Upon stepping into the brightly-lit establishment of the recently opened Tiong Jaya restaurant in Kilanas, you would not expect that the spacious restaurant was once home to one of the first few furniture stores in the sultanate.
For four decades, Tiong Jaya was synonymous to the furniture store that preceded the it and for many that resided in Kilanas, the store felt like a permanent fixture to the community.
Forty years later however, despite the transition into food and beverage, the connection with the community is still not lost, with the Tiong Jaya restaurant steadily becoming a new watering hole which still holds important remnants of its early days.
From the vibrant red carpet juxtaposed with the classic golden furniture, the atmosphere of the restaurant is bathed in an air of warmth and nostalgia, reminiscent of its early days.
Opened in October, Tiong Jaya restaurant is the second business venture for the Lee family, after Nasi Ayam Mulaut, and their menu features a wide array of Asian cuisine made with a different point-of-view, an imaginative flair.
What’s on the menu?
Their first food venture, Nasi Ayam Mulaut inspired the Lee family to open another restaurant that would focus more on the family dining experience and with an extensive list of Asian cuisine.
Tiong Jaya restaurant was initially conceived as a Dim Sum joint, but according to Assistant Manager Desmond Au, the idea was later scrapped in favour of incorporating their own signature twist on traditional Asian dishes.
After a month of opening the family-run restaurant, it has already made a name for itself with its homely ambience combining in tandem with a menu that boasts mouth-watering Asian Fusion delights with origins from Thai, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.
The diverse menu also features an assortment of specialty sushi rolls which also include intriguing raw and cooked non-sushi choices, such as their crowd-pleaser, the salmon belly with flavourful teriyaki sauce.
Their signature chicken wings is one of the highlights of the menu, being fried to a golden crispy perfection. Some of the other must-tries on the other hand are the nestum prawns, thai-style fish fillet and their aromatic and flavorful ginger beef.
On the sweeter side, the restaurant also includes a variety of desserts such as the classic favourite such as the chocolate roll or their choices of cheesecake from Chicago to Blueberry cheesecake.
Even with the daily menu, Tiong Jaya tries to create different specials each day in an effort to keep things exciting and fresh for the customers.
The spacious dining area can accommodate up to a maximum of 400 customers. There is also a cosy private area as well as a sushi bar area. There is also outside seating for those who want to enjoy the fresh air.
Building business through family and community
Managing Director of Tiong Jaya, Lee Kok Tiong’s personal touch can be seen everywhere in the restaurant. The walls are adorned with framed photographs of VIPs who have dined at the restaurant, often posing with Tiong and his family members.
Tiong would spend every day at the restaurant and can be spotted working behind the cash register or striking up conversations with his customers, because there are two important tenets in business that the Lee family adheres to; hospitality and the sense of community.
Desmond noted from their previous business how their loyal customers became a key aspect to the business’s success, emphasising on good customer service and building relationships with them.
“Most of the customers are actually returning customers from the furniture business. They continued to support Tiong Jaya as we have continuously supported our community in Kilanas by also giving back to them,” Desmond said.
Since the move from the furniture business to restaurant, Desmond who also assists in helping out the family’s first restaurant, Nasi Ayam Mulaut has also been helping with the day-to-day ongoings of Tiong Jaya.
The history of Tiong Jaya
Tiong Jaya was first established in the 1980s, initially known as Mewah Berjaya Furniture. The business was founded by Tiong’s father, Lee Ting King with the sole aim to provide the best-quality and affordable furniture for his customers.
Mewah Berjaya Furniture was among the oldest family-owned furniture stores in the sultanate and it was only in 2002, that the name was changed to Tiong Jaya Furniture.
Business however started to wane during the late 2000s where the furniture business struggled to compete with the ever-growing competition, including the opening of newer and more modern furniture stores.
“Back in the 80s and 90s it was the golden age for our business due to the lack of competition in the furniture business,” Desmond shared.
He noted how the furniture business is ever-changing, with modern consumers now opting for fast and affordable furniture over luxury and antiques.
“We were well-known for our Rosewood furniture. People would come from every corner of the district to look for matching Rosewood sets for their dining tables,” he shared.
He shared that some of his best memories have always been during the store’s sales event such as Chinese New Year, Mid-year, Hari Raya or year-end sales, as it would attract crowds of customers.
“We would be selling furniture until there was almost nothing left in the showroom,” he continued.
After 40 years in the business and jumping through several obstacles to remain relevant, the Lee family chose to close down its very first furniture business and open up a second restaurant.
“It was about time to let the business go,” said Tiong, who began working at the store at the age of 20, before taking over his father’s business.
He spent much of his childhood watching his parents work and running the family business from their small family vegetable stall to their grocery store.
Tiong is highly involved in keeping the Lee business together. For him however, the business is less about generating income and more about preserving a sense of family, and the feeling of community than anything else.
He is a staunch believer of hospitality being the foundation of the business and was very passionate about helping his customers find the right furniture for their home to provide them with employment opportunities.
Now in his late 60s, Tiong would spend every morning bright and early opening the restaurant and greeting every new customer as if they were old friends.
The Bruneian | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN