AirAsia Group Bhd has opened a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur that features dishes based on its in-flight menu.
AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes is confident that the carrier's Southeast Asian fare will be popular with diners on the ground and is aiming to franchise the concept internationally, with a New York outlet being an ultimate goal.
"Our dream is to have one in Times Square," he said.
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The opening of AirAsia's flagship Santan and T&CO restaurant at a mall in Kuala Lumpur marks the carrier's first foray into the retail food business.
The name "Santan" is taken from the coconut pulp milk that is a staple in Southeast Asian cooking.
The general manager of Santan Restaurant and T&CO Café, Catherine Goh, said that 30% of the restaurant's menu comes from AirAsia's existing in-flight menu.
Goh said that a product development team of five chefs and culinary arts students took nine months to come up with the rest of the menu.
"For example, they would meet with our Philippines colleagues, who will shortlist the best restaurants where they will try the dishes and try to replicate the flavours," she told Reuters. "Once they've developed the product, they will send it to the Filipino team to get their feedback, whether it's authentic enough."
Additional Outlet Plans
AirAsia plans to open five outlets this year, and 100 over the next three to five years.
"We decided to own several restaurants, but the bigger business would be franchising, really, because we feel we want to harness young entrepreneurial talent around the region who would like to be part of this business," said Aireen Omar, group president of AirAsia's non-airline subsidiary, RedBeat Ventures.
Aireen said that AirAsia's digital business, which is focussed on e-commerce and lifestyle offerings, has the potential to overtake its airline business.
AirAsia embarked on a diversification drive to become an asset-light, digitally-focussed firm after the $1 billion sale of its leasing business in March 2018.
Its non-airline businesses include financial services BigPay and travel and lifestyle arm AirAsia.com, which Fernandes said are targeted to be earnings positive in 2021 and next year, respectively.
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