Kluang Rail Coffee still maintains old world charm

KLUANG: Kluang Rail Coffee is synonymous with this quaint little town in Johor. Having been in operation since 78 years ago, the irresistible aroma of this kopitiam’s coffee still lures loyal customers, the most famous among them being the Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Almarhum Sultan Iskandar.

Located inside the railway station in Kluang and still retaining its original decor and old-world charm, Kluang Rail Coffee had its humble beginnings as a railway canteen when British soldiers and weary travellers would stop by for a cup of steaming Hainanese coffee and toast.

It is now run by Lim Ben Winn, 31, who is a member of the fourth generation of the coffee shop founder’s family. The outlet evokes feelings of nostalgia as Ben Winn has taken pains to retain its original atmosphere by maintaining the old tables and chairs and the menu that was served decades ago.

Kluang Rail Coffee has four branches in Kluang, one in Mersing in Johor, and one in Kota Damansara, Selangor.

LEGACY SPANS FOUR GENERATIONS

It all started in 1938 when Ben Winn’s great-grandfather Lim Luan Hee and grandfather Lim Heng Yong received an offer to open a canteen at the Kluang railway station where the train to and fro Singapore made a stop. At that time, development was already taking shape in Kluang due to the presence of an army camp, post office and Central Electricity Board (now Tenaga Nasional Bhd) office near the town.

“The canteen used to serve sandwiches with either strawberry or blackberry jam filling depending on what the British soldiers wanted. Sometimes it was difficult to get jam, so my grandfather and great-grandfather came up with their own version of jam, namely kaya (a sweet creamy spread made of coconut milk and eggs). They also served tea mixed with milk,“ said Ben Winn.

During the 1980s, his father Lim Jit Chen took over the operations of the coffee shop.

Ben Winn said changes in its business strategies became evident in 2007-2008 after his father’s cousin Lim Jit Tong returned from the United States to help with the family business and put his foreign culinary knowledge to good use.

“My father realised the potential of expanding the menu to include western dishes and cakes in line with what the people wanted,“ he said, adding that he later joined the business and was responsible for monitoring the coffee shop’s branches in Johor and Selangor.

To ensure Kluang Rail Coffee’s continued success, these nuggets of advice have been passed from generation to generation by the Lim family: first, preserve the quality of the food served at the coffee shop and second, appreciate the people, especially the local community, who have always been patronising their shop.

LOVE KEEPS BUSINESS GOING

Asked how the family kept the business going all these years, Ben Winn replied, “Love... we love it with all our heart. Due to the love we have for our family business, we are perpetually thinking of the most effective ways to run it. We think in terms of employee management, pricing and improvements from time to time.”

At Kluang Rail Coffee, nasi lemak is available at only RM1.10 “because we want our food to be affordable to all”.

“We believe the kopitiam will never go out of fashion. This is why we have to retain its values and sentiments and make sure the prices are reasonable despite the economic uncertainties,“ said Ben Winn.

He said the biggest challenge facing his family business is keeping it abreast with the changing trends without sacrificing its original identity.

“There are many other kopitiams using names similar to ours but we don’t think it is wrong for them to do so. But we have to be ready to embrace change in line with consumer behaviour so that we are not left behind,“ he added.

Admitting that there have been attempts by other companies to invest in Kluang Rail Coffee, Ben Winn said the offers were rejected because his family did not want any change in their business identity.

“We are still learning and want to develop our business to remain relevant. We are ready to collaborate with online food delivery platforms like Food Panda, which recently launched its business here, so that our customers have easier access to our food and beverages,“ he added. — Bernama

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