Exploring flavours and culture

Izah Azahari

Having a business in Brunei will always see many ups and downs, especially when balancing between several businesses.

Dilys Chai, 28, owner of three food and beverage businesses – Rack & Brew, Roots and Grazed by Lemonpops – speaking on how she manages through life, said she has had a fortunate journey in the business world, coupled with a strong support system.

After graduating from university with a fashion and marketing degree, Chai opened Rack & Brew Boutique Café about six years ago, which sold women’s clothing alongside a café. The boutique was later turned into an event space.

In September 2019, the first branch of Roots opened, followed by the second branch in March 2020, while Grazed by Lemonpops is a grazing table business that originated from her passion in food styling.

“My mom is an amazing cook. I would always style the food that she cooked,” said Chai.

Since the establishment of her first restaurant, her passion for food has grown. As a child, her parents always said “a family that eats together, stays together”.

Dilys Chai, owner of three food and beverage businesses. PHOTO: AZIZ IDRIS

“I think I’ve always had an interest in food, even though I focussed on fashion. Growing up, I was always in the kitchen with my mom. I love the different flavours, textures and colours.

“When I was in university, I liked trying out different foods through café and restaurant hopping. Whenever I travelled, I explored different flavours and cultures,” said Chai.

She believes that fashion has brought out her creativity. Her venture into food styling took roots when she opened Rack & Brew.

“I knew I had an interest in food creativity. When I started my grazing table at home, we had friends come over. They would ask if we could do it for their events. I started on a small scale at first. From there, I realised that there’s a lot of interest in it, so I decided to turn that into a business,” she said.

On Roots, she said, they wanted to create something that had the potential to educate people about healthy eating.

Chai said running a business has numerous challenges, such as meeting everyone’s needs, as different customers have different requirements. Even when they do make mistakes, Chai said, they try to learn from them.

Balancing between life and business, she said, means every day is different as the food and beverage business is an exciting world.

“I have meetings and events to attend, but normally I start my day with breakfast and then run my errands in the morning, before visiting my stores,” said Chai. “I try to be at every one of my restaurants whenever I can, and I would try to work out in the afternoon, even if I’m really busy. I feel that really helps with my stress, and it always makes me feel a lot better.”

Chai also works closely with Hybrid Movement Gym to try to educate people on the importance of not just physical health, but also emotional and mental health, especially the challenges revolving around COVID-19.

“I think it’s important to have a balance. Sometimes we get carried away working and don’t realise that the day passes by so quickly,” she said.

Chai also had the opportunity to meet motivated and inspiring people in the Sultanate, especially at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in March last year.

“It was so nice to see that as a community, we come together to try and support each other. We’re very lucky that we have such a strong community that works together to attain the Brunei Vision 2035,” she added.

Chai also believes that aspiring entrepreneurs should seized the day.

“Even if you fail, it doesn’t matter. Pick yourself up, learn from those experiences, and bring it forward. With such an attitude, you will definitely be successful,”she said.

The entrepreneur said people should be mindful of their physical, emotional and mental health, especially with the current pandemic situation. “It can get very stressful in business, so it’s important to make time for self-care and self-love, as well as adopt a more positive attitude,” she said.