Celebrating its 84th year in business, Kluang Rail Coffee was officially inducted into the Malaysia Book of Records as the oldest railway kopitiam in Malaysia.
The recognition was made official on the 18th of July at a certificate presentation ceremony held at its very first outlet at the Kluang railway station which opened in 1938 in Jalan Stesen, Kluang, Johor.
Kluang Rail Coffee is a family business which started operations in the early years of World War 2 and has withstood the challenges that came with then Malaya’s occupation by the English and Japanese forces. While a new railway station in Kampung Masjid Lama today takes care of the commuting needs of residents, the original station, built in 1909, continues to be maintained as a heritage building and with the presence of Kluang Rail Coffee, has become synonymous with being a very popular historical tourist attraction in the district of Kluang.
Kluang Rail Coffee was founded by Lim Luan Hee in 1938 with just one kati of sugar and several cans of milk and originally began life as a canteen serving the residents and Government office personnel within the vicinity during that era.
At the time, the railway formed the backbone of then Malaya’s transportation and communication network. Built in 1909, the Kluang railway station was strategically located close to the police station, post office, telecoms office, hospital and Government administrative offices. This made the canteen extremely convenient and popular, especially since it began serving breakfast and the first cup of coffee from as early as 6.30 am. Over time, the canteen grew to become the very first kopitiam or coffee shop in the district of Kluang under Lim’s son Lim Heng Yong and later his grandson Lim Jit Chen.
Reminiscing his younger days, Lim Jit Chen (Jack) said the evolution of Hainanese cuisine was greatly influenced by both English and Asian tastes.
“For example, the English have toast and jam for breakfast. During those days (World War 2), the jam was imported and expensive. Even butter was a luxury. Thus, the local breakfast evolved to offer toast with butter and kaya (coconut egg jam). Half-boiled eggs, however, is a uniquely Asian addition,” he explained.
Kluang Rail Coffee is best known for its traditional Hainanese coffee (made from locally grown Liberica beans) and its toasted buns (roti bakar) served with a rich slather of butter and kaya.
Kluang Rail Coffee has also witnessed important chapters in the nation’s history, from the early years of the Second World War and Merdeka (independence) to the days of the Malaysian Emergency. Throughout it all, the business has never wavered in its commitment to serve good quality and affordable food to the local community. The kopitiam is also a strong symbol of cultural inclusiveness, evolving over time to cater to all Malaysians.
“The nasi lemak bungkus, made by local Malays, is a great example of this,” added Lim Jit Chen. In this spirit, Kluang Rail Coffee prides itself in being a JAKIM-certified Halal restaurant.
“The business will evolve with times, but we must continue to honour its rich heritage and this must be reflected in our service to the community. Kluang Rail Coffee is what we would like to call a ‘rail born’ and truly a Malaysian kopitiam. It is an outlet that has brought so many Malaysians together with so many stories told over a cup of coffee for the past 84 years. It’s not just about a drink or the food, but it’s about the experiences and the bond that is created amongst and with our customers.”
In 2008, Lim Jit Chen and his cousin Lim Jit Tong worked together to build upon the business with the introduction of a more extensive local and international menu. Kluang Rail Coffee now operates four outlets in Kluang with more than 70 highly-skilled local staff. Its three other outlets are located at Jalan Duku, Jalan Tasik and Sri Impian, all of them in the Kluang district.
Today, while a new railway station has been built in Kampung Masjid Lama to better support the transportation needs of the locals, the old station remains as a heritage building and Kluang Rail Coffee is committed to the landmark’s reputation as a popular historical tourist attraction in the district of Kluang. Moving forward, the recognition from the Malaysia Book of Records recognition will serve as a launching pad for Kluang Rail Coffee’s future expansion.
“It has been an epic journey from incredibly humble, challenging and equally rewarding beginnings. The recognition we receive today has been the result of the overwhelming and sustained support from the people of Kluang. And they are equally deserving of this Malaysia Book of Records mention,” said Lim Jit Tong, Director of Kluang Rail Coffee Sdn Bhd.
“It’s been one of Kluang’s best-kept secrets for the last 84 years. The next chapter will involve not only bringing the brand and our signature taste to other parts of the country but also to further promoting Kluang as a must-visit tourist attraction.”
This he added will be accomplished based on dedication and commitment to serve great coffee and food; build great customer relations and experience, and provide superb service at affordable prices.