Pandemic or no pandemic, food stall operator remains devoted to coming up with more add-ons to meet various demands from her customers
THE pandemic may have affected many other businesses, but for food stall operator Jade Lo Yian Yuk, she seems to have been doing pretty well even during the first enforcement of the Movement Control Order (MCO) last year.
Over the past four years, it has been her daily routine of getting up as early as 3am and going to bed at around 11pm.
In between 3am and 11pm, she does almost everything – from getting the supplies, preparing the ingredients, opening her stall and selling food, up to clearing up for the next day.
This routine has continued on, even throughout the various phases of the MCO, as her trade is considered an essential service.
Still, the Covid-19 pandemic has incurred a setback – it has forced Lo to put on hold her dream of running an establishment that offers a menu full of rich selections.
Such an opportunity did come knocking back in end-2019, but the agent who recommended her a shoplot had sealed the agreement with another party instead.
“I see the missed opportunity as a blessing in disguise, as right after Chinese New Year last year, we got hit by Covid-19.
“It would be hard to say whether or not I could survive the pandemic if I had my own food premises back then, instead of just a stall,” the 51-year-old told thesundaypost.
Lo, who runs her stall at a coffee shop off Ban Hock Road in Kuching, seems to have been doing well since the first MCO.
Still, she has not given up on her dream – she remains patient and optimistic about her business expansion plan.
“I believe another opportunity would come knocking on my door. I just need to be patient.
“In view of the current Covid-19 situation, I’d like to sit tight first.”
Lo started out by offering Hakka Yong Tau Fu (Stuffed Bean Curd) and Fried Chicken Kolo Mee (Noodle).
Her business was so-so at first because she was new to the industry.
As her customer base began to build up, she made more efforts to diversify her offerings.
Her Yong Tau Fu had gone past being just ‘stuffed beancurd’ – she later stuffed the meaty fillings into lady’s fingers, brinjals and bitter gourds.
Two years ago, she first put onto her menu what is now her signature ‘Roasted Pork Belly – with the Original Hakka Flavours’.
This item was once a highly sought-after offering at the annual Kuching Festival Food Fair in 2019.
“My customers are allowed to customise the menu and have add-ons.
“The original Hakka Roasted Pork Belly can go with either ‘kolo mee’ or rice, or even ‘kuetiau’ (flat rice noodles), ‘bee hoon’ (rice vermicelli) or ‘tang hoon’ (glass noodles).”
Before coming up with her ‘Original Hakka Roasted Pork Belly’, Lo had a list of pot soup items on the menu – many of which she has retained until today.
Most of the customers love her Black Bean Soup, which is offered twice a week – on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Other than these days, the selection would depend on her mood and also the availability of ingredients – it could be Stuffed Bitter Gourd Soup, or other varieties.
During the current MCO phase, she started making her own fish balls and meat cakes.
According to her, this is not just a way for her to retain her customer base, but also to attract new food lovers to her stall.
“Many of my customers love the fish balls, which are not mixed with flour – the ingredients used are only minced fish and pepper. My customers find my version of fish balls chewier than others.”
Lo’s meat cakes are made from minced fish and minced pork, mixed with shredded carrots and spring onions. Customers can have their meat cakes boiled or deep-fried.
The food trader is more than happy to improvise the menu, with more choices being offered from time to time.
Self-made and self-reliant
Whatever culinary skills that Lo has, all of it is self-learnt. Prior to running her food stall, this mother-of-two had been selling grocery items from a shoplot in King’s Centre for 16 years.
It was motherly love that motivated her to make Yong Tau Fu.
“My son used to work as a marketing personnel. He’d always come home exhausted and at times, he would fall sick. I couldn’t bear seeing him like that, so I started making Yong Tau Fu and asked him to help me sell it.
“This was when I was still selling grocery items at King’s Centre. When that shoplot owner decided to hike the rent, it was then that I decided to venture into operating a food stall – an undertaking that I still do today.”
Apart from her Yong Tau Fu and other food items, Lo also makes her own chilli sauce.
“I began making the chilli sauce for sale only after getting positive feedback from my customers.
“Some of them said they really loved the chilli sauce that I made, so I thought: ‘I might as well make it available’.”
Lo’s stall keeps attracting new customers during this time of pandemic.
“There are those who started frequenting my stall after the MCO last year – they have been coming back for takeaways almost on a regular basis.”
Lo has been accepting payments via e-wallet platforms – Sarawak Pay, Boost and Touch N Go – even before the pandemic was declared.
“Actually, I have observed that such form of payment has grown even more popular during this time of pandemic.
“To offer convenience to my customers, I have also partnered up with food delivery services, ‘Grab’ and ‘Bazaar’.”
Pandemic or no pandemic, Lo remains devoted to coming up with more add-ons to meet various demands from her customers.
She is determined that once the economy is on its road to recovery, she would revive her plan towards running an establishment that offers a menu full of rich selections.
For now, she stays focused on preparing her savoury Yong Tau Fu and other items for every patron who frequents her stall.