The kopitiam near my home has been operating ever since I moved to the area more than 10 years ago, and I have never seen it this still.
For obvious reasons, it is not as busy as it used to be. On normal days, it can be quite difficult to get your own table – my parents and I have shared a table with strangers many times while dining here.
Today, as I waited for my char koay teow to be ready, I saw only three elderly customers. Each of them occupied their own table, with a pot of tea or a large bottle of Carlsberg, doing what I think could be people-watching.
The busiest stall had only 3 customers waiting; whereas most stalls have none. The Curry Mee Uncle and Porridge Auntie sat behind their own stalls, scrolling through their phones with their head bowed. None of the hawkers were speaking to each other, either out of health concerns or they just were not in chatty moods.
Yet just three months ago, it was the busiest and noisiest shop in the neighbourhood.
Some of our neighbourhood kopitiam may not survive
Like many coffee shops and hawker centres, my neighbourhood kopitiam was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. It was closed for a while during the Movement Control Order (MCO), and only started operating when it was confirmed that restaurants are allowed to resume business.
However, business is not as great as before due to many reasons. Some Malaysians prefer to prepare their own food at home, so that they can save money and reduce the chance of being exposed to the virus. Despite the lower income, kopitiam operators still have to fork out money to pay for rent and utilities every month.
According to the Malaysia Singapore Coffee Shop Proprietors General Association (MSCSPGA), coffee shop operators suffer up to 30% in daily losses due to the pandemic. This is worrying as some low-income operators may not be able to stay in business for long.
Our kopitiam, our community, our culture
It is undeniable that the kopitiam is a central figure in Malaysian food culture. Not only do they serve local food that we love and grew up with, but they are also one of the must-visit food stops for tourists and returning Malaysians.
Also, not forgetting to mention, kopitiam serves some of the cheapest full meals.
The cheap fares, coupled with it being so near residential areas, could be the reason why retirees and elderly Malaysians treat the kopitiam as a hangout spot. You will always see some old uncles sitting together in a coffee shop, catching up over a pot of tea or bottles of beer.
Some hawker operators and diners even know each other by name. My father would always have a short chat with the pan mee stall’s owner, whom we know as Yong. Similarly, the mother-son duo who operate the wanton noodles stall would ask about my studies (often forgetting that I have long since graduated from school) and give us extra wanton and meat for free.
The survival of local coffee shops go beyond the preservation of jobs and income for a group of people – it is also the preservation of a community hub and a part of our Malaysian food culture.
Working together to ensure a smooth recovery for traditional eateries
In an effort to save the local kopitiam industry, Carlsberg Malaysia has collaborated with MSCSPGA to offer RM3.5 million in subsidy to 1,000 small and medium-sized coffee shops in Malaysia. The fund will be used to subsidise the coffee shops’ utilities payment for up to three months.
The initiative is meant to smoothen the coffee shops’ recovery as the MCO and Conditional MCO (CMCO) are lifted in gradual phases.
On top of the funds, kopitiam and food court patrons can purchase a large bottle of Carlsberg Smooth Draught at RM1 off. From this, Carlsberg Malaysia will pledge an additional RM0.50 in subsidy to the eatery for every bottle sold. You can check for the nearest participating restaurant and kopitiam here.
MSCSPGA also encourages Malaysians to continue supporting their neighbourhood kopitiam in any way they can, like purchasing food from them and recommending the eateries to their friends via social media.
With Carlsberg Smooth Draught’s efforts, we hope to see that this programme will help low-income operators to survive these difficult times.MSCSPGA President Datuk Ho Su Mong
Tapau from your favourite kopitiam today, or show your support through any of the F&B outlets participating in Carlsberg Malaysia’s initiative.
I have an unhealthy obsession with chocolate, gummy candy, and "Confucius says" jokes.