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, Chocolate glazed Vanilla Cream Eclairs, 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 British North Borneo’s first Colonial Steak & Grill Room; refer webpage My Gardenia “A Timeless Place” https://mygardenia.com/Gardenia Colonial Grill Room
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.
“Gardenia Golden Age of Flight, refer webpage My Gardenia “A Timeless Place” – https://mygardenia.com/Gardenia's Golden Age of Air-Travel
In 2004 with the passing of Datuk Wong Tze Fatt founder of S E Asia’s Gardenia Foods Brand and the distribution of his estate; JWPK Holdings Sdn Bhd the new owners of Tong Hing Holdings Sdn Bhd and subsidiary Gardenia Air Catering Services sdn bhd, in 2009 elected to consolidate their investment holdings to Gardenia Bakery Franchises, Real Estate & Property Development, and Tourism Hospitality businesses……………..With mutual consent by all parties, Gardenia Air Catering Sdn Bhd ceased operations in 2015.
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 gas bubbles during the dough fermentation stage and when baked and put through the slicer for packing, resulted in large holes (Like a French Baguette) 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 GFI Brands; Beverages & Creameries
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 Mirinda Beverages.
Gardenia Beverages Sdn Bhd was incorporated on 17th October 1978 as a 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 first with Gardenia Soya Bean, Orange Cream Soda, and then followed by Gardenia Sarsi, Strawberry, and Chrysanthemum Tea.
Datuk Wong Tze Fatt’s Tong Hing Supermarket was a purveyor of imported of hard Ice Creams products in Kota Kinabalu Sabah Malaysia, which in the nineteen fifties and sixties were all imported and shipped from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Hard Ice Cream contained less milk butter fat and is served at a temperature of below 12 degrees Celsius, and could be hardened at temperatures well below 12 degrees Celsius before shipping in reefer containers from overseas manufacturers.
In the USA, hard Ice Cream with a high vegetable fat content is classified as confectionary, whereas soft Ice Cream which has a high milk butter fat content is classified as a food, and a premium Ice Cream served at 6 degrees Celsius. Its higher milk butter fat content gives satiety and a satisfying smooth and soft milky taste, but due to its higher aeration and milk butter content was prone to being de-natured from poor handling and when shipped over long distances requiring very careful refrigeration temperature control throughout the whole delivery process.
The strong sales of imported hard ice cream retail packs in Tong Hing Supermarket and the increasing popularity of USA style soft ice cream in S.E Asia as a premium food product lent impetus for Datuk Wong Tze Fatt to venture into the local production of Gardenia soft ice cream.
In 1972, Datuk Wong Tze Fatt purchased an Italian Ice Cream Cone vending machine and between 1973 and 1975 Signor Villa Luigi came over to Malaysia with a commission to tutor Mr Leong See Seng as the supervising production technician. The vending of Gardenia Ice Cream tubs and cones sales of classical Vanilla, Chocolate Strawberry and Coffee flavours soon proved to be a popular success in Kota Kinabalu.
Due to the success of Gardenia brand ice cream, Datuk Wong Tze Fatt, decided to scale up production and to produce a USA style soft ice cream supermarket retail packs to be sold at his Tong Hing Supermarket as well as vending ice cream scoop cups and cones from refrigerated ice cream vending cabinets. In 1974 Datuk Wong Tze Fatt approached the Singapore US Embassy and they arranged engaging Mr Jim Humphries from the USA Government retirees consultancy overseas program.
On 14th December 1973, Gardenia Ice & Confectionery Sdn Bhd was registered and the company began purchasing US Ice Cream making machinery to Mr Jim Humphries specification and setup a Batching line at a back lot of Tong Hing Supermarket 55 Gaya Street. In 1975 Mr Jim Humphries flew over to Kota Kinabalu Sabah Malaysia on a year’s contract to provide technical consultancy to produce package and retail American style retail ice cream tubs and packs for Tong Hing Supermarket, as well as selling soft ice cream scoops cups and wafer cones from refrigerated vending cabinets stalls.
Gardenia Brand Ice Creams, soon proved to be very successful for their popular soft ice cream flavours of Strawberry, Chocolate, Vanilla, Coffee and local specialities flavours of Yam and the signature Gardenia Durian Ice Cream with fruit pulp.
On the 24th May 1978, Gardenia Ice & Confectionery Sdn Bhd change name to Gardenia Food Industries Sdn Bhd and GFI became the operating manufacturing company for both Gardenia Creameries as well as Gardenia Sandwich Sliced Bread Loaf both initially starting up as in-store bakery and creameries for Tong Hing Supermarket at 55 Gaya Street. Then in 1978, Gardenia Food Industries Creameries, and Bakeries production were re-located from their Tong Hing Supermarket in-store premises at 55 Gaya Street and moved to a new Gardenia Food Industries factory located at Inanam while GFI’s Gardenia Beverages opened bottling and canning production in their new purpose built factory in the Putatan suburb of Kota Kinabalu.
Consolidation of Tong Hing Holdings Group 2010-2016.
In the year 2004, following the passing of Dato Wong Tze Fatt the founder of Gardenia Foods Brand products and distribution of his estate; the new owners of his 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 which was primarily in timber logging export and into growth of services industries. As a result the new owners JWPK Holdings elected in 2009 to consolidate their investment holdings to Gardenia Bakery Franchises, Real Estate & Property Development, Tourism & Hospitality businesses.
In the process of consolidation by the new owners of Tong Hing Holdings its two subsidiary companies GFI Gardenia Creameries cease operation in Sep 2013 and Gardenia Beverages Sdn Bhd’ 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.