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Brian Pua: From CNC Programmer To Asia-Pacific Master Franchiser Of O’Briens Irish Sandwich Café

Drawn by O’Briens healthy eating manifesto, Brian Pua has devoted almost two decades of his life to bringing the popular Irish cafe brand to its current great height of recognition across Malaysia.

After identifying a clear gap in the Malaysian quick-serve food and beverage sector, Brian realized that O’Briens would perfectly plug that space, given their gourmet selection of freshly made artisanal sandwiches, wraps and salads as well as world acclaimed coffees and confectionary.

Starting out as a computer numerically controlled (CNC) programmer in Singapore, Brian was far from being the typical F&B franchise owner he is known as today. In search of a new path, he chanced upon an O’Briens outlet in Singapore, which had been successfully running for about 2 years. It was during one of his many lunch experiences at O’Briens and his deep enjoyment of O’Briens’ Classic Tripledecker that Brian knew he had found his calling in life.

Taking a once-in-a-lifetime leap into the fast-paced retail world, Brian made the decision to venture into the many opportunities O’Briens would bring, thrusting him into the yet unknown F&B landscape.

Though it proved to be a challenge at first, possessing neither an education or previous career experience in F&B, Brian pushed to make sure he did everything he could to learn more about the brand and respect all of the operating manuals provided by O’Briens so that he could serve it the Irish way in Malaysia.

Brian travelled regularly to Dublin, Ireland - the brand’s native land, and attended the O’Briens annual seminar where he had the fortune to learn direct from the founder Brody Sweeney himself. Motivated by the company’s many holistic goals and rapid global expansion, Brian found immense confidence in the brand’s growing success and was eager to replicate their success in Ireland in Asia.

“O’Briens already had well-established systems and a recipe for success in place that made it incredibly easy for franchisees to assimilate. This proved to be a boon and the ultimate factor in deciding to bring the franchise to Malaysia. The franchise offers total hand-holding support and training from Day 1 up until the opening of each individual café and then beyond in terms of ongoing research and menu development”.

The O’Briens approach has always been to ensure that their sandwiches are a convenient, healthy and popular option for a fulfilling meal at any time of the day. Sandwiches have been a staple of people’s diets for generations, but Brian knew he had to push hard to make sure that O’Briens stood out from similar offerings in Malaysia and maintain a strict focus on the exclusive use of only the highest-quality and freshest ingredients.

“This is something that we invest an enormous amount of energy and time on a daily basis. Conventional sandwiches here generally consist of two slices of high-sugar content bread with little nutritional value and a tasteless, processed filling in the middle.”

“We believe it can be so much more than that. It is about the way we present our menu items, the Irish recipes and generous portions as well as the emphasis we place on ambiance in each and every one of our stores.”

With 22 stores spread across the Klang Valley area, O’Briens has no plans of slowing down on its expansion plans any time soon. From their very first outlet in Great Eastern Mall, where the store still thrives 20 years later, to the ongoing and aggressive expansion plans that have been set in place across Malaysia; it has always been about finding the right locations and local communities for O’Briens to introduce their world-famous hand-crafted sandwiches and wholesome meal options to.

With every new location, Brian and his expert team rigorously assess a multitude of factors before deciding on a new home for their next store. The company tends to focus on areas with high footfall such as mixed developments, shopping malls and co-op office spaces amongst others.

As Brian asserts, “We are always meticulous in our selection process for expanding into new locations. We take into consideration our target customer profile and demographics and their propensity to visit our new store once. We know that when customers try O’Briens for the first time, they are likely to become lifelong fans of our unique offering.”

Over the years, O’Briens has earned its reputation and loyal following from an unrelenting dedication to creating ‘the perfect sandwich’. Ingredients are never compromised. Despite rising food costs that have been troubling for both customers and retail operators alike, Brian assures us that this will in no way affect their absolute commitment to preserving food quality standards across their menu.

Coming into his own as a leader, Brian assures us that he maintains an extremely high duty of care, to his franchise partners, his many staff and 10,000s of monthly customers. “As a leader and entrepreneur, one must always be prepared to face up to challenges and be quick to find immediate solutions to ensure the business succeeds and all of our many moving parts are firing in the right direction simultaneously.”

“For me it has always been about making sure the working environment for all of our team members and partners is enjoyable and continues to motivate everyone in our pursuit of excellence.”

Brian attests that it is a crucial quality for leaders to be able to listen to feedback from all areas of the business and ensure that we can continually adapt and improve our menu options to cater for changing tastes, lifestyles and specific store locations. “I’m always keen to listen to our customers' feedback and understand what they like about the brand and what improvements they feel that we can make.

“Such constructive feedback is invaluable for us to improve our menu, store designs and the high levels of service that we offer in our overall ambition to leave our customers feeling highly satisfied with their experience of O’Briens.”

Brian admits that when it comes to his team leaders, he must take extra care in ensuring that every voice is heard. “You must be physically and mentally well-prepared as well as extremely organized to manage multiple locations and serve so many customers on a daily basis. The team around you is critical to success so we invest a lot of time and energy in team building throughout the year”

In reaching the level of confidence that he possesses today, Brian admits that by not fearing making mistakes, but rather learning from them is a very important ingredient in becoming a trusted leader.

“Throughout the course of my career, I can say that I’ve made my fair share of mistakes; expensive mistakes even. I've learned some much from these experiences, and it’s helped to shape me as a person and allow me to develop into a better leader,” confesses Brian.

Having been a key part of O’Briens growth and in making the brand a household name in Malaysia, Brian feels fortunate insofar as his career and ambitions have played out. He loves being able to work so closely with such a diverse team on a daily basis. It is his team that help keep him grounded and allows him to adopt new ways to approach the business and its expansion on a regular basis.

Moving forwards, O’Briens Malaysia recently acquired the master franchise for O’Briens across the whole of Asia-Pacific which is an extraordinary testament to the success Brian has achieved. The aim is to expand into new territories and take advantage of Brian’s over 20 years of knowledge and experience to ensure that wherever O’Briens Irish Sandwich Cafe setup their next outpost, the brand will quickly develop into a popular and well-loved lifestyle café.

At the end of the day O’Briens just want to bring exceptional food and beverage products to the table and ensure customer satisfaction and real value. “This is the promise we continue to make to our loyal customers who have trusted us over the years, and we look forward to serving them across many more locations for many years to come.”


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