Author’s announcement: As someone who has lived in the US Midwest for 4 years, I’ll be honest, I never found the appeal of the food there. Maybe it has a lot of meat, which I don’t like, and I prefer more seasonings in my meals.
But I was surprised to learn that some Malaysians fell in love with this cuisine, so much so that they opened a restaurant, Betty’s Midwest Kitchen to serve it.
Located in the small PJ neighborhood of Aman Suria, this quaint restaurant debuted at a time when American cuisine was still served primarily by chain restaurants like Chili’s and TGIF, as well as fast food brands like KFC and McDonald’s.
Small town life captured their hearts
“The cuisine of the Midwest is very dear to our family. When we visit my sister [in Minneapolis, Minnesota]We fell in love with farmers markets, roadside diners, and the various establishments of the Midwest. It’s simple and plentiful, ”Kevin told the Vulcan Post.
Dictionary time: The Midwest is a region of the US with a more agrarian (agricultural) and rural lifestyle. Some notable cities in the Midwest are Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Indianapolis, etc.
At the time, Kevin was still working in a restaurant in Malaysia with his wife, and the couple had ambitions to start their own. Eventually, they were encouraged by their parents who financed their company, and Kevin’s mother also joined in to help the business.
“I received formal cooking training at Taylor’s College Hospitality and my mom [culinary skills are] totally self-taught. The recipes are a fight of wills between my mother and I and if we convince each other that we like them, then it’s on, ”Kevin recalled.
American restaurant outside, Malaysian chefs inside / Image Credit: Betty’s Midwest Kitchen
Find your place in Malaysia
Betty’s Midwest Kitchen started in 2009 and today remains a popular family dining spot for the local community.
“Choosing a location was difficult, but we were driven by price and traffic. Aman Suria used to be a pretty young hangout with a famous mamak restaurant nearby and it was relatively unexploited, ”Kevin explained.
Although they did not share numbers, Kevin felt that his cuisine has been well received by Malaysians. Their meat dishes are mainly pork, which they think helped with the reception of customers.
None for the doggies / Image Credit: Betty’s Midwest Kitchen
“Our most iconic dish would be our dog food,” shared Kevin, but before you freak out, it’s basically baked poutine (cheese, fries, and gravy) served on a cake plate that looks a lot like a plate of Dog food.
From the start of their restaurant until now, they have practically stuck to the same menu, comprising a variety of burgers and ribs. And recently, they have also been making their own bacon and chicken breasts.
Expansion is not a priority
Juicy Pork Ribs / Image Credit: Betty’s Midwest Kitchen
America on a Plate / Image Credit: Betty’s Midwest Kitchen
Despite all its years of operation, I was surprised to learn that Betty’s Midwest Kitchen never expanded beyond its one store Aman Suria.
“We have turned down franchise offers before. This restaurant has been more of a way of life for us than the income it brings. I don’t think it’s the same if it becomes a chain, ”Kevin shared with the Vulcan Post.
In a way, they embody what’s on the other spectrum of American capitalist culture by staying small, portraying the allure of welcoming Midwestern diners. From my experience, the latter was always found close to neighborhoods and families as a basic place to hang out.
Thanks to this charm, Kevin believes that they are not in direct competition with the big eaters like Chili’s and TGIF, also because they do not serve the same types of cuisine.
“In any case, I would say that the competition is the new local restaurants that adapt to the neighborhood as we do. It is not the product, it is what we represent for our neighborhood ”, he concluded.
Bringing diners down memory lane
Since their selling point is the cozy dinner experience, there is an expectation that Kevin and his mother will always be there in person for their customers. But they also get something in return.
Malaysians of all ages seem to enjoy what they serve / Image Credit: Betty’s Midwest Kitchen
They have had many clients who have helped in R&D, most of whom are American, but not necessarily from the Midwest. “While your input is valuable, we also compare it to local opinion, but that rarely differs,” Kevin said.
And it seems that these unofficial collaborations have paid off. Kevin shared that some of their proudest moments are when customers thank them for bringing them to memory lane from their time in the Midwest.
Although this is a family business, Kevin has no plans to make it a heirloom as he feels like that’s a thing of the past. With that said, plan to run it for as long as you can.
Bottom line: As someone who has eaten Midwest food for 4 years in a row, I can attest to the authenticity of Betty’s Midwest Kitchen food. With how long it’s been running, it would be a shame to see the restaurant come to an end when Kevin decides to retire. However, not all small businesses are built for the purpose of expanding or pursuing profits, and Betty’s Midwest Kitchen is an example of that.
- You can learn more about Betty’s Midwest Kitchen here.
- You can read more F&B related articles that we have written here.
Featured Image Credit: Kevin Woon, Founder of Betty’s Midwest Kitchen