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A labour of love: The SugarBun Australia story

Diane Leow

Thu Jan 16 2014


TO East Malaysian students, SugarBun is a well-known fast-food chain. Diane Leow chats with the owners of the newly opened Melbourne store to find out why Sugarbun is so well-loved.

Famous for its broiled chicken, fish burgers and home-style stews, SugarBun opened its doors in Australia for the first time in August.

Twin sisters Francesca and Fiorn Lee are behind the venture. It’s a passion project for them in more ways than one. Their father is responsible for SugarBun’s flagship store in Malaysia.

Twin sisters Francesca and Fiorn manage Sugarbun Australia together. Photo: Julian Tay

Twin sisters Francesca and Fiorn manage Sugarbun Australia together. Photo: Julian Tay

A number of years ago, the sisters moved to Melbourne to study. Francesca went on to build a career in nursing while Fiorne worked in the architecture industry.

The move to hospitality has not been easy. While both sisters have invested time, effort, and money into the Melbourne branch, issues kept popping up, right up to their opening day.

“We were supposed to open on a certain day, but we couldn’t,” Francesca confided.

“We’re in a very old heritage building. Nothing has been done since the 1900s. The renovations were major, the water services and everything are brand new. So naturally there have been teething issues,” Fiorn added.

After two delays, SugarBun Australia opened for business. It’s a one-stop concept shop showcasing all SugarBun can offer. On the first and second levels is fast food with a Sarawakian twist.

Sugarbun's signature fish: Broiled chicken with Sultana Rice. Photo: Julian Tay

Sugarbun’s signature fish: Broiled chicken with Sultana Rice. Photo: Julian Tay

The signature dish: Broiled chicken with either shoestring fries or sultana rice. The chicken is pressure-fried for seven minutes, ensuring the juices are sealed within.

Their other signature dish is the fish burger, which is reminiscent of a Fillet-o-Fish, albeit lighter and more addictive. International students from East Malaysia will be heartened to know the fish fillet used in Sarawak is the same one used in Melbourne.

Their other signature: The fish burger. Photo: Julian Tay

Their other signature: The fish burger. Photo: Julian Tay

“We’ve sourced the fish fillet from the same supplier in New Zealand. It’s made with Hoki fish, and while it looks processed, it’s real fish fillet,” Francesca says.

Other must try dishes include a hearty beef stew and a seafood clay pot, which have been adapted from family favourites.

On the third level is a new restaurant concept called Nanyang Bak Kut Teh.

“Bak kut teh is missing from Melbourne. Nobody does it specifically,” Francesca says.

The restaurant’s signature dish is pork bone soup, a herbal soup dish made with pork ribs that has a strong herbal taste. To complement their version, the twin sisters have added pork balls.

Quality is a really important part of the SugarBun brand. The marinade for their broiled chicken, as well as certain spices for the stews and bak kut teh, is imported specially from Malaysia.

We take the home-cooked approach. For example, we use real stock, not canned stock. We want our customers to feel as though they can eat at SugarBun every day and not put on weight.” – Sugarbun Australia owners, Francesca and Fiorn Lee

But replicating the SugarBun Malaysia menu has not been without its challenges. Besides sourcing ingredients and ensuring authenticity is not compromised, the twins have found raw ingredients in Australia can be significantly different from Malaysia.

“The local ingredients turn out to be quite different from the soy sauce to the rice. We’ve made a lot of adjustments to suit, and we keep fine tuning everything after getting feedback from our customers as well,” Francesca says.

The sisters have taken the challenges in their stride. After all, they’ve grown up eating SugarBun.

“We would go to SugarBun every weekend because my dad had to look at how everything was going,” Francesca recalls.

“My dad would just order a lot and we’d just sit there and eat,” Fiorn chimes in.

Overall, we think SugarBun is a different addition to Melbourne’s food and beverage scene, offering dishes familiar to the international student market and intriguing to the locals.

SugarBun is at 205 Russell Street. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner. 

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