Penang florist and café Hanakoya takes root in a heritage building

The latest branch has a VIP room for private events and monthly workshops.

The back half of the café is the florist section of Hanakoya (Photo: Hanakoya)

As there was not much competition in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Mick Boon decided to start his own florist’s there in 2012. He named it Hanakoya, which roughly translates into “flower hut”. The name was also chosen to honour the Japanese technique of preserving flowers, which is one of Hanakoya’s specialities. “We are actually one of the distributors in Malaysia and Singapore for preserved flowers. They are fresh flowers that we dry when they bloom, and then use a [type of] chemical to keep their shape. These flowers can last three to five years,” he says.

Boon was quick to feel out the specific skills of his team to create different departments in order to expand the business. For example, one of his crew members has a talent for calligraphy, so he began the Ink Bar, which creates handwritten cards, paintings and even couple portraits. Other than regular fresh and preserved flower bouquets, Hanakoya also has flower baskets, bell jar arrangements and balloon bouquets.

Business was doing well, but Boon began to notice the long waiting periods that drop-in customers had to endure, especially as arrangements would take 30 minutes to an hour. That was when the idea to introduce a café in the space sparked. But having no food and beverage experience meant they were in for an uphill battle. “It was challenging for us. We went through many classes to learn about coffee and desserts. After one year, we bought a coffee machine to practise. It was only after that we started our café,” he says.


Boon (second bottom right) and the team behind Hanakoya (Photo: Hanakoya)

Boon was determined that if they wanted to do it right, they had to do things slowly. They began serving coffee and cakes in 2017 and only a year later, expanded to sandwiches and pasta. And this was all in the same Hanakoya florist’s in KK. Eventually, he opened their second outlet in Sabah.

And then Covid-19 hit, and the F&B side of things needed to pivot to survive. “Suddenly, we could only do takeaways and deliveries, which was not great for us. We launched an afternoon tea box because people were only gifting food and snacks at the time. And this was the only thing we could do during the MCO (Movement Control Order),” says Boon. However, the florist’s side of the business continued to do well as people were still ordering bouquets to show their socially distanced loved ones affection.

As Boon himself had grown up in Penang, he wanted his next outlet to be in his hometown. Despite the difficulties that the pandemic had created, the stars were aligned for him and his plans. On a serendipitous trip to Lebuh Muntri, he came across a shoplot available for rent, and after a few phone calls and discussions, it became the chosen spot for Hanakoya Florist & Flower Café.


Original floor and wall tiles were retained in the shop (Photo: Hanakoya)

The challenge was that the new space was a heritage building that had been empty for a few years, so it was definitely a fixer upper. But Boon was determined to maintain that retro sense of style in this new shop. “The Sabah outlet is quite modern and the design is all black and white. But for the Penang shop, we wanted to retain the local culture. Heritage buildings are so special in Penang, so we were looking for that cultural feel,” he says.

When you walk into Hanakoya Florist & Flower Café, in Penang which opened in January last year, you are greeted by retro floor tiles, which Boon tells me is the building’s original flooring. The mint green tiles go halfway up the walls, there is an airy high ceiling and quite minimalist furniture in the front half of the shop. At the end of that space, punctuated by the Hanakoya sign on the wall, is the florist’s half of the business, decked out in all manner of blooms, balloons and decorating gear.

On my visit, I sampled the Hana Tosuto, a slice of brioche with homemade gelato, fruits, cookies, soil and organic rainforest honey. So many elements of this dish were sweet, but they were tempered by the tart and fresh kiwi and strawberry slices. The passion fruit pearls added a nice bite, while the vanilla ice cream was perhaps my favourite element. I washed this down with an earthy Hojicha latte, which came with a cookie.


Hanakoya specialises in desserts, coffee and tea, but the menu includes a range of lunch options (Photo: Lakshmi Sekhar/ The Edge Malaysia)

Boon says that unlike Sabah, where there is less competition, a new café pops up in Penang almost every month to join the many other eateries. To raise awareness of their café and make it stand out from the crowd, Hanakoya has a marketing team specially dedicated to the Penang branch. “Every month, we have a new product for the florist’s and café. For example, for Chinese New Year, we had special flowers and a gifting box — a wooden box we had our designer custom make and it has different TWG teas inside,” he adds.

What makes Hanakoya Florist & Flower Café truly different is the VIP room at the back of the store. Decorated with recycled dried flower murals, this event space has a 20-person capacity and has so far been used for birthday parties as well as perfume and flower arranging workshops. To keep the space interesting, Hanakoya holds a workshop every month.

“The concept is interesting because nowhere else will you find a florist’s and café in one place. That’s why people like Hanakoya,” says Boon. Ambitious and excited about the future, he is looking to expand his florist’s-cum-café to Kuala Lumpur.


This article first appeared on Mar 7, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.


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