In this interview, Mervin Chin, founder of Undisclosed Location and RINSE KL, shares some stories from behind the scenes and upcoming plans.
What do you do?
I run Undisclosed Location (Mexican Asian fusion) in SS4 and RINSE KL (Asian Western fusion) in Bandar Sri Damansara. I plan the menu with the chefs, create marketing collateral, train my team and mop the floor at the end of the day. So is there a job title for all of that?
How did you get into the industry?
Naive me, back then, I thought working in a cafe would definitely make it easier for me to approach girls. So I started looking for barista jobs around PJ. The first cafe I worked at was in Rekindle Uptown. Made a lot of new friends, GUYS and girls. Months later, upon graduating, I got offered a 5k salary job. I couldn’t handle the four walls and awkward “hi byes” in the office, so I quit in a week and applied again for another barista job. I have not looked back since.
What’s a food memory from your childhood or travels that stands out?
I really love Malaysian kopitiam food. Something about them is so comforting, like simple ingredients but so many layers. For example, with soft boiled eggs and kaya toast, dipping the toast into the eggs creates a whole new meal and texture. Another one is pan mee. Who’s idea was it to add fungus and fried ikan bilis and mushrooms to noodles. Simple ingredients, but when placed together, they are a paradise of texture. So yes, all my comfort food from childhood taught me to make food straightforward, simple and tight! Two or three ingredients jive together – Bam! New item!
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
Too many best parts! The best of them all is when I see family really putting their effort into orchestrating family dinner over at my place. They know it’s good food, and they want to share it with their parents, their great grandparents, and relatives of all sorts. Then all of them come together, talking and laughing really reminded me of why I started this in the first place, to use food as a medium of communication and create new experiences. Worst? I think all F&B operators can agree, staffing! No need to elaborate. Just saying that one word, you can feel the pain already.
What’s your favourite food and beverage pairing?
Non-alcoholic: Orange juice and big breakfast. Heaven!
Alcoholic: A good beef taco and coffee stout!
What’s one of the most outrageous things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
The most outrageous thing ever is entitled customers. I’ve so many entitled customers that they think they run the place because they came here once or twice. The one that scared me the most was when one of the yoga group aunties, who I think is the leader of this said yoga group, brought 10 friends over and walked up to me, and said, “I bought 10 friends, got a 10% discount?” I replied, sorry, we don’t do discounts like this, and she just said, “I won’t bring over my 10 friends again if you don’t give me discounts.” She wasn’t happy when I replied, “Bring 50 more, and I will make it 50% off.”
The perfect day off would be…
I love food, so a good off day is a trip to find inspiration from new places with good food.
A day in the life of a restaurateur is…
Juggling and balancing everyone’s needs and wants, your service crew’s feelings, your manager’s feelings, your chef’s feelings, and your customer’s feelings. Basically, matching everyone’s wants and needs with the value you provide.
What does Mervin Chin do for fun?
I love to play darts. After a day of non-stop walking and small talks, I just love to stand at one spot peacefully and just throw darts.
What’s something you’d like guests to know about Undisclosed Location?
It’s an experimental playground for me to fuse two of my favourite cuisines together. So if you are an adventurous guy like I am, come join me on this journey!
How has the pandemic changed you, your perspective, or the way you operate?
The pandemic really taught me a lot about Malaysian food behaviour. First, Malaysians really don’t know how to cook anymore. So they will always be finding food outside, especially comfort food, when their mom doesn’t cook for them anymore. Second, delivery is basically a norm due to the pandemic. So preparing for delivery is a no-brainer, an extra source of income. And third! Raw ingredients are ever-increasing in price, so it’s basically cheaper to eat out than to eat in. All in all, this is a white light for F&B operators, we just have to align our pricing, value and taste to those above points and we are good to go!
What’s something you’d like people to know about being a restaurateur as a profession?
ONE WORD: Adaptability. In the F&B scene, everything moves very fast, the demographic, the taste preference and the most infamous one, the “trend”. To me, adaptability is tearing up your business plan you made earlier and focusing on what you have on your floor. Who’s walking in the door, who’s paying higher per table, focusing on them. That does not mean you open in the office area you need to cater to white-collar. Are they really paying more when they sit there for three hours ordering one cup of latte? Be adaptable, screw your planning, and work on what’s in front of you.
Mervin Chin’s view on the restaurant scene in PJ?
This PJ scene is one of the most creative scenes to work in. New and fresh ideas are popping up left and right. You can see that in the number of new bars, cafes and restaurants that open in just a month. Not to mention how quick our pastry industry picked up these past few years. Now I can order cardamom Indian masala croissant with pesto sauce and whatever needed ingredients to make it look like an RM20 piece.
But just one of my pet peeves in this industry is the words “Minimalist” and “Aesthetic.” Man, painting all white and putting less furniture or weird looking furniture at weird corners isn’t aesthetic. Fewer tables and oddly uncomfortable stools in open space don’t mean minimal. It takes away the comfortability and convenience of a restaurant. It doesn’t matter how good the croissant is if I’ll have a broken back and echoes bouncing off the walls like I’m eating next to mistuned choir practice.
What practices do you currently implement or hope to implement in the future to work towards social responsibility and sustainability?
We always donate our profits to any community that needs our assistance. We will create a menu where 20-30% of our margin will go to them! Especially our anniversaries and Christmas times.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
I have a lot more up my sleeves when it comes to Mexican Asian fusions. So stay tuned! There’s gonna be more adventurous takes like Chee Cheong Fan Taco, Japanese Curry Quesadillas and many more!
PS. I would love to thank my Dad so much for giving me my first cafe and now my second. He sacrificed a lot of his time, effort and money to provide me with what I wanted. So I would love to post this interview with a picture of my Dad and me. Thank you