Johor Kaki Travels for Food

Singapore based personal blog of true stories by johorkaki@gmail about best food, people & places around the world

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Nam Heong Ipoh - AI Powered Hainanese Coffee Shop

When I first read about the robots at Nam Heong Ipoh coffee shop in KL and Ipoh, I wasn't excited at all. I assumed that it's just an unimaginative, overused gimmick. Replacing humans with robots would just mean less human touch and therefore poorer service, right?

Well, that was exactly what I thought, until I met Andy Goh owner of Nam Heong Ipoh and understood from him the ground breaking concepts behind the robots. So, never judge a restaurant by its robots 😂

Disclaimer: This is just my own interpretation of my casual chit chat and jovial banter with Andy. 

Andy's grandfather founded Nam Heong Ipoh after arriving in Ipoh from Hainan island in China. Nam Heong started in Concubine Lane and later moved to Jalan Bandar Timah, where Andy's mum and dad still oversees the old coffee shop.

Andy had been working at Nam Heong since he was 9 years old, starting with washing cups and dishes. By 12 years old, his parents could go on holidays leaving Andy to run the show at Nam Heong.

Customers like Andy's Ipoh white coffee.

Andy went on to create with partners, the Old Town White Coffee brand. OTWC was recently sold to Dutch conglomerate JDE for close to RM1.5 billion.

Now, Andy dedicates his energies to fulfilling his grandfather's legacy to expand the Nam Heong brand. AI or Artificial Intelligence will play a big part in Nam Heong's expansion.

In Andy's vision of Nam Heong Ipoh, it will represent Malaysia around the world with just four dishes which Andy dubbed the "Four Heavenly Kings" 四大天王. Just which are these four dishes? Andy hasn't decided yet.

Right now, Nam Heong's menu consists of classic Ipoh signatures like kai si hor fun (shredded chicken kway teow soup), egg tarts, chicken rice, chee cheong fun etc. Starting from these, Nam Heong's menu will morph over time towards the "Four Heavenly Kings". 

This is one area where Andy leverages on AI.

We've all seen tablets at restaurants, it has been around for quite a while.

Andy is enlisting their help to nail down the "Four Heavenly Kings" of Malaysia food.

When we order food, we are indicating our preferences in terms of flavours, textures, and lots of other details. Nam Heong's IT team will crunch all these massive amounts of information from all their outlets and use it to narrow down to the "Four Heavenly King" dishes.

When the dishes are ordered through the tablet, they are served by robots where appropriate e.g. those dishes that do not spill, like buns, dim sum and tarts etc.

Drinks and dishes like soups are delivered by humans. What the robots do is to significantly reduce the workload of the wait staff. This frees the wait staff to spend more time and interact with customers more. So, contrary to what I feared at first, the robots at Nam Heong are designed to increase engagement between staff and customers to deliver more human touch and better service.

The robots are also good for business - e.g. after the initial spike following the launch of robots in Jan 2018, sales of dim sum stabilised at an impressive increase over pre-robot days.

When Andy's grandfather founded Nam Heong Ipoh, his goal was simply to feed the family, which was no mean feat as most immigrants landed in Malaya penniless.

When Andy was a partner at Old Town White Coffee, he was focused on creating value for partners.

Now in the third era of Nam Heong Ipoh, Andy aims to create value for customers. There are many possibilities e.g. when customers eat at Nam Heong, they create value for themselves which can be exchanged for food i.e. eat and drink for free 😮 (It reminds me of readers accessing media content for free because value is created simply by consuming content.)

This may seem a bit far fetch now but I share Andy's vision.

I am a firm believer of the mantra - What the mind can conceive and believe, man can achieve.

Everything is created twice, first in the mind and then in reality - so, we are half way there!

Andy is looking at leveraging on AI to achieve this vision. I am optimistic that it is entirely achievable and a most worthy cause.

All the best to Andy and Nam Heong Ipoh.

🐦 A little bird tells me that Nam Heong Ipoh is coming to JB 👏👏👏

Read about the old Nam Heong at Jalan Bandar Timah, Ipoh 👈 click

Date: 7 Jun 2018

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