Meet The FoundHer: Makissa Smeeton of The Hungry Tapir
March 10th, 2021 at 6:33 am
It’s hard not to spot The Hungry Tapir, although tucked away in the heart of Chinatown, with its vibrant colours and radiant vibes. This ‘home of herbivores’ offers a refreshing dining experience among its local surroundings, producing plant-based versions of Malaysian and Western dishes, classic desserts, and even tropical cocktails. It’s an oasis for vegetarians and vegans, as well as a watering hole for those looking for a good time under the sun or city lights. After a year of plant-based prowess, The Hungry Tapir has secured itself as a must-visit in KL’s thriving restaurant scene.
What makes The Hungry Tapir so homely is the plant-based family behind it – Makissa Smeeton, her mother Cynthia, and her brother Tristan. Makissa first made her mark on the local F&B industry as the Chief Community Officer and Designer for RAGE Coffee – an uber cool cafe with a cult following thanks to its trendy Instagram page. We asked how she combined her graphic design and branding background with her passion for sustainability to create a successful brand.
How did you get into the F&B industry?
My family and I have always teased the idea and had that dream in the back of our minds: to have a friendly family restaurant and bar one day. None of us just ever had the time to bring this to life, and with all our lifestyle and eating choices, it would no doubt be vegan…with alcohol! We found that there was a gap in that market here and wanted to finally bring that culture to KL: all-day brekkie with pancakes, smoothie bowls, burgers, local favourites and cocktails, but ALL vegan! So with this in mind, and being avid lovers of heritage buildings around KL (and hoping they wouldn’t get torn down to build another), we often spent our weekends cafe-hopping around Chinatown and appreciating each unique personality that came with each space. We suddenly came across a lot that was to rent and for fun, we checked it out with some other mates in the industry – it was derelict and painted terribly on the inside, with low polystyrene ceilings, and was a badly maintained backpackers hostel. Others that viewed this one lot hated it, but we saw potential with the original window arches that can be seen from the main road. When we poked through one polystyrene square in the ceiling and saw the high ceilings and beams exposed – we fell in love! It was then a very fast process of securing the space, creating the brand and building an F&B business with absolutely NO experience! It’s been challenging and fun and wild all at the same time, and we’re still learning everyday!
Your brand has a very strong voice, how important is it to have an active brand personality?
I think it’s the most important as it’s your USP and what makes a brand your brand. My personal style is to always have fun with it and its personality will naturally evolve out of it. We wanted to be playful with our voice and designs as much as possible to introduce more of a plant-based lifestyle and cuisine into KL, and we’re still growing the brand and adapting to what customers like as well!
What would you say was the biggest challenge with opening a plant-based restaurant in Malaysia?
The doubt we had from many people around us at the beginning, especially shifting people’s ideas towards vegan food and the common misconception that it’s tasteless and bland. We wanted to prove to those that didn’t believe in us that people ARE ready and can enjoy a more sustainable meal without even realising they’re not eating meat! It is now safe to say that 70% of our customers are in fact meat-eaters, and we couldn’t be more happy to integrate!
What does the future of vegan food look like in Malaysia?
It is definitely more mainstream now, which is incredible! You can now find a larger variety of plant-based products and brands in groceries, so everything is now definitely more accessible and known! People are also getting more creative with plant-based cuisine and finding new and exciting ways to create dishes! At The Hungry Tapir, we are veganising local favourites and have built a menu bridging East meets West classics, but with highlighting local and homegrown ingredients as much as possible to pay ode to our Malaysian culture and heritage. This is just the beginning and we can’t wait to see what others here in our community can create!
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What does a typical day look like for you – how do you manage to fit wellness into your busy schedule?
A typical day for me begins with working out, walking my lil doggo and heading into the Hungry Tapir restaurant to either work from there alongside freelance designing (if I have another project on), whilst helping out on the floor and daily operations. I am still working and designing for RAGE Coffee, where I will go once a week. With my line of work, I am lucky enough to be able to work remotely and from anywhere as long as I have my laptop! I feel most inspired being at The Hungry Tapir, so I find this gives me more motivation and drive to keep things alive!
What are your self-care picks?
One thing I really learnt and valued in the lockdowns was really appreciating and taking time out for myself. I do this by working out regularly (Big up F45!), yoga, runs in parks and around jungle roads where I live, and Wim Hof’s breathing meditations! Adopting my dog has also been the best thing for me, so I highly suggest this to those who have the time and capabilities to do so! My doggo is just endless fun and is super playful and keeps me more grounded. All of this combined with surrounding yourself with your loved ones and people that really add value to your life – and of course nourishing your body with (plant-based) delicious food!
Any last words?
I think now is most important to support one another and maintain the valuable relationships you have, as without realising this is the true backbone to yourself and the things you can do and create too. Fact check the fact checkers, and be more conscious of adopting more sustainable practices into your life!
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