In Penang, some businesses now reaping benefits from risky starts during Covid-19 pandemic

·4-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

GEORGE TOWN, June 5 — Covid-19 devastated many businesses but also created opportunities for those intrepid enough to start operations within the pandemic that was characterised by lockdowns and strict regulations.

Against the odds, one such business not only survived the repeated lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, but went on to thrive as the economy gradually reopened.

Wild Pink Fish, an importer and main local distributor of wild caught pink salmon, started operations at a shoplot in New World Park here in late 2020 and shortly after began receiving large orders from resellers.

Wild Pink Fish executive director Jacky Lim said these soon reached between 100 and 150kg every fortnight.

“We were getting orders from resellers in Kuala Lumpur, Johor Baru and Trengganu,” he said.

In 2021, they were supplying over 200kg of wild pink salmon to resellers each month.

Other than supplying frozen wild salmon, Wild Pink Fish also diversified with related products such as ready-to-eat salmon-based dips, salmon sambal, salmon broth, patties, smoked salmon, salmon puffs and quiches.

“We have an in-house chef to prepare these recipes and we are now experimenting with readymade pasta sauces,” he said.

However, Lim said his business has suffered even as Malaysia opened up fully, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that has affected his ability to source enough salmon to meet demand that was still high.

As most of his salmon was imported from Russia, Lim said he has had to search for alternatives.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February and was hit with harsh trade sanctions and embargos by most of the Global North.

Even as many cafes and eateries were forced to shutter due to the pandemic in the last two years, The Table & Co cafe owner took the risk in opening a second outlet, Brown Sugar, in Bayan Lepas.

Mohd Ridzuan Kamil said he had already committed to renting the space for his second outlet and hiring extra workers before the first lockdown in March 2020.

“I had no choice but to go ahead with it so Brown Sugar started operations in September 2020 when dine-in was allowed with SOPs,” he said.

Unlike The Table & Co, which is located in George Town and which serves western fusion meals, Brown Sugar is a dessert and coffee place that opens in the evenings.

“When there was a lockdown and restrictions on dine-in, we had to find other ways to keep afloat so we went all out to promote on social media and offer delivery of our cakes and coffee,” he said.

He did not want to retrench any of his 18 staff at The Table and Brown Sugar so they had to find ways to stay afloat.

“We provided catering to factories in Bayan Lepas so it was fortunate that we did receive large orders, sometimes for 100 pax, from the factories,” he said.

He said The Table suffered a drop of over 80 per cent in business during the lockdowns despite offering delivery services.

“We find that people are more inclined to order dessert and coffee for delivery compared to full meals as many of them are cooking at home,” he said.

He said 2021 was a challenging year in which he had to apply for a government business loan to stay afloat and cut employees’ pay.

Now, since the reopening of all sectors and borders, business in both cafes has stabilised.

Another cafe that took the risk and is now among the trending dessert cafes in town, is Utoo Boho Cafe along Victoria Street.

Owner Desmond Khoo said the space was previously more of a plant-themed cafe with a focus on terrarium workshops.

During the pandemic, however, Khoo decided to overhaul the whole concept of the cafe, and opened a brand new themed cafe in late 2021.

“I wanted to create a space for people to relax and to spend time with their loved ones in a calm and peaceful environment so I chose the bohemian style of decor,” he said.

He said the renovations for the cafe took about a year and despite being hospitalised due to a fall in 2021, he insisted on opening the cafe on December 24.

“Even our menu items were not ready so when we open for operations, we only have coffee and croissants,” he said.

He said he had relied mostly on his own savings to keep the business afloat while hiring young chefs and workers to introduce French-style desserts with a Malaysian twist.

“I am glad that I took the risk and opened this cafe at that time because it was my dream to have a place that grounds me here in Penang,” he said.

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