IN the alternate universe that is YouTube, Reuben Kang, Jared Lee and Marianne Tan can do no wrong.

Their rise to YouTube celebrity status has been quite remarkable – Kang is one half of the popular JinnyboyTV duo (he calls himself the shorter half), Lee’s the creative whiz behind production company GRIM FILM, and Tan the girl-next-door-turned-YouTube actress-turned-mainstream-movie star.

It’s a charmed existence they’ve lived since the YouTube scene in Malaysia burst to life. Their videos have been viewed over 70 million times on YouTube, their individual careers are on the up, their fans adore them, and they look disgustingly happy together as long-time friends. In fact, Lee whipped up quite the Internet storm when he proposed to Tan recently (on a sunset-lit beach, no less), breaking hearts all over social media.

But now, they’ve taken on a new challenge more daunting than anything they’ve done in their creative careers – running a café.

The curiously named Morningwood café in Subang Jaya, Selangor, was founded by the trio and two other partners, Keng Lee Sim and Majorie Chew.

While Keng and Chew are the business brains, thanks to their banking background, their famous friends have come to be seen as the faces of the café.

“There’s a tuition centre in the same building, and some of the students drop by to take pictures with us, even though at their age they can’t always afford to buy the coffee here,” said Kang.

Related story: When the beans fall – why cafés shut down

But despite their fame and no shortage of social clout, they are keen to embark on this adventure the good old-fashioned way – with grit and hard work.

“The one thing we all agreed on when we started this was that this isn’t just for us to syok sendiri,” said Lee.

“We’re here all the time!” said Kang, adding that they have been involved in all the “dirty work” – painting the walls, doing the dishes, arranging chairs and so on. “Having some people recognise us was a slight advantage, but at the end of the day, if the environment here is horrible or your coffee isn’t good, people won’t come back.”

Tan added: “The toughest part has been the nitty-gritty things people never hear about – managing the kitchen, purchasing stock, getting permits and things like that.”

Despite being busy with their full-time careers, Tan, Lee and Kang don’t want to be known as just the faces of the cafe. “We wanted to make sure that people realise that we actually run the place as well. We’re here all the time,” says Reuben.

Despite being busy with their full-time careers, Tan, Lee and Kang don’t want to be known as just the faces of the cafe. “We wanted to make sure that people realise that we actually run the place as well. We’re here all the time,” says Reuben.

While the notion of starting your own café or restaurant can be very romantic, the guys are doing their best to keep their feet on the ground.

“A lot of people have come up to us and said, ‘you’re all just jumping on the cafe trend, you must think it’s very easy’. But that wasn’t it at all. It was a proper long-term business plan for us,” said Kang.

“You can’t do YouTube forever,” continued Tan. “You can’t be shooting videos forever (Reuben interjects: ‘Yes you can!’). But at least there’s something extra as well, to help financially.”

The guys got a huge headstart as they took over a space occupied by another café, Flat White.

Clearly, there was still a lot of work to do. Kang and Tan had worked part-time at cafés in the past, but that was pretty much all the experience they had in the business.

But having inherited Flat White’s staff, they were able to start learning from their baristas. In typical YouTuber fashion, Lee has been charting his coffee-making progress on his Instagram account.

Lee and Tan have also spent the past year trying out as many cafés as they could during trips to Melbourne and Tokyo. “We wanted to expose ourselves to different coffee cultures, because I think right now the coffee industry is very skewed towards Australian café culture.

“In Tokyo, their cafés are extremely quiet. There isn’t a sound in the place, so you’ll actually remember the taste of the cup because you kind of have time to yourself. In Malaysia, cafés are like the noisiest places!” said Tan.

“It’s a hangout place, a place to talk, kind of like in Australia,” added Kang.

At the moment, Tan is the only one who isn’t at the café every day, but that’s only because she won a part in a movie which is currently in production. She couldn’t give away too much, but told us it’s the reason why she had her long locks chopped off.

Since Kang and Lee are mainly involved in production, they have a bit more flexibility to spend time at the café. “Most of the time, we bring our clients here,” said Lee.

Lee’s been experimenting with drinks since being shown the ropes by their current barista. This resulted in a number of creations, including the heavenly-sounding Nutella hot-chocolate.

Lee’s been experimenting with drinks since being shown the ropes by their current barista. This resulted in a number of creations, including the heavenly-sounding Nutella hot-chocolate.

We had to address the big elephant in the room (no pun intended), though – why “Morningwood”?

