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Customers expect cheap and quality food and services. FILE PIC

OMARU is a businessman with an attitude. You may say that all businessmen have an attitude and I will not disagree. But Omaru’s attitude has raised the bar in his highly competitive and demanding industry — the food business.

Being an owner of several restaurants, Omaru has been trying very hard to make sure that toilets in his restaurants are spotlessly clean; that cleanliness is the number one priority. He operates a nasi kandar shop, which gives you an idea of how busy business can be.

I sat down with him a few nights ago just to get a feel of what restaurant owners and operators feel about the business. I wanted to understand what goes on in the minds of these entrepreneurs.

Many of us have our preferred restaurants. It is the same with mamak shops. They are everywhere. Even a residential area will have a mamak shop, some more than one.

Omaru owns several restaurants in the Klang Valley, making him a very busy entrepreneur.

Listen to Omaru: “Operating such restaurants is not easy. Customers’ expectations are high. They expect quality food and services and want them cheap! For a roti canai and a glass of teh tarik, they can sit for two hours watching Manchester United against Liverpool.

“But my restaurant doesn’t provide television viewing. Too much hassle. But if you want nice nasi kandar, do drop by.

“If my workers are not servicing you well, let me know. I will deal with them. I believe I give fair treatment to my workers.

“In Shah Alam, my workers stay in a nice condominium above the restaurant. I try to provide accommodation at the nearest location. It is for their benefit and mine.”

I later learnt that not all mamak shop owners provide free housing for their workers. It’s not a legal requirement. But those who do are the exception. Omaru is one of them.

How did you start this restaurant business, I asked him. Apparently, Omaru has been learning about business ever since he was a boy. He started by selling drinks and textile. He later went to work as a media practitioner before venturing full time into the restaurant business.

“It is a struggle. In the early years, I did my own marketing at a wholesale market in Selayang.
It was an eye-opener in many ways.

“I was at the market as early as 4am. I did this for two years. I got to know the people, the system and the quality of the farm produce. It’s all up to you. You want quality food, then you pay good money.

“Since I open for business as early as 7am, my cooks start preparing and cooking the dishes at 5am. Which is why I provide them free housing near the restaurant. Maybe I was lucky because most of my workers do their work well.

“But I can’t stand dirty toilets. After two years, I stopped going to the market and started paying more attention to cleanliness, services and customer care. Now I do spot checks!

“Every staff of mine knows this. Each visit to my outlets will start with toilet inspection. There were times when I caught my workers not keeping the toilets clean. They get hell from me when that happens.

“Some of my workers were given the walking certificate when I found out they didn’t do their job well. I know many people can’t stand dirty toilets. I’d rather go home than use one that is dirty.

“Many of my workers have learnt a thing or two after a few were sacked. It’s all a question of attitude. Some workers feel that they are just doing a job. As long as they are paid every month, they don’t care about cleanliness.

“Today, most of my workers are learning about the right attitude. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s slowly coming along. I pay my workers well. But I have difficulties in getting local lads to work at my restaurants. They are very choosy. They can’t stand the routine. They want easy jobs in an office environment, even if they earn less.

“That’s sad because they will miss the opportunity to develop themselves from being a worker to an entrepreneur.”

The writer is a former NST group editor

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