Apr 26, 2012

Roti Man & Mobile Food

The mobile food business is no longer the domain of the rotiman on two wheels because innovative youngsters have brought it up a notch with new ideas.
The Rotiman network
The Federal Territory Bread Vendors’ Association has only 100 members now, compared with 400 in its heyday.
The bread vendors who are still servicing the hundreds of housing estates in the Klang Valley are mostly retirees, but they do not mind working from 4am to 11pm every day with only a few hours rest in between.
Federal Territory Bread Vendors Association
Closely-knit community: Abu Bakar (right) having a light moment with Mohd Arief.
Amanula Sikander, 62, said he was used to the long hours and if he did not work, he would feel bored.
“I will deliver the bread as long as I can work. My regular customers still like to see me,” said Amanula, who has been selling bread around Kepong for the past 30 years.
Badre Alam, 72, raised his eight children with the meagre income he earned as a bread delivery man plying Jalan Ipoh.
“It’s been 50 years and I feel healthy working,” said the bearded grandfather with a stick of beedi between his lips.
He said the job was the only choice because he was illiterate.
Badre, who came from India, was grinning from ear to ear when he talked about his many grandchildren, but brushed off the idea of retirement.
The rotiman community is continuing to shrink as the city’s high cost of living has turned many away.
The two old rotiman are among 20 bread vendors who visit an old bungalow in Jalan Ipoh twice daily to replenish stock.
bread vendor
Hale and hearty: Badre Alam, 72, raised his eight children with the meagre income he earned as a rotiman.
They have to share the bungalow’s rental that has increased to RM4,000. They also have to worry about fuel and repair, which will cost about RM300 per month.
Another vendor, Asokumaran Muniandy, 50, said they could make RM2,500 a month three years ago but now it is only RM1,500.
“People buy bread at hypermarkets now or near where they have dinner. Worse still, the commission is very little now,” Asokumaran said.
Without newcomers, even the association’s president Abu Bakar Abdul Samad felt that the rotiman business might soon die a natural death.
“It’s a tough job as they are exposed to the sun and rain every day earning only a pittance,” said Abu Bakar, who is now a bread factory’s distributor as 43 years of riding the bike under harsh weather had caused serious arthritis problems.
“I think the rotiman will just fade away when these seniors are gone,” he said.
From carts to vans
Poon Yuen Toong, 51, said his father sold tong sui (sweet congee) and chee cheung fun (rice noodle) from a cart in 1953 in Jalan Alor while he has been selling the same delicacies from a motorcycle in Cheras since 1982.
Mobile food
Quality control: Poon Tai Kong checking the Chee Cheung Fun items before the trucks embark on their rounds in Cheras, Serdang and Kajang.
“Now my son has taken over the business, managing five vans,” he said.
Poon’s family business is a sweet story of how moving around brought them financial stability.
Even though the two Poon Kee Dessert outlets in Cheras and Puchong are enjoying brisk business and a new branch is opening in Kota Damansara, the family will not stop the mobile operation in Serdang, Kajang and Cheras, as it has a steady following.
“Customers enjoy sitting by the van to enjoy the snacks, others pack it to go,” said his son, Tai Kong, 26.
The family starts boiling nine cauldrons of sweet congee at 4am every day, but Tai Kong and his two brothers never complain as this means sharing the goodness of their family recipes.
They have not ventured into the city centre due to difficulty in obtaining business licence.
Anyway, there is no plan to expand the fleet yet due to manpower shortage.
mobile food
Labour of love: The Poon family was serving sweet congee from a cart 50 years ago. Today, they are dished out from three outlets with a fleet of five trucks still sending the delicacies to nearly one's doorsteps.
An increasing number of food vans can be seen in recent years but they are tapping a different clientele. Besidespasar malam, food vans dishing out local delights such as lok-lok (now with the halal version), roasted sweet potatoes and fried noodles like to station themselves near pubs and cafes to catch the supper crowd.
Trucks selling cendol and rojak are still extremely popular.
One can often see a long line of cars parked along busy roads, just for that refreshing shaved ice and hot crispy fritters.
If the crowd does not come to you, it is never a bad idea to go to them.
Some restaurants send their vans to office areas dishing out hot food such as buns and cakes.
An executive in Petaling Jaya said he used to buy buns from a van in SS2.
“The buns are warm and fresh and I will buy something even if I was not very hungry,” he said.
Food in a truck
Even the younger group has seen the benefits of mobile business, among them is culinary graduate Rosman Hussin, 28, who serves Western food from a truck in Pusat Bandar Damansara.
“I was rather sceptical when my mother suggested the idea. I wanted my patrons to be able to sit down comfortably to enjoy my food,” he said.
mobile food
Crowd puller: The Humble Chef that only starts business at 10pm in Pusat Bandar Damansara is popular among students.
Having sat on the idea for three months, he finally gave it a go but the truck took six months to be equipped with the cooking facilities he needed.
He named his business “The Humble Chef” and chose to station the truck at where he hanged out most, a ramp over the highway near Help College University.
One year on, his business that opens from 10pm is so popular that it has become the designated supper destination for students there. TV stations, newpapers and bloggers have featured him; even celebrities are willing to wait patiently for the pastas, pitas and sandwiches priced between RM2.50 and RM5.
“It’s challenging running a food business on wheels because you do not have full kitchen facility, running water and space,” he said, adding that they could only serve a maximum of 200 people daily.
“I spent about a year perfecting the interior of the truck,” he added.
But it is all worthwhile looking at the beeline of people waiting for their meals.
Rosman said the students wanted him to be there for them.
“When I run out of ingredients, some of them will even run to the convenience store to buy some eggs so that I can make them omelettes,” he said.
The chef has also inspired his juniors to venture into the mobile busines. He still yearns for a café and a central kitchen, so that he can franchise his business.
Even then, he will not stop using the truck, as no other means can offer such a nice ambience ­— dining under the stars, by the road, with traffic zooming past.

Applications for mobile business processed carefully

The issuance of licences for mobile business is closely monitored due to various concerns.
In the case of Petaling Jaya, only 44 licences were issued for mobile business compared with about 2,000 for other petty traders.
Petaling Jaya City Council public relations officer Zainun Zakaria said while mobile traders might bring convenience to their customers, the irresponsible ones might be a menace to others.
She said in the past, mobile businesses had obstructed traffic, hogged parking space and affected cleanliness.
“If we allow the traders to use a specific parking lot, others will accuse the council of giving them special treatment.
“Mobile business is mainly meant for take-aways and they should take care of the cleanliness if they offer sit-in but many just leave behind a mess,” she said.
She added that as such, the licensing department had to process all applications carefully, but there was still a likelihood that more licences be issued if there was demand.

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