Generally considered Malaysia’s national dish, nasi lemak is something you can’t miss if you live in or visit this country.
But as fragrant and delicious as it is, the indulgent dish can also be quite unhealthy, what with all the fats and sodium content involved. Of course, it’s fine when taken in moderation, but for the health-conscious people out there, even one bungkus may be too much.
Taking it upon herself to create a solution, Theresa Lam founded a brand by the name of Gila Goodness that features a unique product: nasi lemak granola.
Satisfying a personal craving
Theresa is originally from Hong Kong, but you might not be able to tell, especially when she’s using Malaysian-influenced inflections.
Having arrived on Malaysian shores in 1995, Theresa has a Master’s degree in communications from Limkokwing University and has been working in the PR industry for some years. Working in PR, she’s no stranger to having to pull late nights in the office.
Being based in the city, the roads are often congested during rush hour as well. That means even if she were to clock out earlier, it might take a while before she gets home in time for dinner.
And with late dinners comes its own range of issues. For one, you may burn fewer calories than you’ve consumed as your metabolic rate slows down in the evening. It’s said that eating within a few hours of bedtime may also worsen heartburn and acid reflux symptoms.
For a while, Theresa did try to cook in the office, but when that didn’t work out, she moved on to having yoghurt, adding granola for some protein intake.
But most store-bought granola is sweet, Theresa pointed out. Common flavours include berries, chocolate, honey, and may come with sugary dried fruits. Theresa felt like it was more of a dessert than a proper dinner.
“Sometimes, eating is not just for the stomach, it’s a whole emotional thing as well. Because I felt like I just had a dessert or something sweet, psychologically, I don’t feel satisfied.”
Thus, Theresa began hunting for some savoury granola options. She saw some options from abroad, but she couldn’t find any local brands doing it.
So, she took matters into her own hands, and began her journey of developing a homegrown savoury granola business.
A friend in need
“Last year around this time, my friend who was a spokesperson of a well-known cookware brand was retrenched,” Theresa shared.
That friend is Vivien Chin, who has experience developing recipes that she demonstrates to promote the cookware brand.
In her late 50s at the time, Vivien didn’t want to get a new full-time job. Rather, to keep her financial needs covered, she was thinking of being a freelance chef.
Being friends for over 10 years, Theresa wanted to help her friend in a time of need, so she suggested the idea of starting a small side business together.
Pitching her idea of a savoury granola business, Theresa brought up the flavour she had in mind—nasi lemak.
Vivien’s immediate reaction was “mm hou chi sin”, which means “don’t be crazy” in Cantonese. (Perhaps that has something to do with the “gila” in their name.)
Theresa wasn’t being crazy though. Being on a low carb diet, she had been craving nasi lemak, which seems impossible to enjoy without the nasi (rice).
Despite her initial reaction, Vivien begun work without telling Theresa. A few weeks later, she surprised Theresa with her creation.
“It was just me asking her to do it for me, really,” Theresa admitted. But after seeing the positive response from their friends, they realised they had some great potential there.
So in July 2023, they kickstarted Gila Goodness, sharing their creations with the rest of Malaysia.
Not just for the health nuts
While health-conscious people would naturally be Gila Goodness’ first audience segment, Theresa said that the brand is trying to reach all kinds of consumers, not just the healthy-eating ones.
“With Malaysia being the most obese country in Asia, we do want to see people around us become more healthy, and that eating granola is an option instead of munching on empty calories,” she explained.
Understanding that snacking culture is quite prominent in Malaysia, Gila Goodness has also developed more snack convenient sheet bites where no spoons are necessary.
Aside from the main nasi lemak flavour, they’ve also introduced a tom yum granola. Although the brand is focusing on savoury options, they can’t ignore the sweet-tooths either, and have developed a onde-onde flavours too. For Chinese New Year, they’ve even launched a pineapple tart flavour.
It takes a village
With Theresa being so busy in her day job, I wondered where she even got the motivation and courage to start her own business.
To that, she confessed that courage was something she lacked in as well. But what convinced her to pursue Gila Goodness was her desire to help a friend.
Friendship seems to be a common theme in Gila Goodness, too. When trying to pursue Gila Goodness seriously, Theresa had realised that there were some extra costs and efforts required to handle the social media, website, marketing, sourcing, and more.
To accomplish all this, Theresa ended up roping in her other friends. Her husband is the Chief Technology Officer who handles anything digital. Her friends with marketing backgrounds help with PR and social media management. There’s also a contractor friend who works on procurement.
“In Gila Goodness, altogether, there’s about six of us,” she revealed. “It has to be a group effort, unless we quit our jobs. It is still hard to cope, I will say, but we all just give our best.”
As they continue developing the business, Theresa hopes to one day put their products on supermarket shelves. But of course, with limited time and capital, the focus is to keep demand and production stable for the time being.
While the name “Gila Goodness” might be a reference to how “insanely” delicious yet healthy their granola is, or the “insanity” of her nasi lemak idea, maybe the true meaning is the “insane” ambition of the brand’s intentions. But as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
- Learn more about Gila Goodness here.
- Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Gila Goodness