Wak Mat has been selling roti canai and nasi lemak for more than 10 years.
Operating from a small stall in Sungai Besi, Kuala Lumpur, he has since moved to a bigger outlet in a food court not too far from the original location.
I’ve been frequenting his stall for many years, from the original site to the present. In that period, roti canai and nasi lemak have remained on his daily breakfast menu.
There is consistency in the quality of his food, which explains why he has a steady flow of regular customers.
It’s very much a family operation from day one. Today, operating from the food court, Wak Mat has trained one of his sons to make roti canai.
I suppose this is his plan to pass on the business to his son when the time comes for him to “retire”.
The business has potential, judging from the number of customers frequenting the stall day in, day out.
He has one competitor nearby, but they are friendly to each other. His competitor, Wak Nan, offers the same menu.
Both operators have a thriving business. But I wonder if they will do the same thing in five or 10 years down the road.
Will they enhance their business with additional menus? Will they remain roti canai and nasi lemak operators their entire lives?
It makes me wonder how these operators will fare in the coming years, as customers become more discerning and as competition increases.
There are many others like Wak Mat and Wak Nan, who make a living retailing relatively cheap breakfast items for office workers as early as 6.30am.
In Wak Mat’s case, he employs an Indonesian woman as a waitress and cleaner. This is a clear indication that his business has indeed grown.
But looking at the way he runs his business, he will still be operating from the food court and not from a proper restaurant of his own 10 years on.
It’s the same with Wak Nan. No shoplot restaurant as far as I can see.
Both seemed contented with the progress they were making.
Wak Mat said: “Dahulu lagi kecil. Kalau hujan, hampir tak boleh berniaga (It was worse then. When it rained, we almost couldn’t operate).”
What’s in store for them? They have the potential to be bigger and better. With some help from the right quarters and guidance in financial management, both entrepreneurs can thrive.
They must make an effort to improve their stalls’ ambience.
In fact, the food court looks very much like a makeshift structure. Location is good, but it needs urgent upgrading.
The writer is a former NST group editor. His first column appeared on Aug 27, 1995, as ‘Kurang Manis’
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times