While Penang’s inner-city coffee shops struggle to stay afloat, steadfast community support buoys their suburban counterparts

A customer packs food to go at Sinar Malam Cafe in Taman Tun Sardon, Penang, August 11, 2021. ― Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
A customer packs food to go at Sinar Malam Cafe in Taman Tun Sardon, Penang, August 11, 2021. ― Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

Follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates.


GEORGE TOWN, Aug 12 ― A majority of eateries and coffee shops in Penang have experienced a drop in business of up to 80 per cent, with many closing down, but those located in residential areas have managed to stay afloat due to support from their regular customers.

Over at the Sinar Malam Tomyam stall in Taman Tun Sardon, Rafeah Ismail, 60, said her business remains brisk even though they are only offering takeaway and delivery.

“My stall has been around for 20 years so I have regular customers who still support me. They still come and order takeaway,” she said.

The stall sells a variety of food from nasi goreng (fried rice) to tomyam a la Thai (Thai style tomyam) and is open till 10pm daily.

Rafeah said her business has remained stable despite the Covid-19 pandemic but the only time she was affected was when she had to close before 8pm under one of the movement control order (MCO) SOPs.

“When they cut short the opening hours, my business suffered because my customers usually come by around 8pm, after work. But I had to close by 7.30pm so a large number of my customers couldn’t come,” she said.

Now that she is allowed to operate till 10pm under Phase Two of the National Recovery Plan, she said everything is as normal.

She will not even consider opening for dine-in due to the risks it might pose for her and her customers.

“I am doing well just on delivery and takeaway so I don’t want to allow dine-in that has its risks and there are so many cases now, it is better to be careful,” she said.

Mandarin Cafe at Island Park is only open for takeaways at the moment. ― Picture by Steven Ooi KE
Mandarin Cafe at Island Park is only open for takeaways at the moment. ― Picture by Steven Ooi KE

Over at Island Park, the popular coffee shop, Mandarin Cafe, is still staying afloat and paying its workers full salaries without letting any of them go

Its owner, Lee Poh Lam, said business had dropped drastically, by about 70 per cent, but they are still getting by.

“I gave the hawker stalls here a 50 per cent discount on rental and none of the stalls have closed down, all of them are surviving,” she said.

She said they are not expecting a lot of business at this time but at least they still have the support of residents in the area who stop by for takeaway.

Lee has been operating the coffee shop for over 13 years.

Island Park cafe owner Tan has taken to selling fruits and vegetables to supplement his income. ― Picture by Steven Ooi KE
Island Park cafe owner Tan has taken to selling fruits and vegetables to supplement his income. ― Picture by Steven Ooi KE

Meanwhile, Island Park Cafe owner, Tan Boon Keat, has taken to selling local fruit and vegetables from his farm in Sungai Ara to supplement his income.

He said the coffee shop’s business has dropped by 80 per cent but the 20 hawker stalls at the coffee shop are still getting about 60 per cent of business.

“People still come to take away food but our drinks. We suffer because people only take away food and not drinks, so I had to find other ways to survive, and that is to sell fruit and vegetables,” he said.

He said it was a good thing that regular customers to the coffee shop support him by buying his fruits and vegetables.

“It is thanks to the regular customers’ support that we are able to get by,” he said.

He sells local fruit such as bananas, papaya, mangosteens, rambutan and durians, as well as vegetables such as ladies’ fingers, spinach, cucumber, aubergine and long beans.

Since his coffee shop only set up a few tables for dine-in, he has dedicated some of the space, using his other tables, to display his fruits and vegetables.

Eateries in Penang are allowed to open for dine-in for fully vaccinated individuals under strict SOPs but very few places allow dine-in as it would require additional manpower to check the vaccination certificate of customers and ensure compliance to the SOPs.

Tan said not many of his customers want to dine-in as today they also had less than 10 customers who ate at the coffee shop while others continued to order takeaway.

You May Also Like

Related Articles