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12 Brands You Didn’t Know Were Actually Malaysian

Life is full of surprises. One minute you’re taking a snoozer, then your evil 4-year-old nephew chooses to fly like he’s in Neverland ON TOP OF your belly. One day you think the hot barrista from that hipster café has the hots for you because you caught her winking non-stop over your coffee, then you find out it’s just the pinkeye.

Just when you think you’ve maxed out your quota of surprises a full-grown person can handle in a year, you find out that San Francisco Coffee is not from San Francisco after all. Say vaaaat? Sorry bro but it’s true that your fancy foreign kopi is actually an original Malaysian brand…… Surprise!!!

Here are 12 brands you might have probably thought were from some exotic faraway land but in truth are from good ol’ Malaysia.

1. Lewré

Two words – Peng. San.

Everyone knows Jimmy Choo is Malaysian but maybe you wouldn’t have guessed outright that Lewré is Malaysian… (maybe coz it’s missing a Choo or Tan or Wong?) Lewré was actually created by a Lew – Datuk Lewré Lew. Since it was launched in 1997, the brand has become much sought after by celebs and royalty. And now his designs are all over the world.

Image from Malaysian Digest

Dato Lewré Lew looks Malaysian enough. Image from Malaysian Digest

Here’s an interesting tidbit – Jimmy Choo is his mentor! “I am very lucky that my sifu, Datuk Jimmy generously shared his knowledge and contacts with me. Working with him has brought me to another level and has given me a better understanding about how a brand is built,” he remarked. Whenever he’s in London he spends time at Choo’s studio to sharpen his craft.

Shoes are very important for everyone, in particular ladies’ high heels. I had no idea until I put in the effort to learn more about feet. Shoes are so important as they hold your feet and carry you everywhere.” – Datuk Lewré Lew, The Star

2. San Francisco Coffee

Image from My Deal

Just the thing for crappy mornings. Image from My Deal

Are we 110% sure about this? Why not ask Google Maps. Oh mystical and mighty Google Maps – *sprinkles magic dust around* – is San Francisco Coffee from San Francisco at all?

Screen cap from Google Maps

From Frisco, your nearest San Francisco Coffee cafe is… 17 hours and 30 minutes away?! Screen cap from Google Maps

Yep that about answers our question. Thank you mystical and magical Google Maps.

But wait here’s a story most of you probably don’t know. There was once an American who lived in San Francisco for a time. He loved it so much there that when he decided to set up a café business in Malaysia in 1997, he named it San Francisco Coffee. It began as a single café and understood absolutely how important it is for every morning beast to get their fix before they start breathing fire over everybody.

The coffee establishment is now owned by Lyndarahim Ventures Sdn. Bhd. under Datuk Abdul Rahim Zin. It has grown to over 33 outlets within the Klang Valley, Marketing Manager Nik Azwaa told CILISOS.

3. BONIA (and Sembonia and Carlo Rino)

Hmmm why would anyone guess Bonia is probably like from Italy? Hmmm could be the Italiano-sounding names of its flagship and sister labels: BONIA, Pizza, Sembonia, Pasta, Carlo Rino, Aglio Olio, Super Mario, etc. Or maybe it’s just Italian inspired.

BONIA, The Italian Inspiration. Screencap from

BONIA, The Italian Inspiration. Screencap from

But in truth the brand is from spoiler: Malaysia Malaysia.

BONIA Corporation Berhad was founded in 1974 by Group Executive Chairman S.S. Chiang. In 1977 he visited the Leather Trade Fair in Bologna, Italy where he was inspired by the artwork of 16th century sculptor, Giambologna.

From this

Depictions of ham sap, otherwise known as art. Giambologna's 'Architettura'. Image from Wikimedia

Depictions of ham sap, otherwise known as art. Giambologna’s ‘Architettura’. Image from Wikimedia

To this

Image from Bonia's Facebook page

From the men’s AW14/15 collection. Image from Bonia’s Facebook page

Additionally, the Group holds the license to distribute these other brands – Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club, Austin Reed, Valentino Rudy, Jeep, The Savile Row Company, Braun Buffel, Pierre Cardin, Bruno Magli, Enrico Coveri, Renoma Café Gallery and Renoma.

4. The Manhattan FISH MARKET

Image from Groupon

Image from Groupon

Show of hands and wave, how many of you would have guessed The Manhattan FISH MARKET is from Manhattan? You just embarrassed yourself in public if you are reading this in public la.

Though the restaurant was inspired by the famous 180-year-old Fulton Fish Market, its founders (and best buds) George Ang and Dr. Jeffrey Goh are super proud of their Malaysian identity. “When we opened The Manhattan Fish Market in Singapore, there was no escaping the cynicism and derisiveness but we managed to deflect the negativity once the disbelievers saw how our outlet reeled in the crowd night after night,” said Jeffrey. Suck it Singi.

Guys, you might want to turn on Safe Search for this next pic.

