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Pandemic Helps Malaysian Microbusiness Dreams Come True

Halo Doughnut is one of tens of thousands of microbusinesses that have started in Malaysia during the past few months. (Dave Grunebaum/VOA)
Halo Doughnut is one of tens of thousands of microbusinesses that have started in Malaysia during the past few months. (Dave Grunebaum/VOA)

The mornings for Khris Teri of Halo Doughnut mean time for making sweet treats with flavors such as lemon pop and cinnamon affair, along with burnt and salty. Her labor intensive, artisanal sourdough doughnuts are made entirely from scratch. The menu changes every week with four flavors of doughnuts for customers to choose from.

“Our doughnuts are all made by hand,” Teri says. “There are no machines. I’m the machine,” she added with a chuckle.

Working in the food business marks a shift for Teri, 32, who grew up in Kuala Lumpur. She was a video producer at a local creative agency until March when she quit her job thinking she would have no trouble finding a new one. Days later, the current economic crisis happened and her job prospects seemed to plunge. With a love for cooking, Teri started making doughnuts for friends and posting photos on Instagram.

“One of my best friends said, ‘Khris I think you should sell this,’” Teri recalled. “I think you should make this into a business,” she added.

It wasn’t the first time Teri had heard this suggestion. At first, she worked out of her mother’s kitchen, but could usually only make about 20 doughnuts a day. She talked things over with her boyfriend and now business partner, Raphael Mannadiar, a Canadian expatriate who has a business background and works in IT. He looked at the costs, crunched numbers, and made some projections before they decided to expand and work together.

“It seemed like a good idea to do something she loved that could also work (financially),” Mannadiar said.

They now rent space in a shared commercial kitchen also known as a cloud kitchen to keep expenses down. It costs about $400 a month including storage space and all of the pots and pans.

“We started in a shared kitchen because it’s low risk, and it’s low investment,” Teri said. “I think it’s a perfect way to start a business.”

Teri and a part time kitchen worker make doughnuts. (Dave Grunebaum/VOA)

With one part-time worker, Teri now typically makes about 80 doughnuts a day. They are ordered in advance through Instagram and delivered to her customers. She has also started doing pop up events as well. Each doughnut costs the equivalent of $1 to $2 depending on the flavor.” These doughnuts are so fluffy and so good to eat,” said John Prabakaran Solomon, while sampling a few flavors at a recent pop up event. “They don’t taste like doughnuts you get any place else.”

While various new businesses have different back stories, Halo Doughnut fits a trend that shows a rapidly growing number of microbusinesses in Malaysia recently. Raymond Woo of the Malaysia Retail Chain Association says tens of thousands of microbusinesses have started up during the past several months with few, if any employees. Woo referenced “businesses that are starting up from even the garage or their house, their home kitchen,” adding, “Often they’re looking to sell online.”

Woo said the people behind microbusinesses were often retrenched in recent months or took substantial pay cuts and needed a low risk way to earn income. “They could be doing marketing advisory businesses, website, photography,” Woo said, saying the businesses involve “services they actually know as a hobby and then moving that hobby and monetizing it.”

Vijay Kumar, 37, started selling fresh coconut water at a street stand he set up last month near a strip mall in Kuala Lumpur. Many of his customers work nearby. Kumar said he lost his sales job with a local guesthouse where he earned the equivalent of about $700 a month. “I earn enough now to cover my basic expenses because I’m single,” Kumar said, adding that he also picks up odd jobs. “But I earn much less than before.”

Khris Teri makes all of her doughnuts and toppings by hand. (Dave Grunebaum/VOA)

At Halo Doughnut, Khris Teri and Raphael Mannadiar said they’ve almost reached the break-even point on what has been a $5,000 investment so far. They plan on hiring several more workers for the kitchen, a move they said will enable them to turn the job into a profitable business. The extra help will not only allow them to make more doughnuts, but it will also free Teri to spend more time developing new flavors. This process can take days of trial and error in the kitchen before a flavor is added to the menu. “The key to our current and future success is Khris’s creativity,” Mannadiar said. “We’ve been prioritizing coming up with new flavors over making more doughnuts.”

One of Teri’s favorites is named after the hit Netflix show, “Orange Is The New Black.” It has chocolate dough, orange filling, a dark chocolate glaze, and is topped off with a candied orange peel as well as a popping candy. “So, when you eat it, it’s creamy, it has a crunch and you have that popping sensation from the popping candy,” Teri said. “I love this creative process.”