Saturday, September 24 2022

Marrybrown is this fast food chain that has always been ambiguous to me: is it Malaysian? Between KFC, A&W, McDonald’s and many more, where does its fried chicken and burgers really rank?

I’ve only spotted it a few times on my travels, which tells me it’s not in high traffic areas or while it is, it’s pretty forgettable.

However, as I delved into their history, I learned that there was much to be proud of in their accomplishments, not only locally, but internationally as well.

The start of something new

Founded in 1981, Marrybrown was conceptualized by a Chinese couple, Dato Lawrence Liew and Datin Nancy Liew. They opened their first outlet in Wong Ah Fook Street, Johor Bahru. (According to research, it appears that this store no longer exists.)

At the same time, American fast food chains dominated the industry. Thus, Marrybrown made a name for itself by carving out its own destiny in Malaysia.

By June 2021, Marrybrown had expanded to 198 local outlets and 500 international outlets in 16 countries.

Image Credit: Marrybrown

“Although other brands had been in Malaysia for so long, there was still an opportunity as many Malaysians were constantly looking for halal western food,” Joshua, the couple’s son, told FMT.

Coupled with their love for Malaysian cuisine, the founders were all the more motivated to dive headfirst into the fast food industry.

Marrybrown’s menu includes burgers, fried chicken, local delicacies, fish dishes, kids’ dishes, nasi bowls, drinks, desserts, and more. Nothing fancy for fast food outlets, but what made it unique were its proudly Malaysian roots.

Image Credit: Marrybrown

As Joshua said, “As a local brand, we had the advantage of having an innate knowledge and understanding of Malaysians’ taste buds – their favourites, likes, dislikes, etc.”

In 2013, The Star reported that Marybrown’s recipes stand out from other fast food restaurants because they incorporate Asian culinary traditions into their menu curation.

These include offering more elaborate spice forms, a variety of rice specialties and a tastier halal menu.

Image Credit: Marrybrown

Plus, just like there’s a first time for everything, the fast-food chain has had a number of industry “firsts” since it opened its first outlet. As noted in the same The Star article, Marrybrown was the first to:

  • Introduce rice products in their menu (1999);
  • Throwing Porridges (1998);
  • Offer mineral water as an alternative to sodas (2000); and
  • Build a playground for balls (2003).

Marybrown’s Journey

It’s been 41 years since the fast-food chain began operations, and while it may not be as ubiquitous as other fast-food chains like KFC and McDonald’s, it still has a pretty solid following.

That is, if its international presence is anything to go by. To date, Marrybrown has steadily made its way beyond Malaysia, spreading across much of the Asian continent, even reaching Tanzania and Sweden (although that particular outlet later closed).

Recently, in January 2022, Marrybrown drew a mural in his latest outlet located in one of Malaysia’s tourist attractions.

This drawing is at the Red House along Jalan Tan Hiok Nee of Johor Bahru. Made in collaboration with local mural artist Sam Lim, the mural aims to galvanize the cultural building and focuses on the theme “Around the World”.

Image Credit: Marrybrown

It depicts a train carrying Marrybrown’s dishes to Malaysian fans at home and around the world, introducing local Malaysian delicacies to individuals around the world.

It’s not just for marketing either; they actually bring Malaysian delicacies to every country where they are established.

For example, Marrybrown’s Nasi Marrybrown is in its Dubai outlet, and its Mee Kari in Marrybrown Maldives.

CEO Joshua posing for a photo with a client / Image Credit: Marrybrown

Although Marrybrown seems to have succeeded, they have also faced their fair share of challenges during the pandemic, but persistence has carried them through.

“Difficult times are also accelerating development and with proper planning and understanding of the situation, we have adapted quite quickly to the prevalence of e-commerce and door-to-door deliveries,” added Joshua.

Staying alive in the competitive fast food industry for 41 years is no joke, and there doesn’t seem to be any slowing down for Marrybrown.

By no means can they be said to be the Malaysian version of Jollibee (yet), but if Marrybrown ever plans to carve out a niche for itself spreading Malaysian flavors across continents, it could be in its future.

  • Learn more about Marybrown here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Marybrown


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