Turns out the new partner behind the relaunch of Malaysian cafe Kopitiam has some serious cred from one of LA’s hippest restaurants.
For the new, bigger Kopitiam in LES, chef-owner Kyo Pang teamed up with Moonlynn Tsai, who helped open super-popular Taiwanese restaurant and cafe Pine & Crane in LA — known for both its comfort food and its beautiful space in a trendy neighborhood.
She’s since left Pine & Crane, where she teamed up with Vivian Ku and Allen Lai in 2014, and the new Kopitiam is Tsai’s first restaurant endeavor in New York. “It was time for me to go on and do my own thing,” she says.
Tsai came across the original Kopitiam when visiting New York. She had recently traveled through Malaysia with her girlfriend, where she was introduced to the cuisine for the first time. “The food just blew my mind,” she says. Specifically, she encountered baba-nyonya food, which was introduced to Malaysia by Chinese immigrants and combines Chinese and Malay influences.
She returned to the U.S. on the lookout for similar food, and when she searched Yelp for Malaysian food in NYC, she found Kopitiam. “This food is nearly identical to what I had in Malaysia or even better,” she says of the meal she had at the original Kopitiam. She met Pang and made a mental note that if there was ever an opportunity to partner with her, she would jump on it, she says.
That opportunity came when Kopitiam closed at the end of 2017 due to a rent increase. Pang launched an unsuccessful Indiegogo campaign seeking $250,000 to start a new Kopitiam, and when that didn’t work, she brought Tsai onboard as a partner. “Fates aligned,” Tsai says. “We just ended up realizing we fit so well together. It’s a true partnership.”
In fact, Tsai explains that she and Pang are working to make sure their roles are pretty much interchangeable at the restaurant. While Tsai’s main role will be overseeing the front of house, she’ll also jump into the kitchen when needed. Pang will be teaching Tsai the recipes — many of which have been passed down through her family.
The expanded menu of the new Kopitiam is still being finalized, but Pang has said the menu will include dishes previously served at the restaurant, like coconut milk rice dyed blue with morning glories and Malaysian desserts like the sweet rice balls muah chee.
Tsai says she’s excited to open a restaurant in NYC for the first time. “I’ve been wanting to be in New York City for a bit and didn’t expect it to happen so fast honestly,” she says. “The food in LA, it’s a little harder. You have to jump in a car, you have to drive around. In New York you just walk a few inches and just hit a restaurant.” But according to her, Kopitiam brings something different to the NYC dining scene with its focus on baba-nyonya food. “That’s very rare to find,” she says.
Kopitiam, opening at 151 East Broadway between Rutgers and Pike streets, is still undergoing construction. Tsai and Pang expect to open in May.