Although allowed to reopen, coffee shops in Ipoh prefer to wait for Covid-19 cases to drop and out-of-state visitors to return

Kedai Kopi Sin Yoon Loong's business suffered because of the pandemic as even regulars came by less often. — Pictures by John Bunyan
Kedai Kopi Sin Yoon Loong's business suffered because of the pandemic as even regulars came by less often. — Pictures by John Bunyan

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IPOH, Sept 19 — Most of the coffee shops and restaurants in Ipoh Old Town prefer to continue with takeaways/deliveries even though dine-in has been allowed since Perak moved into Phase Two of the National Recovery Plan (NRP) in July.

The owners/operators of these establishments are still wary of the high number of Covid-19 cases in the state.

This part of the city used to see coffee shops and restaurants packed with office workers and locals on weekdays. And on weekends, the whole place would be crowded with tourists/visitors from Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya eager to sample the food for which Ipoh is so famous. 

Now, all you see are empty coffee shops with tables and chairs pushed aside and the entrances blocked in that familiar way all Malaysians now understand to mean “only open for takeaway.” 

With inter-state travel still prohibited, most of the coffee shop owners told Malay Mail their business has dropped tremendously. 

Kedai Kopi Sin Yoon Loong is deserted as it only offers takeaways at the moment.
Kedai Kopi Sin Yoon Loong is deserted as it only offers takeaways at the moment.

Kedai Kopi Sin Yoon Loong co-owner Wong KM, 64, said business dropped by about 60 per cent this year. This coffee shop on Jalan Bandar Timah has been in business for more than 80 years and is famous for its white coffee. 

“Business has been bad due to the pandemic. Our regular patrons are not visiting the shop as often. 

“Also tourists from neighbouring states are still prohibited from travelling inter-state. This is also a reason why we don’t see many customers,” he told Malay Mail. 

In happier times, visitors from out of town would throng this iconic coffee shop just for its white coffee, toast with soft boiled egg and caramel custard. 

Wong said that they are not open for dine-in yet as the cases in the state are still high and he doesn’t want to risk the safety of the workers and his customers.  

Restoran Kong Heng prefers not to open for dine-in as it is too risky with the high number of Covid-19 cases.
Restoran Kong Heng prefers not to open for dine-in as it is too risky with the high number of Covid-19 cases.

Ah Wah, 56, who runs the char kuey teow stall at Restoran Kong Heng on the same road said that it’s difficult to check and keep track of each customer’s vaccination status.  

“Lot of problems can occur if the customers who are vaccinated but did not complete the 14-day waiting period dine in at the restaurant. 

“We can’t check all the customers. And we might be fined if the authorities conduct a sudden inspection at our shop. To avoid such problems, we decided to postpone the opening for dine-in,” he said. 

He added that they might allow dine-in when the majority of the residents here have completed their vaccinations.  

Ah Wah also believes that business will improve when people from the neighbouring states are finally allowed to visit Perak, particularly Ipoh.  

Restoran Wong Koh Kee may reopen for dine-in when the other restaurants in the area do so.
Restoran Wong Koh Kee may reopen for dine-in when the other restaurants in the area do so.

Across from Kong Heng on Jalan Panglima is Restoran Wong Koh Kee which has also been in business for more than 80 years. It is famous for its no-frills old school dishes like steamed egg, sweet and sour pork and crispy fried chicken.  

Its owner, who did not want to be named, said that they will allow dine-in when the majority of the premises in the area decide to open for dine-in.

“At the moment, most of the restaurants and coffee shops here are still not open for dine-in. People don’t want to take the risk. There are still a lot of Covid-19 cases reported here. 

“We hope more people will be vaccinated soon and the situation changes,” said the 67-year-old. 

Nearby along Concubine Lane, a popular tourist spot in Ipoh, the many shops selling souvenirs and snacks are closed and the whole area is deserted.  

Seow Wee Liam, who runs the Durbar At FMS bar and restaurant on nearby Jalan Sultan Idris Shah, said they are planning to open for dine-in on October 1, after being closed for several months.  

“We decided to wait until all our workers are vaccinated before allowing dine-in. The last two of our workers were vaccinated early this month so hopefully we can open for dine-in next month,” he said.  

Seow said the restaurant is only open for delivery and takeaway at the moment.  

The beautifully refurbished restaurant is on the site of the iconic FMS which is possibly the oldest bar and restaurant in the country. Stepping inside you are immediately transported back in time. 

“We are not getting much profit from the delivery and takeaway orders. The sales are only about 10 to 20 per cent. However, we continue doing so in order to sustain the business,” he added. 

People queuing up for the famous Nasi Kandar Ayam Merah (popularly referred to as Nasi Ganja).
People queuing up for the famous Nasi Kandar Ayam Merah (popularly referred to as Nasi Ganja).

One famous Ipoh eatery that seems to be weathering this whole pandemic better than some of the others is Nasi Kandar Ayam Merah (more popularly referred to as Nasi Ganja) as a long queue of customers could be seen the afternoon Malay Mail visited. 

Still, its manager Mohamed Nihmaphullah Syed Mustffa described their business as moderate. 

“There have not been many changes since our opening after months in lockdown. We have been receiving quite a number of customers daily, but I would say it’s still fewer if we compare with the days before the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said. 

He also said he had no plans to open for dine-in yet as his workers only just completed their second dose (of vaccination) on Friday.

“It’s difficult to do business with the Covid-19 fear still lingering among the public. Things are still uncertain, we can’t be sure we won’t contract the virus even if we are fully vaccinated.

“I think it will take time for business to pick up even if the government allows inter-state travel for tourism and other purposes. 

“The majority of the population must be vaccinated and Covid-19 cases have to drop in order for people to gain back their confidence to go out freely again,” he said. 

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