Penang Hanakoya Florist and Cafe Takes Root in Heritage Building
Since there was not much competition in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Mick Boon decided to open his own florist there in 2012. He named it hanakoya, which roughly translates to “flower hut”. The name was also chosen to honor the Japanese technique of preserving flowers, which is one of Hanakoya’s specialties. “We are actually one of the distributors in Malaysia and Singapore for stabilized flowers. These are fresh flowers that we dry when they bloom, then use a [type of] chemicals to keep their shape. These flowers can last three to five years,” he says.
Boon was quick to sense his team’s specific skills to create different departments to grow the business. For example, one of his crew members has a knack for calligraphy, so he started the Ink Bar, which creates handwritten cards, paintings, and even couple portraits. Besides fresh and preserved flower bouquets, Hanakoya also offers flower baskets, bell arrangements, and balloon bouquets.
Business was good, but Boon began to notice the long waits that walk-in customers had to endure, especially since arrangements took 30 minutes to an hour. It was then that the idea of introducing a cafe into space was born. But having no experience with food and drink, they were in for an uphill battle. “It was a challenge for us. We took many courses to learn more about coffee and desserts. After a year, we bought a coffee machine to practice with. Only after we opened our cafe,” he says.
Boon was determined that if they wanted to do it right, they had to do it slowly. They started serving coffee and cakes in 2017 and only a year later expanded to sandwiches and pasta. And all this in the same Hanakoya florist in KK. Eventually, he opened their second outlet in Sabah.
And then Covid-19 hit, and the F&B side of things had to pivot to survive. “So we could only do take-out and delivery, which wasn’t great for us. We started an afternoon tea box because people were only offering food and snacks at the time. And that was the only thing we could do during the MCO (Movement Control Order),” says Boon. However, the florist side of the business continued to do well as the people were still ordering bouquets to show affection for their socially distant loved ones.
As Boon himself had grown up in Penang, he wanted his next outlet to be in his hometown. Despite the difficulties the pandemic had created, the stars were aligned for him and his plans. On a chance trip to Lebuh Muntri, he came across a commercial land available for rent, and after a few phone calls and discussions, it became the chosen location for Hanakoya Florist & Flower Café.
The challenge was that the new space was a heritage building that had been empty for a few years, so it was definitely a top fix. But Boon was determined to maintain that retro style in this new store. “The Sabah outlet is quite modern and the design is all black and white. But for the Penang store, we wanted to retain the local culture. Heritage buildings are so special in Penang, so we were looking for that cultural atmosphere,” he said.
When you enter Hanakoya Florist & Flower Café, Penang, which opened in January last year, you are greeted by retro floor tiles, which Boon says are the building’s original floor. Mint green tiles rise halfway up the walls, there’s a high, airy ceiling and fairly minimalist furniture in the front half of the shop. At the end of this space, punctuated by the Hanakoya sign on the wall, is half of the florist’s business, adorned with all sorts of flowers, balloons and decorating equipment.
During my visit, I sampled the Hana Tosuto, a slice of brioche with homemade ice cream, fruit, cookies, earth and organic honey from the rainforest. So many elements of this dish were sweet, but they were tempered by the pie and the slices of fresh kiwi and strawberry. The passion fruit pearls added a nice bite, while the vanilla ice cream was perhaps my favorite element. I washed it down with an earthy Hojicha latte, served with a cookie.
Boon says that unlike Sabah, where there is less competition, a new cafe pops up in Penang almost every month to join the many other restaurants. To make its coffee known and differentiate it, Hanakoya has a marketing team specially dedicated to the Penang branch. “Every month we have a new product for the florist and the cafe. For example, for Chinese New Year, we had special flowers and a gift box – a wooden box that we had custom made by our designer that has different TWG teas inside,” he adds. .
What really makes Hanakoya Florist & Flower Café different is the VIP room at the back of the store. Decorated with recycled dried flower murals, this 20-person capacity event space has so far been used for birthday parties as well as perfumery and flower arranging workshops. To keep the space interesting, Hanakoya hosts a workshop every month.
“The concept is interesting because nowhere else will you find a florist and a café in the same place. That’s why people love Hanakoya,” says Boon. Ambitious and excited about the future, he is looking to expand his florist-café in Kuala Lumpur.
This article was first published on March 7, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.