It’s not easy for us to survive the pandemic for nearly a year and a half, and for many others who rely only on their earnings to nourish themselves and their family. When you think of it, many of us should really be grateful, because you may feel blessed to be living this life in comparison to the person I am about to speak about now.
Nowadays, many young people only want to have fun and enjoy themselves. They want to ‘lepak,’ be with their buddies. But some of them are absolutely contrary. Some individuals like Hema are striving each and every day – putting so much effort just to gain enough money and experience for a better future.
Hema is 22, running her own food stall at SS13 New Sea View Restaurant. She started up this food stall last July 2020, by the name, ‘Flame Grill Out’ which serves western meals.
Varnam: How do you manage to run your stall during this pandemic?
Hema: When MCO was first commenced, business was actually going quite well. In facts, my sales could go up to RM400-RM500 a day. However, my business really slowed down when the CMCO began because the majority were at home and cooked at home rather than at a “food stall”.
So it really badly affected my business. Hence, to market my stable, I have used social media and communication tools like Whatsapp. I got several orders and, surprisingly, I was supported by a number of my childhood pals.
Varnam: Do you always wanted to work in this field or did you just fall here out of choice?
Hema: I would say this is my secondary choice, because I actually dreamed of becoming a lawyer at first. But due to financial constraints I decided to pursue culinary instead.However, if I get the chance, I will love to truly pursue law.
Varnam: What is your working schedule like and do you get tired or demotivated with your working schedule?
Hema: I work from 10 to 10, 7 days a week. Normally, I would take a break from 3pm to 6pm but I stopped it because I see there are some customers who come during that time. So, I will just work straight throughout that 12 hours while taking small breaks just to have my meals. I do have some helpers who come in but they are not there all the time. So I just had to rely on myself.
Varnam: What are the difficulties that you face running a stall alone?
Hema: Honestly, I would love to have someone to help me prepare some of the food because oftentimes i would feel really exhausted. Also working from 10 to 10 for 7 days straight also means there is no time for my social life. I don’t have time even for my family and I just work all the time. I also lost a lot of my contacts due to that. But I want to do this because I just want to be “successful”.
“I believe that if you work hard now, you can enjoy your life later.”
Varnam: What could you have done during this pandemic to improve your business?
Hema: I’d state that it is really vital to improve my customer base for now. I actually lost 80% of my customers during this pandemic, because from RM 400-RM500, I started earning RM40-RM50 a day now. And I somehow have to manage to pay my bills and rentals with that.
I know it’s my business but I get a wage then the remainder goes to my business fund. But I haven’t had salaries for nearly 3 to 4 months since, with the MCO and CMCO. My business is progressively improving now, however, but my customer base is not yet in line.
Hema has actually worked in a number of places in order to save up enough money to open her own food stall. She did her internship at the 5-star ‘Pullman Kuala Lumpur’ hotel near Pavilion.
Varnam: Do you have any future plans to expand your business?
Hema: If I do have the opportunity, I would love to open in a different food court. My concept is actually, restaurant cuisine in a food court. So I want to serve what the cafés are serving in a food court at an inexpensive price.
Because I’ve heard some people saying that they can’t afford western meals. So, my stall could offer western food for everyone at an affordable price. I began to receive more devoted consumers from this.
Varnam: Where do you see yourself in a few years from now?
Hema: I would actually like to open a stall-franchise business. In other words, I’d like to franchise to people who can’t afford to open their own restaurant but can afford to run a small food stall. That way, I’d be able to help people who are having difficulties with their businesses. I’m saying this because I’ve been in similar situations.
Varnam: Do you have a life philosophy in which you strongly believe?
Hema: There is this quote by Abdul Sattar Edhi. I say this quote every morning, and every time I read it, it makes me cry because of the profound meaning it holds. It goes something like this, “A hungry stomach, an empty pocket and a broken heart can teach you the best lessons of life”. I look at this quote everyday.
It was simply inspiring to interview a hardworking young woman like Hema. Looking at her effort and listening to her stories during the interview, I could see how much she would progress and grow in the coming years. Hema, keep inspiring and rocking!