 12 years of being in business?
“We firmly believe if we aren’t able to step in and do the work ourselves, we have long-term challenges. We managed to avoid problems in staffing by collaborating with private universities and colleges. Culinary and hospitality students are hired to help us with the servicing in big events that our team cannot handle with.
When it comes to ensuring there is no shortage of food, communication is the key. You have to communicate with your clients and ensure exactly how much extra food we have to prepare without wasting. However, with our years of experience, we are able to calculate how much to allocate etc. We are blessed with a great team,” he illustrates.
With all the things that have been achieved by 23aubergine so far, we wonder what is the next step that 23aubergine will take and it is Larder by 23aubergine. Larder is a concept restaurant that David and Jess plan to open that features local, quality products that urban Malaysians need today.
However, there is still a tiny bump on the road for them to start operations for Larder since they are still in the midst of finding the best strategy to run their two businesses.
Future Plans for 23aubergine
“We would like to get Larder by 23aubergine open soon. So, we are hoping that will get under way. We realised we are unable to run two separate businesses. For now, we are doing a series of pop-up type events, just to fill our space until we are opened,” he gleamed.
Catering is not an easy feat. It is unlike running a restaurant or an eatery. In the catering scene, the unexpected must always be expected, Therefore, working hard in ensuring the best possible outcome is the only way to do it. For David and Jess, their business mantra has made them able to survive long and allow their business to bloom to where they are today.
David testifies that “…in any business, you must remember that the customer is USUALLY right, never always. Clients need to know when they come to a food service professional, they need to have some level of trust and faith – unless they don’t have a good feeling about it, in which case both parties shouldn’t continue with the transaction.
So when the client gives us positive feedback that they have received from guests, its quite rewarding. For instance, we found a challenge to cater for an event, the Laureus World Sports Awards at Istana Budaya. It was a nightmare but we managed to pull it off and it was so satisfying knowing that we are able to do so.”