Just as it is with indie bands, there comes a point when independent food businesses have to decide if they want to “sell out” and go “mainstream”, especially if they are good at what they do.

It’s quite the conundrum. The independent food movement’s focus is on shunning mass production to create high quality food product. But what happens when your food is so good, and you get so many customers, that you have to start considering mass producing.

Owners of independent coffee shop and bakery Whisk, for instance, have already received several offers to have their business franchised. However, the three siblings behind it – Nora, Emma and Azlan Khalid – have firmly refused.

“We’ve been approached a lot (to be franchsied). We just tell them Whisk isn’t what they’re looking for. The way we run is different from the franchises.

“And when we tell them that, their reply is: ‘Different? It’s just coffee and cakes!’,” said Nora.

But it’s not just coffee, or cakes, or whatever they’re selling. It’s about maintaining that philosophy that made them successful in the first place.

“A lot of people say: ‘You’re doing so well, you should open more outlets. That’s the mentality here. We won’t be able to produce the same quality if we did that, so we’ve refused,” Emma said.

For Michelle Pong, owner of independent restaurant Fat Spoon, it’s a tough decision.

Michelle too, takes great pride in her restaurant only using the best ingredients and preparing everything in-house, but at the same time would like to see her business grow.

“For me, I need progression. But I don’t want this place to lose its soul, and that’s tricky. If you can grow the business and keep that soul, that’s the best,” said Michelle.

Of course, it is completely up to the owners where they want to take their businesses.

The Last Polka, for example, have stopped taking individual online orders, choosing instead to focus on producing and delivering their homemade ice creams to the 12 locations they are currently available at, which includes Whisk and Fat Spoon.

“It all depends what the owners are looking for. Many of them are people who are tired of their corporate jobs, and they want to do this for a change of pace, so staying small is good enough,” said Michelle.

For Artisan Roast co-owner Amirah Mohamad, the thought of business competition hasn’t even crossed her mind.

“We didn’t start this to compete. There are plenty of customers to go around. We started Artisan to introduce a positive culture, to educate people about coffee culture,” she said.

But some expansion wouldn’t hurt the efforts to spread that culture, and Amirah has an idea of how it can be done without compromising their indie values.

“Our plan is get to a senior staff to invest his own money to start a branch. They already have the skills, and if they invest in it, they’ll maintain the same standards,” said Amirah.

Even if they do maintain their standards, their cosy interiors, the personalised service, their sustainable practices and all that, could it be that it’s all just a trend, that this whole indie food movement is just a passing fad?

Michelle, who studied restaurant management in Australia, says the Malaysian market is definitely more trend-driven: “There are four bubble tea shops in this area alone, and do you remember that whole doughnut phase we went through?”

Nora added: “Young people shouldn’t go indie just because it’s the trend now. Take pride in what you are doing. Use it to make a positive change in society.”

Nevertheless, Amirah believes that with the “huge explosion” of independent food businesses in the last couple of years, the movement is very likely here to stay.

She said: “We’re not worried about trends, because we are all about quality – that never goes out of style.” — By Ian Yee

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