“How do we reuse space?”
Penny Ng, Youn Chang & Shin Chang
Chocha Foodstore, 156 Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur
I walked back and forth a few times before I realised Chocha Foodstore was located behind the nondescript shop front. At some point in the past, it was the Mah Lian Hotel.
Such are the lengths to which Shin Chang, an architect, has gone through to ensure that the building and its history is respected.
Chocha Foodstore is in a way, a business borne out of necessity. “In 2015, the architecture business that I had started with Penny Ng was not doing well. I had no projects so I started to think about a new business. I did have some savings and my intention was to start small”, says Shin.
With Penny Ng, Youn Chang and an investor, they started Chocha Foodstore. Their original intention was to start a teahouse/small restaurant but that quickly changed when they stepped foot into the abandoned building at 156, Petaling Street. The building was too big to function solely as a restaurant.
It would have cost RM 6.5 million to buy the abandoned building so the partners decided to rent it instead. Shin pointed out the patches on the wall left behind by sinks and mirrors. He left all of the walls untouched, only adding steel structures and partitions. Repairs were made to the roof, plumbing and electrical wiring. Shin had to pay for all the structural changes and is proud of the fact that in the event they have to move the business, the steel structures and partitions can all be dismantled and reused. He cites the example of Changkat Bukit Bintang where the ever increasing rental rates has forced tenants to move out.
Shin says that the building has an identity of its own. For this reason, he wanted to respect it by changing it as little as possible.
Shin says that in the past, his family would shop in Petaling Street before Chinese New Year. He feels that he needs to return to Petaling Street. These childhood memories proved to be too difficult to resist, bringing him back to the area when a business opportunity arose. “These are our roots” says Shin of the Petaling Street area.
Shin’s partner, Penny Ng, manages the restaurant. She has a BA in Interior Architecture and welcomed the opportunity to move beyond her trained profession.
Chocha Foodstore calls their kitchen a scratch kitchen. It is all about local produce and local food though they have put their own twist on how it is served. In a break from the usual hipster café serving predictable fare, Chocha Foodstore actually serves very good food. The simply named, duck rice was delicious. The restaurant is already experiencing long queues over the weekends and is usually full during the week.
“How do we reuse space. It would be boring for the space to function solely as a restaurant”, Shin says. As a result, the front portion of the 1st floor functions as shared space for 4 architects who each have their own practice while the rear is rented out as a cocktail and wine bar. A bookstore is in the works. On the ground floor, located under the spiral staircase is a bicycle repair shop by Jeffrey Lim of the Cycling Kuala Lumpur Bicycle Map Project.
Shin believes we don’t need a lot of space to exist. The shared space and its architectural aspect, the reuse, use and exploration of space and being in Petaling Street has been Shin’s dream and fits in nicely with his beliefs. This building is the link to his childhood and his architecture.
This focus on optimum use of space along with the sharing of resources is seen in the way the business operates. The cocktail and wine bar, pop-up stores, shared space for creatives and even the café are all operated by independent business owners. Shin says this is also a less stressful way to run a business as expenses are shared. Shin says a lot youngsters don’t have enough resources so coming together to share resources and knowledge is a good way to learn.
Meanwhile, Shin is already looking forward to his next challenge; to start a farm. His father obviously has something to do with this interest as he has a buffer zone behind the house where vegetables were grown. The Chang family have been eating home-grown vegetables for the past 10 years.
I am quite sure it’s only a matter of time before the farm is a reality.