“Someone suggested the word ‘morning’,” said Tan. “And then somebody went, ‘oh yeah, what about something to do with wood?’

“Somewhere along the way, Jared just went: ‘Hey guys, it’d be really funny to call it Morningwood!’”

The menu isn’t any less cheeky. Standouts include the ‘Ham Sap’ (‘cos there’s ham in it), ‘Hot Chicks’ and Marianne’s invention, the ‘Orgasm’. There’s suggestive innuendo all over the café, even in the tip jar.

As for the coffee, it’s a customised blend made by a Klang-based coffee roasting couple. “They’ll come from time to time without warning and just be like, ‘make me a cup!’, just to make sure we’re doing their beans justice,” said Lee.

Ultimately, the trio’s goal is to expand their love for the cafe business. In fact, a second outlet’s already in the works. “We’re not going to stop at one,” said Kang. “It’s a passion we’re going to keep pursuing.”


The original version of this story stated that Flat White had gone out of business as the partners behind the business had a falling out. This was an error on our part as the information was not true, and for this, we apologise.



Championing children’s education

Education director-general Datuk Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim speaks on the importance of empathy-based education, the challenges of adapting education policies in light of the Covid-19 situation, and her “dream” education system.

Read more Like this post22

I lost my mother to the Japanese war

 Whenever Allied planes bombed Sandakan town as part of its campaign to liberate Borneo, Daniel Chin Tung Foh’s grandfather would rush the whole family into a bomb shelter behind their house.  During its heyday, the British North Borneo Company had developed Sandakan into a major commercial and trading hub for timber, as well as […]

Read more Like this post17

A witness to the Double Tenth revolt

 Chua Hock Yong was born in Singapore, but his grandfather moved the family to British North Borneo (now Sabah) to establish their business in 1939 when he was a year old.  The Japanese invaded Borneo shortly after, but the family continued living in their shophouse in Gaya Street, Jesselton, now known as Kota Kinabalu.  […]

Read more Like this post21

An encounter with victims of the Sandakan Death Marches

 When the Second World War came to Borneo, Pelabiu Akai’s mother moved the family back to their village in Nalapak, Ranau.  Although the Japanese were known to be ruthless and brutal conquerors, they left the villagers to their own devices and Pelabiu had a largely uneventful life – until she came across gaunt-looking Allied […]

Read more Like this post19

Sarawak’s only living child prisoner of war

 Jeli Abdullah’s mother died from labour complications after giving birth to him and his twin brother. To his Bisaya tribe, this was seen as a bad omen, and his father did not know what to do with the twins.  Fortunately, an Australian missionary couple decided to adopt the newborns. But misfortunate fell upon the […]

Read more Like this post16

Lest we forget

AFIO Rudi, 21, had never thought much about his grandfather Jeli Abdullah’s life story until an Australian TV programme interviewed the 79-year-old about being Sarawak’s last surviving World War II child prisoner of war (POW). The engineering student then realised that despite living in Sarawak all his life, he also didn’t know very much of […]

Read more Like this post16

A native uprising against Japanese forces

 Basar Paru, 95, was only a teenager when his village in the central highlands of Borneo was invaded by the Japanese Imperial army.  “The Japanese told us not to help the British. They said Asians should help each other because we have the same skin, same hair,” Basar recalled. “But we, the Lun Bawang […]

Read more Like this post8

Left behind in wartime chaos

 Kadazan native Anthony Labangka was 10 years old when the Japanese Imperial Army invaded Borneo during World War II.  Sitting in the verandah of a modern kampung house on a hot afternoon in Kampung Penampang Proper, where he has lived his whole life, Anthony recalls the hardships of the Japanese Occupation.  The villagers were […]

Read more Like this post8
Kajai R.AGE Wan Ifra Journalism Documentaries Digital Media Awards

R.AGE Audience Survey 2019 + Office Tour contest

Want to be in the running to meet R.AGE producers and journalists? Take part in our R.AGE Audience Survey 2019 by Feb 17, 2019!

Read more Like this post6

BRATs Goes to Genting!

The final BRATs camp of the year promises to be the coolest – literally!

Read more Like this post4

The Hidden Cut

Female circumcision is a very common practice in Malaysia, but the procedure is still almost completely unregulated.

Read more Like this post4

#TeamSatpal: Turtle-y in Trouble

The 21st century brings unseen threats to local turtle conservation efforts.

Read more Like this post3
Go top