Starry Starry Spice

This story is about a group of five lads who turned their dream into reality, in Kuala Terengganu.

We live in a world where planning is extremely crucial, but we know that too much of planning won’t get you started. That’s precisely how five of these coffee lovers who are also dear friends to each other took no longer than six months to plan before opening its doors to the public in January 2014.

The main entrance to a definite place for your ideal coffee fix.

“At first, we thought it was easy, but there’s actually more work than the initial planning. We’re also glad we did it anyway, else, we probably wouldn’t have started anything till now,” says Kenny Yeow, who was previously a graphic designer and now the barista behind the brewing counter as well as the one who runs the cafe full time.

The All-“Star” Team.

The idea to start Star Anise came from Kenny’s Creative Director, Lee Chee Yean who runs his own advertising agency in Kuala Terengganu together with, Soh Chong Poh, also a graphic designer. “You wouldn’t believe but another member of ours, Philip Tor, is working in the insurance industry while Wee Chin Teng works as a manager in Gem Island Resort and Spa,” Kenny shares about the different backgrounds of the cafe’s founding partners.

Kenny (R) telling the story as Philip (L) looks on.

When asked, why Star Anise, as the given name, “We find it very interesting as it’s a spice that is commonly used by all three major races, and since we’re in Malaysia, we could observe how relatable the spice is to all Malays, Chinese and Indians.”

That’s what makes us special as Malaysians.

The partners’ diverse and creative spirit is difficult to miss in the cafe especially the half covered batik on chairs which in all sense of the design reflects our truest identity as Malaysians. Another is the colour tones of its walls, furniture and even the signage outside. They blend; just as well into the dishes like the star anise does.

In Kuala Terengganu however, western type espresso coffee is indeed a rare find as most locals prefer the Hainanese coffee or the usual ones in Kopitiams. “Chinatown is the perfect location as we get to expand our network when we meet tourists and learn about each other’s differences in our culture and values,” Kenny explains. More than a cafe, he hopes the cafe is an opportunity to recoup the youths who have since left the state because at the end of the day, home is where the heart is.

Bridging tradition and modern living.

Good vibes in a small town

Unlike KL or the Klang Valley where people come and go for coffee all the time, Kenny thinks that “Kuala Terengganu is a very small town, everyone knows everyone here. I am able to customise and cater accordingly to my customers’ coffee preferences and I know exactly what they’re going to order which is interesting.”

KT chinatown shops
The busy streets of China Town, Kuala Terengganu.

In KL, “there are just too many cafes and you basically fail to recognise every single customer who comes in and visit, you don’t get to learn more about them as the market there is much bigger – very competitive,” adds Kenny.

In terms of gentrification (an urban renewal development taking place in an existing/mature district), it is both a yes and no for KT’s Chinatown.

“Some of the owners, they are not too cooperative with the koperasi in Chinatown. I have to admit, it is still quite dead here, although there are few new ones emerging. There are a number of shops that are closed. The owners no longer wish to run their business and yet, they don’t wish to rent out their lots.”

Given the tricky background to even rent a shop, it is indeed remarkable for Star Anise to have come this far, a remarkable success too since the coffee culture remains almost cast and stone with the Hainanese throne. But as with every other state in Malaysia, Terengganu is undergoing its fair share of transformation. With that, the need and thirst for new real estate, new drive and a new culture may emerge. And who knows, the Terengganu born heroes and heroines may just find their way back again. By then, we reckon Star Anise will already be a household name in its own right and in its very own space, why because history is made when one dares to take the plunge and that’s exactly what these five KT boys have done. Bravo! 

This Raya, visit Star Anise or Kuala Terengganu for a change. You might cherish it for a long time to come.


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