SEBERANG PERAI, Nov 29 — Roadside hawkers and three-wheeled peddlers have long been a part of Penang’s culture, so much so that the island state has a reputation for being a hawkers’ paradise.
While most of the attention is on the hawker fare available on the island, Butterworth on the mainland side of the state also has its fair share of very good hawkers.
This small town in central Seberang Perai offers equally delicious local food and this is one of the more interesting features that Think City is enhancing through its urban regeneration project for the area.
One of these hawkers has in fact grown into a chain of restaurants. Today, there are eight 7 Village Noodle House restaurants in Penang, Perak and Petaling Jaya. All under the management of the founder’s three sons.
In the beginning
Lim Back Chuah grew up in a family that made their living in the food industry. They made lor bak (five-spice pork rolls) and also sold char koay teow.
One day, Back Chuah tried the koay teow th’ng at a stall in Bukit Mertajam sold by a Teochew family and thought he would like to cook something similar.
So he went home and experimented with the soup base, testing it on his family. Once he felt his koay teow th’ng was good enough, he decided to sell it.
In 1959, he got a three-wheeled cart and started making his rounds in Butterworth, peddling his koay teow th’ng.
It was not long before he had a loyal following of customers who would wait for him to come with his cart. Then, one day, as he was leaving his house, he was hit by a passing vehicle. His cart was slightly damaged so he had it repaired and continued selling as usual.
It was only when he got into another accident that Back Chuah decided it was time he set up a permanent stall instead of travelling around. That was the start of Lin Restaurant at a shack in ciht long in 1970, a village known as Seven Village in Hokkien.
“From the moment he opened the stall at ciht long, business grew and since we are located at ciht long, customers began referring to us as the ciht long koay teow th’ng,” his son Choong Hong explained.
Though business was brisk, Choong Hong who is the chief executive officer of the company, said that doesn’t mean they became rich overnight. His father remained humble and thrifty, saving every single sen he made so that he could invest in a proper shophouse.
Expanding beyond the village
In 1998, Back Chuah bought a row of three shoplots off Jalan Raja Uda and they shifted the restaurant there. Even then, they continued to call the place “Lin Restaurant” which Back Chuah said was an auspicious name as it meant “welcome.”
“Despite the name, customers continued to call us ciht long koay teow th’ng so in the end, we renamed our restaurant to ciht long or in English, 7 Village,” Choong Hong said.
When they started business at the new shoplots, Back Chuah began to let his sons Choong Hong and Chooi Choon learn the ropes of the business.
“We slowly took over operations of the restaurant as our father stayed home to rest and by 2009, I wanted to strike out and open our first branch to reach more customers,” Choong Hong said.
They chose to open at a corner lot in Bukit Tengah and due to the prominence of the location and the restaurant’s growing fame, business at the branch also boomed.
The next year they opened another branch, this time at southern Seberang Perai in Nibong Tebal. Unlike the home outlet and the first branch, this third outlet did not do well.
“Business was poor and I panicked. With our first two outlets, business had immediately boomed so we never had to promote or push for more customers but this third outlet was our biggest challenge,” he said.
This led to them launching various marketing and advertising campaigns including rebranding and giving their outlets a brand new modernised look with clean and air-conditioned interiors. It took more than a year for them to finally stabilise at the third outlet and Choong Hong said that tough one year turned out to be a silver lining.
“It was because of the challenges we faced in pushing for more business at the outlet, we learnt a great deal about marketing, about branding and about putting our name out there as THE koay teow th’ng place to go to,” he said.
When they opened their fourth outlet and the very first on the island, at Abu Siti Lane, in 2013, they had become well-versed in promoting the 7 Village brand. Subsequent outlets were opened in Alma, Taiping, SS2 in Petaling Jaya and the latest, in Pulau Tikus on Penang island.
By then, Back Chuah’s eldest son, Soon Ing, had also joined the business. With the three brothers running the full operations of the outlets, they started to franchise 7 Village Noodle House with some of the outlets converted into franchised outlets managed by the franchisee.
All about the food
“We are known for our koay teow th’ng but we realised that we must also have other choices for our customers so we introduced ramen, premium bihun and side dishes like our special recipe boneless pork knuckle, lor bak and kwan jiang,” he said.
Since his father’s family sold lor bak, the recipe for that and the kwan jiang have been handed down for generations in the Lim family. “This is our family recipe and we make it here at our main kitchen and then sent it out to all other branches so it tastes the same at any branch,” he said.
Lor bak is minced pork seasoned with five spice and wrapped in soy skin before it is deep-fried to a crispy texture while kwan jiang is made from a smooth blend of jicama and carrots that are then wrapped in soy skin and deep fried. Traditionally, kwan jiang, a Teochew snack, uses yam but Choong Hong said most patrons do not like yam as they believe it is bad for health so they switched to jicama instead.
“Our pork knuckle is also different from anywhere else because we debone and season it using our Chinese recipe but roast it the Western way to come up with tender soft slices of pork knuckle,” he said.
The sliced pork knuckle is served with their own special mix of a sweet, sour and slightly spicy sauce that complements the robust taste of the pork.
The brothers are not content with just eight outlets and have big plans to continue expanding the chain of restaurants with more outlets throughout the country.
“I am always looking for new challenges and we hope to open two more outlets in Kuala Lumpur and we are in the midst of looking for the right locations,” Choong Hong said.
He said though they are now a franchise, he still sometimes prefers to open their own outlets as it is not easy to get really good franchisees who adhere to their guidelines.
“We pick and choose those interested to be our franchisee because we only want those who are really passionate in the food and beverage industry just like how passionate we all are about it,” he said.
The passion is the main drive behind the restaurant’s continuous expansion and Choong Hong said they will continue to ensure only the best quality ingredients go into their food and to provide the best dining experience to their customers.
“No matter how many branches we may have, we will never compromise on quality because it is only with quality that our customers will keep coming back to us,” he said.
7 Village Noodle House
6, 8 & 10, Lorong Ceri 6,
Taman Aman Jaya,
Off Raja Uda, 12300
Tel: 04-333 0216
Opening hours: Mon—Sat 7.30am-5pm, Sun 7.30am-1pm
* Think City is currently undertaking urban regeneration programmes for Butterworth, George Town, Kuala Lumpur and Johor. Find out more about Think City and its projects at thinkcity.com.my.