Founding S.E. Asia’s Gardenia Brand – Bakeries & Foods
S.E. Asia’s household brand name Gardenia Restaurant Bakeries & Foods was first established in 1959 by Datuk Wong Tze-Fatt as a fine “surf and turf” British colonial Grill Room, named Gardenia Restaurant located above his Tong-Hing Supermarket on #55 Bond Street Jesselton, which was then the capital of the Crown Colony of British North Borneo.
Gardenia Restaurant soon gained fame for its Sizzling Pepper Steak served on a hot-plate, and other classical colonial favourites such as, Steak Diane Flambe, Fillet Steak Rossini, Mulligatawny Soup, Mock Turtle Soup, Lobster Thermidor, Maryland Spring Chicken, Dover Sole Meunière, Battenberg Cake and Bombe Alaska flambé. On a clear Saturday evening, Gardenia Restaurant was a popular venue for ballroom dancing on its open air roof-top veranda where both British expatriate and local diners could waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, cha-cha, rumba, and tango to the popular recorded ballroom dance music of the Victor Sylvester Dance Orchestra.
*In 1963 the British Crown Colony of North Borneo gained independence as Sabah State of Malaysia and North Borneo’s capital Jesselton was renamed Kota-Kinabalu the present State capital of Sabah, Malaysia.
Gardenia Air-Catering Services – K.K. Airport Catering & In-Flight Services Providers
In 1969 Gardenia Restaurant extended food and beverages operations to Kota-Kinabalu Airport as Gardenia Airport Café and soon after was awarded a supply contract by Borneo Airways to provide sandwiches cakes and beverages for their British North Borneo In-Flight Services requirements. This marked Gardenia Brand’s entry into In-Flight Catering and which pioneered Gardenia Catering Services and which after independence of British North Borneo as the Malaysia State of Sabah continued as Kota Kinabalu International Air-Terminal’s leading In-Flight-Catering Service Provider.
Sye Slocum – Classic US Sliced Sandwich Loaf Recipe.
In 1971 Kota-Kinabalu was rapidly developing as an important international business destination in the S. E. Asia region. With a view to meeting the demands for international quality Sliced Sandwich Bread to serve its growing In-flight -Catering business orders for sandwiches, Datuk Wong Tze-Fatt engaged Sye Slocum of the Chicago Baking Institute USA as a bakery consultant to share his Original Classic U.S Sliced Sandwich Bread Recipe.
In the same year Gardenia Brand Bakeries was established, which marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Sye Slocum and Datuk Wong Tze Fatt. Being that Sye Slocum hails from the Southern State of Alabama USA, the honorific Southern moniker “Uncle Slocum” became his nickname and was later used to name his Original Recipe for Gardenia’s Classic U.S Recipe Sliced Sandwich Bread.
Gardenia “There is no Substitute for Quality”
Prior to Sye Slocum’s introduction of his Original US Recipe Classic Gardenia Sliced Sandwich Bread to S.E. Asia, the norm for S E Asia’s bakers was to use weak low protein general-purpose wheat flour in a straight dough process to bake sandwich bread loaf. However this baking recipe and process tended to form large dough bubbles during the fermentation stage and when baked and put through the slicer for packing, resulted in large holes in the final bread slices which further shrank and warped dramatically when put through the toaster.
Under Sye Slocum’s tutelage Gardenia Bakery learnt to temper strong high-protein wheat flour with a Sponge & Dough baking process to produce a nutritious High Protein Classic US Sliced Sandwich Bread which retained a fine silky soft texture and when sliced did not reveal large holes in its slices or would shrink and warp dramatically when toasted.
Taking a leaf from USA’s public national health program created after its great depression in the 1930’s, Sye Slocum introduced vitamin enrichment of the Classic Sliced Sandwich Loaf to better the health and diet of S.E. Asia’s growing population.
The strong wheat flour’s higher protein apart from having higher nutritional content has the added property of retaining a shelf display life of over 7 days and when coupled with a USA’s marketing retail practice of taking bread returns which was on the third morning after a maximum of 2 days display; to take unsold goods in return and replacement with new fresh baked breads. This ensured daily fresh out of the oven quality for the consumer.
Gardenia International Overseas
In 1974 Gardenia Brand expanded overseas to Brunei Darussalam and Singapore. In Brunei bakery production began the same year under the auspices of Brunei International Airport’s Gardenia Airport & In-Flight Catering Services, and in Singapore Gardenia International Pty Ltd was registered and was tasked to search for a suitable location to start Gardenia’s first In-Store Bakery overseas venture.