Grilled Flaming Lobster Platter. Image from The Manhattan FISH MARKET

Grilled Flaming Lobster Platter. Image from The Manhattan FISH MARKET

Meanwhile there was a dispute between the restaurant and Fish & Co. which you can read more about here. To demonstrate to you in seafood form what the fight (did not) looked like…

“People are always surprised when they discover The Manhattan Fish Market is a Malaysian brand. What amazes them more is how well we have performed within such a short span of time,” George Ang, The Star

5. 1901 Hot Dog

La-la-la-la-la-la not listeniiiiiing.

Don’t be in denial la. We know with a name like 1901 Hot Dog, customers would conjure up images of late 19th century America (before it became Murica), men in top hats and ladies carrying parasols…. HAD they stuck with their old logo. Remember this logo?

Image from buddyfication

1901 Hot Dog’s old logo. Image from buddyfication.

But NINETEEN O One Sdn. Bhd. had a complete makeover in 2007 because the company had big plans to expand to a halal market in the Middle East and other Asian countries. Some pretty hot-doggity changes were made to outlets, positioning, products, logo and target market.

And so we got this logo now.

1901 new logo. Image from Franchise Malaysia

1901 Hot Dog’s new logo. Image from Franchise Malaysia.

For you nostalgic few who find it hard to accept change – yes even to the point of mourning a retired logo – let’s just say that 1901’s founders thought long and hard before saying good-bye to their iconic little dude in the suit and straw hat. Read what Co-founder Zakir Jaafar had to say about it.

Let’s backtrack a bit to the history of 1901. Zakir and Tengku Rozidar Tengku Zainol Abidin initiated their chain in 1997 and named it 1901 based on the story of how the ‘hot dog’ came about. In 1901 at the New York Polo Grounds, vendors were hawking hot dogs, shouting “They’re red hot! Get your dachshund  sausages while they’re red hot!” New York Journal sports cartoonist Tad Dorgan drew a cartoon of barking dachshund sausages in warm rolls, but not knowing how to spell ‘dachshund’ he wrote ‘hot dog’. So the hot dog was born.

6. Gardenia

Image from youbeli

Image from youbeli

So you thought Gardenia was an American brand? Well the recipe and the face behind it may have been, but here’s how it went.

In 1969, Horatio ‘Sye’ Slocumm from Atlanta, US, travelled to East Malaysia, sent by the International Executive Service Corporation (IESC) to start a bakery. Gardenia Food Industries was established in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah by its founder Datuk Wong Tze Fatt with Slocumm’s bakery knowhow and Jim Humphries’ creamery experience. Until today, ‘Uncle Slocumm’s orignal recipe’ is still carried on the labels of its bread, Gardenia Bakeries KL’s Marcomm Department told CILISOS. Even the one in Singapore, which is a completely separate business entity.

Breaded cat. Image from Eric Adamshick on Flickr

How NOT to use a slice of Gardenia bread. Image from Eric Adamshick on Flickr.

Did you guys know you can go on a FREE factory tour? The Bread Time Story Tour shows you how all the treats and ends with some refreshment as well. Ha, ha, your eyes are probably perking up right now!

7. Fipper

Fipper's Comfort range. Image from Fipper

Fipper’s Comfort range. Image from Fipper

Harrr? Fipper as in Feel The Rubber? Yes the very one.

We thought it might have hailed from the same places that produced Roxy, Havaianas, iPANEMA or some other sunkissed country like that. Ermm, OK la Malaysia is sunkissed but we sorta had California on our minds.

Jack Lim founded the brand in 2008. The slippers are priced at only RM13 to RM23 a pair and made of Thai rubber hence the little elephant logo. They can be found at a lot of places including petrol stations, hotels and convenience stores so in case the pair you’re wearing breaks, you can easily pick on up at these places.

Also you can use it to slap someone annoying or experiment with it for the buttered toast phenomenon to see whether it lands sole or strap-side down.

8. Beryl’s

The Camior range is from Beryl's! Image from Beryl's Chocolate

The Camior range is from Beryl’s! Image from Beryl’s Chocolate

Beryl. What a sweet, classic name for a baby girl. To us it’s a feminine name of Sanskrit origin which means clear or pale precious stone. To geologists, beryl is a mineral composed of beryllium aluminium cyclosilicate with the chemical formula Be3Al2(SiO3). So uhmm, if your name is Beryl and you’re looking for a cool alternative to sign your initials, you can go with Be3!

Beryl’s Chocolate and Confectionary was established in 1995. Crafted using cocoa beans from Ghana, it has over 70 types of chocolates including durian and chilli flavours. In fact the durian flavour has a bigger fanbase in Taiwan than in Malaysia itself!

Image from Beryl's Chocolate on Facebook

Image from Beryl’s Chocolate on Facebook

If you’ve always wished you could be Charlie Bucket and take a trip around a chocolate factory, now you can. Beryl’s will give you a grand tour if you ask really nicely (ie. call to make an appointment). They can organise the tour in English, Malay, Mandarin or Cantonse.

9. Vochelle

Because once is not enough when it comes to chocolate, we have another Malaysian chocolate brand to share with you.

