In this interview, Haniff Yon, co-owner of Rust KL Café & Bar, tells of his journey in the food and beverage industry and some behind-the-scenes stories from his latest opening.
What do you do?
I am the beverage manager and co-Owner of Rust KL. I am responsible for the beverage program, for both downstairs Rust KL Café and the first floor, Rust KL Bar. That includes all the recipes, costing, promotions, and everything related to beverage at Rust KL Café & Bar.
How did you get into the industry?
When I finished my final exam in 2007, it was October or November somewhere; I was working for Domino Pizza Malaysia, branch in Sungai Long. I was a pizza maker and got paid RM2.80/hour. I worked for two months. From March to April 2008, I got my college offer, but I realised I didn’t make enough money for my college. I found another job at the old Zouk in Jalan Ampang (now it’s Pelita Nasi Kandar). I started as a floor waiter and worked there for almost two years (as a part-timer, even though I was already in college, I needed money for my diploma fees). This is where my career started. I started to make friends from other bars and clubs, and my network expanded.
Share with us a story from behind the scenes.
At the end of 2010, I quit working in Zouk and started work in Luna Bar in Pacific Regency Hotel Suites (PRHS) due to my class timing. I needed something where I could finish earlier than 3 or 4 am. Luna Bar was it. The funny part is when I started, I was assigned as a bar back for the bar team, and I didn’t know anything about the bar. For me, I was ok if just washing glasses and cleaning up the bar but here I had to make proper mes en place for them. I had to pick up the stock from Level 4 and bring it to Level 33. Then I needed to carry the stock up from Level 33 to Level 35 via the staircase! Imagine loading 20 barrels of 30L Carlsberg up two flights of stairs??! That’s crazy. But hard work paid off. I met the proper mentor there, my ex-Luna Bar operation manager, Mr Rossi. And, I got to know my ex Luna Bar Manager Mr Kim Fulgencio. These two taught me everything I needed to know from operations, bar, prep, service, everything, and I really mean it, everything! I can’t thank them enough.
What’s a food memory from your childhood or travels that stands out?
I can simply say that I love my mom’s cooking.
For travel. I went to Mexico in 2018, and I was amazed by how good the street food is, like tacos for $1 USD? And it’s pretty much everywhere. That would be something I can’t forget. The real taco from the origin country? Who can beat them? The sauces, the guacamole, of course, can’t forget the salsa. Simple dishes, but big impact!
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
The best part is getting to know people around the world from F&B and what customers say. I really love to see how people connect through food and drinks. And the connection when people start talking about it. It is fascinating to hear.
The worst part is when the best person in the establishment resigns. It is really hard to find a good replacement; people come and go, but the bonds and memories shared, not just anybody, could simply fit in.
Haniff Yon’s favourite food and beverage pairing?
Anything sweet, sour, spicy for me. At the same time, I also enjoy penne arrabbiata and teh Tarik.
What’s one of the wildest, scariest or funniest (choose an adjective or pick your own) things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
Can I answer them all?
Wildest – typically is how my establishment was built. My team and I built it on our own, with no interior designer, or proper planning; everything was decided on the site. The measurements and detailing work, all on the go. For me, that one is wild!
Scariest – when so-called VVVVIP come in. Well, I’m not scared of serving them, but it is too much protocol to follow for me. And everything needs to be proper. Even the glassware needs to be diamond shiny. Can you imagine, at the same time, what if they got a stomach ache after the food or drink? That one is scary!
Funniest – when we, the whole team of Luna Bar, got a chance to throw my operations manager in the pool. He is L size. And chasing him and seeing the way he ran was funny! Haha!
The perfect day off for Haniff Yon would be…
I have long hair now. So for me, to get my hair washed and dried properly is a treat. I even like to get my nails buffed. Haha! And of course, cleaning my house, watching tv and spending time with family or friends.
What does Haniff Yon do for fun?
If I am on a short break, like a few days off, I will plan for rock climbing. Try to connect with friends, and let’s see if everyone would be free on the same day to climb. If I have a long break, I also really enjoyed scuba diving, relaxing by the beach and just enjoying the sea breeze.
What’s something you’d like guests to know about Rust KL Café & Bar?
Well, Rust KL is a pit stop where you can get pretty much find all types of food. Rust KL is divided into two outlets, basically. On the ground floor is the Rust KL Café, where we serve western food with modern Malaysian twists. And the first floor is the Rust KL Bar. Where all the alcohol comes out from. Trying to be Muslim-friendly, I separated the outlets. That allows other diners to come in and feel more comfortable with the environment. We served the same food on both floors but only alcohol upstairs.
How has the pandemic changed you, your perspective, or the way you operate?
I just launched my outlet on May 11, 2022. So for me, it was already after the pandemic. But if you ask me about how the pandemic affected the industry, I would say, F&B entrepreneurs in Malaysia are smart and tough. I have seen so many ideas thrown on the table just to sustain the business. Even the business owners do the delivery themselves to survive the times.
What’s something you’d like people to know about being a beverage manager as a profession?
To put something on the plate or in the glass and make it eatable or drinkable is not easy. Not everyone can meet your personal palate. So if you think that we just simply put stuff in the shaker and shake it, then serve, you are wrong. More than 10, 100, 1000 rounds went into the trial before confirming the flavour and plating.
First, you need courage and support from everyone. Second, you need to listen to other people’s opinions. Third, you need to stand your ground on your personal opinion. And the job doesn’t come as easy as you can see. Like I said, if you dream of being someone like us, make your way up for it. Don’t give up; strive for it!
What’s your view on the food and beverage scene in Kuala Lumpur?
I think multiculturalism helps the industry grow. We get a chance to be taught by so many foreigners in the industry. So for me, the cross-culture exchange habit has a big impact on the industry and how it works. It would be very boring if you served the same food or drink to the same type of clientele with the same style. But I also think the chances should be given to the small fish in the ponds. Not only the ones with big names in the industry.
What practices do you currently implement or hope to implement to work towards social responsibility and sustainability in the future?
At Rust KL Café & Bar, we practice no straws to be used when serving. But this really needs time to teach people how to drink without straws. So we standby the bio-degradable straws for public use. At the same time, we support small home bakers to sustain their businesses. By doing this, the whole industry will grow together.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
For Rust, I really look forward to the outlet being stronger than now, with many potential guests. I just want to put my shop on the map. That would be my dream for all of this. Personally, I’m looking forward to a long holiday. Since I haven’t had any holiday for many, many months! I think a small break will help.