In 1978 three shop units were acquired at Singapore’s new Bukit Timah Shopping Centre at Holland Road to start Gardenia In-Store Bakery & Ice Cream Parlour and Wishbone Restaurant. Datuk Wong Tze Fatt invited Sye Slocum to help launch Gardenia International Singapore’s first modest but highly sort after Gardenia In-Store Bakery at Bukit Timah Plaza.
With the great success of Singapore’s Gardenia In-Store Bakery and growing demand for Gardenia Brand products, a new Gardenia Bakery plant was completed at Singapore’s Pandan Loop Industrial Park and production started in 1981 with wholesale bread distribution to Singapore’s convenience stores, groceries and supermarkets.
Gardenia Bakery Territories
With the growing success of Gardenia Bakeries’ Classic U.S Recipe Sliced Sandwich Bread Datuk Wong Tze Fatt observed that rapid urbanisation in Peninsular West Malaysia in contrast with the less urbanized communities of East Malaysia and Indonesia constituted two asymmetrical consumer markets for Gardenia bakery products.
Marketing studies indicated that the urbane markets of Singapore and greater Kuala Lumpur, product demand was for convenience snack food, whereas in East Malaysia and Kalimantan, Gardenia Bread was a growing staple. To meet this asymmetrical market challenge, Datuk Wong Tze Fatt looked for a strategic partner to develop Gardenia Brand Franchise in the urbanised cities of Singapore, West Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, while keeping the Gardenia Brand Franchise for East Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia for development by his Tong Hing Holdings Sdn Bhd Company.
In 1990 Gardenia International Pty Ltd formed the first co-venture with QAF Pty Ltd and extended bakeries production to Kuala Lumpur Peninsular Malaysia which marked the beginning of today’s group of highly successful Gardenia Bakeries, widely recognized as S.E. Asia’s leading Food Brand for quality and halal certified bread, pastries and cakes.
However certain Gardenia franchise territories and bakery operations including Gardenia Foods Sdn Bhd bakery franchise for West Malaysia were delineated and Gardenia Brand “devolved” to QAF (S) PLC while Tze-Fatt’s Tong Hing Holdings Sdn Bhd maintained ownership of the Gardenia Brand & Bakeries in East Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.
Fin-de-siècle – Gardenia Brand Pioneers
After a short period of failing health, Sye Slocum passed away at his home near Birmingham Alabama USA in 1985 and in 2004 Datuk Wong Tze Fatt passed away in his home at Kota Kinabalu Sabah Malaysia. The passing of the two pioneers marked the fin-de-siècle of Gardenia Brand’s founding era and the passing of the baton to a new generation.
Gardenia Beverages Sdn Bhd
On 13th Sept 1978 Dato Wong Tze Fatt flew with his eldest son Wong Kah Ho from Kota Kinabalu to Hong Kong and in the days after met with PepsiCo USA executives at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and signed letter of interest as PepsiCo’s Sabah’s Franchised Bottler for Pepsi-Cola and Fanta Beverages.
Gardenia Beverages Sdn Bhd was incorporated on 17th October 1978 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Dato Wong Tze Fatt’s Tong Hing Holdings Sdn Bhd holdings company, which then invested in a Beverages Bottling Plant sited in Putatan, Kota Kinabalu Sabah Malaysia.
On 16th May 1981, the plant was officially opened by the Honourable Deputy Chief Minister Datuk James P Onkili and bottling operations of Pepsi-Cola and Mirinda globally acclaimed beverages brands began in Sabah.
In 1985, Gardenia Beverages Sdn Bhd pioneered an aluminium canning and PET bottling line in Sabah, and produced a successful line of popular Malaysian still and fizzy beverages leading with first with Gardenia Soya Bean, Orange Cream Soda, and then followed by Gardenia Sarsi, Strawberry, and Chrysanthemum Tea.
In the year 2004, following the passing of Dato Wong Tze Fatt, and the distribution of his estate, the new owners of Tong Hing Holdings Sdn Bhd saw that Sabah’s market consumer behaviour was fast changing and its economy was rapidly diversifying out of its resource based economy primarily in timber logging. As a result the new owners elected to consolidate investment holdings to Gardenia Bakery Franchises, Real Estate & Property Development, Tourism and Hospitality business operations. Its subsidiary company Gardenia Beverages’ bottling operations was wound down by 2014.
The Best Is Yet To Come!
From its early beginnings in Kota-Kinabalu Sabah, Malaysia and Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam; Gardenia Brand’s franchised bakeries are now represented throughout South East Asia and the Far East. The Gardenia family of franchisees is enjoined in a common heritage committed to quality baking in keeping the finest Gardenia original recipe and employing the best marketing practices for the distribution of Gardenia Brand continental sandwich & variety breads.
In 2007 Gardenia Bakery franchise for East Malaysia (Sabah, Sarawak), Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia was acquired by JWPK Holdings Sdn Bhd.