Jason Ooi – HALE & Agrain
The Yum List chats with Jason Ooi about the stories behind HALE and Agrain and some future plans for the business.
What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
I started off in the investment industry as a private equity analyst. Although really in the F&B industry, I looked at F&B companies from the investor’s point of view. Back then where I was working, I always had this problem of finding high-quality, convenient and affordable food in the CBD area. I wanted to change that – I wanted people that work hard to be able to eat right without breaking their bank hence I started HALE.
Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes.
When we started running HALE, we started off selling mainly healthy burgers, pasta and rice. That’s where we noticed two things: many of our customers demand customization (I don’t want this, I am allergic to this, I want double protein) and the crowd is mainly foreigners and not as many locals (which is not really what we planned for). It’s with this insight that Agrain was born. At Agrain, we serve western inspired recipes with an Asian twist, providing more variety than just the usual leafy vegetable base (which is what people associate with when it come to a salad), such as healthy grains, and make it truly customizable in terms of flavours, temperature, and texture.
We created Agrain to be a different brand under hale while transforming HALE to a company that focuses on delivery only. Through the different concepts under the HALE brand, we strive to achieve our company mission of serving high quality and delicious meals to our customers.
What’s the best part of your job?
We are a startup and this is the best part of it. We are able to focus on what we believe as a mission – focusing on the long-term instead of short-term goals, which is often detrimental for a company.
The long term for us is all about sustainability. What we aim to do at Agrain is to create something that is actually possible for people to eat every day without feeling bored. We do that by focusing on a few key areas: 1) The food has to be warm and brings a sense of familiarity through local flavours, something that reminds them of home-cooked food, but at the same time is distinct enough to make them come back for more. 2) We rotate our menu every four months or so, making sure to incorporate the freshest available ingredients during that period. 3) Being receptive and agile to our customers’ suggestions and feedback, to be flexible enough to adapt to these changes without compromising on our principles.
Bringing high quality, delicious food at a great value to our customers – that is the best part of my job.
What’s your favourite meal at Agrain?
My favourite bowl has always been our miso-infused quinoa with honey soy chicken thigh, baby kalian, roasted mushrooms and onsen egg, topped with spring onions and signature green curry. You definitely can’t go wrong with that. Don’t forget to pair it with Pure Orange (our cold-pressed juices) to boost up the vitamins!
What do you do for fun?
I like trying out different concepts! I love travelling around the region and beyond to get right into their CBD to understand the behaviour of corporate crowds – in terms of their choices, spending, and flow. All these have helped us to understand deeper what our customers want and to continuously innovate.
What’s something you’d like guests to know about Agrain?
Our name: Agrain, because we want you to have great food again and again. We care about what you eat.
What’s your view on the healthy food scene in Kuala Lumpur?
We do see huge growth and this has changed significantly since three years ago when we started. We have received lots of inquiries, especially on the corporate side to deliver healthy meals. While the awareness towards a healthier lifestyle is prevalent, we notice two important things that act as obstacles for Malaysians to embrace a healthier lifestyle. Malaysians, in general, are still very value-oriented and have a preference for heavy flavoured food, something not usually found in your typical “health food’. When we look at growth in healthy food, we look at GDP per capita – as they both grow hand in hand. It is our belief that healthy food consumption will grow in significance for time to come. Our job is to help speed up this process and make the transition easier for the masses.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
We are looking to add on at least two more outlets by end of this year with a concentration in the central of Kuala Lumpur. We also continue to focus on menu improvement to ensure our mission of delivering high quality, delicious meals with great value are achieved.
Check out some of the healthy and tasty meals that Jason Ooi recommends from Agrain here.
Find more interviews with people in the food and beverage industry similar to this one with Jason Ooi here.