KUALA LUMPUR: Petaling Street, a often bustling space, was abandoned and quiet beneath the present whole lockdown.
Peter Chin, who has been operating Restoran Kiew Yee Baru in the identical spot because the Nineteen Sixties, mentioned they might begin closing the restaurant by 7.20pm on most nights and never even wait for the 8pm restrict set by the federal government.
“Take a look, there’s nothing going on,” he gestured down Jalan Tun HS Lee.
“It’s even quieter than it was during May 13,” Chin mentioned, referring to the 1969 race riots in Kuala Lumpur and the next curfew to quell the incident.
During the opening hours, Chin’s son-in-law Chong Wan Heng solely fired up the range each time an order got here in, which was few and much between. The restaurant, working out of an unassuming store lot, serves “tze char” dishes like Cantonese fried noodles, mincemeat tofu and seafood fried rice.
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Malaysia entered a nationwide lockdown from Jun 1 to comprise the spike in COVID-19 circumstances. Dine-in at eating places are prohibited and outlets can solely function from 8am to 8pm, while work at home is the default association for non-essential sectors.
Only two folks per family are allowed to buy necessities, with motion restricted to a 10km radius from their residence.
The lockdown, which has since been extended until Jun 28, has dealt a severe blow to companies and retailers. Time-honoured eateries which have been serving comforting, nostalgic dishes for many years are amongst these hit exhausting by the restrictions, particularly after they have but to leap on the supply bandwagon.
They have been uncertain how lengthy they might proceed to function as they’re at present surviving on their savings, however their quick focus is to take issues in the future at a time.
“Right now, I’m not even thinking about profits. As long as we can break even, cover the cost of our ingredients, our gas, the utilities and workers’ wages, I’m happy already,” Chin mentioned.
“When we were younger, yes we did worry that the restaurant might not survive. But we’re now an established eatery (lao zhao pai) and have such a long history, we can use our savings to help tide things over.
“Right now, there’s not even time to entertain such ideas about whether or not we would have to shut or not, and we focus on getting through each day,” he said.
DIGGING INTO RESERVES TO STAY AFLOAT
For Rosnah Husin, who manages Pak Din Ikan Bakar with her husband Zainuddin Abdullah, the cycle of lockdowns and reopenings in over a year have depleted their businesses’ reserves.
The grilled fish stall, which was founded in 1997, is a popular establishment in central Kuala Lumpur’s Jalan Tanglin area. Before the pandemic, customers came in droves from areas as far as Kajang, Gombak and Subang, Rosnah said.
“The 10km travel limit and people’s fear of being fined have really badly affected us. Because a lot of customers and our regulars don’t just come from the surrounding area,” she said.
In its heyday, the stall used up to 10 sacks or 100kg of rice from morning until late afternoon.
These days, they only use two bags of rice, Rosnah said. Customers also just came to buy grilled fish and rice, unlike when they were able to dine in and order more food.
Rosnah said she and her husband have stopped paying themselves salaries, and were just focused on ensuring the stall’s survival each week. Half of their workers had left or were let go; the remaining ones were willing to work at half their usual pay.
“Luckily we always put money away for reserves, but as this current lockdown drags on, even the hill has become flat,” Rosnah mentioned, enjoying on a conventional Malay proverb about slowly accumulating wealth.
When CNA visited their stall on Wednesday (Jun 16), orders have been solely trickling in slowly. Rosnah was taking orders on the telephone and her husband or the employees would wrap the grilled fishes in tin foil and pack them with rice and condiments fabricated from chilli, shallots, sauce and tamarind.
“It is the same with my neighbours here. We’re all just trying to survive, it’s literally surviving on what we can scratch out in the morning,” Rosnah mentioned.
Likewise, Sathya Seelan Vijayakumar, the present proprietor of Sri Ganapathi Mess in Petaling Jaya, mentioned he has to cowl a part of the outlet’s overheads from its reserves lately.
The banana leaf rice restaurant was began by his father some 20 years in the past. Fried squid, crab rasam and mutton parathal have been among the many well-loved dishes.
Sri Ganapathi Mess is located proper reverse a main college, and had it been a traditional lunch hour, visitors would typically be a snarl as diners and oldsters jostle for parking area.
Now, the world was quiet and the eatery was empty. An occasional name or online order would immediate the employees to arrange and pack.
SIGNING UP WITH DELIVERY PLATFORMS
While many eating places and cafes have signed up with supply platforms reminiscent of Grab and Food Panda, a few of these decade-old eateries mentioned they have been resisting the concept for sensible causes.
“One, I’m not very conversant with new technology,” mentioned Restoran Kiew Yee Baru’s Chin.
“Two, the platforms take commissions for every order, and the profit isn’t very big for the basic dishes, so either I take the loss, or I have to raise prices to cover the costs of labour and ingredients,” he added.
But if he have been to boost costs, he can be at risk of dropping his clients.
Rosnah mentioned her household’s grilled fish stall had solely simply signed up with a significant meals supply platform and was going through the approval course of.
“But I had heard from my other friends in the food business about the commission structure, and for me, my primary concern is I have to take care of my customers first. Items like fish are also seasonal and the prices are not fixed,” she mentioned.
Both institutions have been relying on orders that got here in through telephone calls.
“Once we’re done with cooking, we call the customer to let them know their order is ready and they can arrange either for a delivery rider, or come themselves to pick it up,” Chin mentioned.
Sathya Seelan’s Sri Ganapathi Mess was initially not on any online supply platform however he noticed the necessity after struggling dangerous enterprise throughout final yr’s lockdown in March.
“After 10 days with no business, I had to shut everything down for a month, register ourselves on the platform, and then reopen for business,” he mentioned.
He acknowledged that enterprise can be a lot worse with out the supply platforms and takeaways. In this present lockdown, digital orders and takeaways helped cowl 70 to 80 per cent of their overheads.
“More importantly, we can reach our customers who live beyond the 10km or inter-district travel limits during this total lockdown,” Sathya Seelan mentioned.
MISSING THE ATMOSPHERE
It has not been straightforward seeing their institutions keep quiet throughout the lockdown.
For Sathya Seelan, the factor he missed probably the most was the environment.
“Usually, our busiest times are the weekend. But last Saturday for instance, it was 2pm and we talked among ourselves because not many orders were coming in.
“And we were remarking that ‘Hey, usually we would be busy running around the place serving rice, vegetable and curries,’” he described.
“Sales aside, we also miss the interaction with our customers because we have some really long-time regulars, who have been coming here since we started business, or have been dining in for five, 10 years. They sometimes stop and linger over a cup of tea or coffee,” he mentioned.
Packing rice and greens into paper bins was simply not the identical, he mentioned.
“The whole point of banana leaf rice is the banana leaf. Packing our food into boxes makes us like nasi campur (mixed rice),” he laughed.
Apparently, some clients additionally miss the expertise a lot that they made a particular request to have their takeout bins lined with banana leaves, Sathya Seelan mentioned.
By his personal calculations, Sathya Seelan mentioned, the enterprise might run on its reserves till the top of July, with out having to let go of any of its staff.
“But by August, it becomes a question mark, and then I have to see how we are able to keep this business running,” he mentioned.
Read this story in Bahasa Melayu here.