Image from Maestro Swiss Group

Image from Maestro Swiss Group

In old-skool block bars or covernut dragee form, Vochelle seeks to promote locally-made chocolates to the world. Vochelle is distributed by the Maestro Swiss Group which isn’t from Switzerland at all. And they proudly profess their Malaysian roots (under ‘Company Values’. Kalau under ‘Company Values’, pastilah benar).

Incidentally Maestro Swiss also manufactures Vico which everyone surely recognises as Malaysian.

Map from Maestro Swiss Group

All routes lead back to good old Malaysia. Map from Maestro Swiss Group


‘Ogawa’, meaning ‘stream’ in Japanese was used to create the brand’s concept of ‘starting from a river source and emerging at the end mighty as the ocean’. Wah, can write Chinese romantic fiction with this title. First you might think that the brand originated from Japan (abuden). Summore got Canto-star endorsing it leh…

Wong Lee Keong and Lim Poh Khian (Malaysians) built the brand in 1996 (Malaysia) so today, we (Malaysians) have this to thank them for.

Smart Aire Plus 3D Zero Gravity Massage Chair. Image from OGAWA

Ahhhhhhhhhh. Smart Aire Plus 3D Zero Gravity Massage Chair. Image from OGAWA

How to make full use of your OGAWA massage chair? Let’s take a cue from Joey and Chandler.

11. British India

Image from EshiQa Honey Savannah Ranjan on Coroflot

Image from EshiQa Honey Savannah Ranjan on Coroflot

WHAT?! No way! With a name like British India, you might have been forgiven if you had thought the brand was from either:

But the brand, presented as “an era of racism, oppression, injustice and nice outfits,” by Yasmin Ahmad – for an advertising campaign duh, not out of spite – is absolutely Malaysian.

Yasmin Ahmad. Image from uhcseas on Flickr

Wrong occasion but right expression (and hand gesture) for the advertising campaign that Yasmin created for British India. Read it below. Image from uhcseas on Flickr

Yasmin worked on the tongue-in-cheek tagline for her good friend Pat Liew who is the founder of the fashion label. Read about how her hard work has paid off all these years here. In one of her anecdotes, Pat detailed difficult times too like in 2009 when Suria KLCC wanted to relocate the outlet to a less fabulous location. Fighting hard to keep her place but settling it very amicably, Pat managed to stay put in her prime location.

“It’s not just about having prime space for international brands, but also to showcase ‘Made in Malaysia’. I am Malaysian,” she expressed in The Star’s article. You tell it, Pat!



It’s the BUFORI GENEVA! Ermagerd… even for someone who knows zilch about cars. Image from BUFORI

OMG just look at those hot rods! It would have been more believable if someone told you the car drove right out of a 1930s gangster movie rather than out of…………… Kepong?!!! BUFORI cars inspired by 1930s American coupes are hand-crafted in Kepong, KL! According to the brand, “THIS is one of the few places in the world where skilled craftsmen with a tradition of painstaking handwork can be found in great number.” *Snaps imaginary suspenders against chest proudly*

Originally, it was started by 3 Australian Lebanese brothers – Anthony, George and Gerry Khouri – in Australia. But in 1998 they moved full production to Kepong under Bufori Motor Car Company (M) Sdn. Bhd. So yes, that’s full operations moved HERE and craftsmenship from the good people of Malaysia. BUFORI stands for


To get your hands on one of these show-offable cars there’s no such thing as a waiting list. From placing your order until final shipping you’ll have to wait about 4 to 6 months but it makes the day you get to take it home all the sweeter we’re sure. Here’s a review on the BUFORI La JOYA (La JOYA = ‘The Jewel’ in Spanish).

Wazzup with this obsession for international brands?

Yeah why? Why are Malaysians so obsessed with things that had to cross borders, oceans, mountains, streams, meadows, longkangs to be sold over here?

In reply to someone. Comment from Low Yat Forum

The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations confirmed this stating that instead of buying cheaper in-house brands, consumers opt for branded items that are usually more expensive.

But all those brands mentioned above could totally trump the perception that overseas is better any day and at probably half the price to boot. Malaysians are capable of producing global standard stuff. Just look at the Khouri brothers who chose to operate BUFORI in Malaysia because of the talent here. And what about Cheong Choon Ng, Malaysian-born creator of the Rainbow Loom who, according to The Mirror, is worth GBP80 million (RM420 million) today!

In spite of all this, there are some elements that point to a changing tide. CEOs, bosses and top guns like Pat Liew who’s very proud of bringing her Malaysian brand, British India to an international market. And buddies George Ang and Jeffrey Goh who pwned the Singaporeans when their first Manhattan FISH MARKET on the island was a hit. Even Datuk Jimmy Choo declared his pride of being a Malaysian. He explained that while it was important to promote international brands, it was equally important for local designers to be given adequate support.

So 3 cheers for us. Hip-hip-hurrah. Pats on the back. Pop the champagne. Kthnxbai.


Actually... how much does it cost to maintain Mercedes compared to Proton Perdana?


  1. Pingback: Malaysia: How Much Do You Know About Our Local Food Brand? | Vbid Extra

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