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Letter to My Customers

To all our valued customers,

This is a screendump of an email I received earlier this week -

“ …If you are charging $ 16 for a plate of rojak, we have high expectation that  it is of utmost palatable quality. My simple homemade rojak is definitely better. ” I asked Gwen for her bank details and refunded her money immediately.  Vani ALWAYS asks each table how the food was after their meal , so I’m perplexed why she didn’t speak up at the time, but whatever.

Here’s another one from Brindha several weeks prior, complaining about the service whilst complimenting us on the food – “I am terribly sorry to have to write an email like this to you.  However, I hope that some improvement can be made to the service so that it complements how good the food is and doesn’t deter people from coming to your restaurant”.

Which I would’ve taken somewhat more seriously if her group hadn’t simultaneously  posted on a review site – “..Please spend another few $$$ and go somewhere erse (sp)…Far the worst place I have ever been in Sydney, very disappointed as I took my in laws with me.”

These are just two examples, a number of others have crept up online over the last couple of weeks and if I were to be analytical about it, I would say they coincided with the media exposure I have been receiving of late – a combination of elevated expectations and a case of the tall poppy syndrome.

Every few months or so, I get approached by interested parties offering to buy me out, and it has been something I’ve considered on and off, in particular some 18 months ago when faced with the prospect of a difficult pregnancy and the knowledge that I would be raising a disabled child alone.   My crew had been adamant we kept going, hence why I’ve stuck around.

The fact is, despite the smiles in the Noah homecoming video after 7 months in hospital, behind all the cute Noah pictures and videos, one sobering reality remains, and that is that Noah is still a very sick baby who needs round-the-clock care and who may not make it past his third birthday.

And behind the silly competitions and the smartass remarks made during the Taste of Sydney cooking demonstrations and on Social Media; behind the newspaper mentions, TV appearances, overseas travel and general goofing around with the Jackie M crew, I am still a single parent providing full-time care to Noah whilst trying to navigate (without much success) the intricate web of government assistance and early intervention programmes along with running a business.

Consequently, ever since his birth 10 months ago when I would stay with him in the ICU daily and right up to the present day, I have generally been absent from the day-to-day running of the restaurant.

In my absence, there are no doubt some quality control issues that have crept in that we need to address and because of that, starting this week, I will be back in the kitchen supervising everything  whilst keeping Noah in the adjacent room downstairs that currently works as a storage room, so I can make sure our staff are consistent with the meals that get served.

I continue to run the markets myself largely because I can’t find anyone to replace me, and when Noah got distressed one day by the heat and smoke and general chaos of Leichhardt, I dropped him off home, put him to sleep and came back out to load up my van and leave.  When I relayed that to one of my fellow stallholders, they made a veiled threat to report me to the authorities for leaving a child at home, so I made a point of always having him with me after that.  (For what it’s worth he was still sound asleep when I got back home, but before you defend the lady’s actions, I get it.)

Two weeks ago, at a different market, I received a phonecall a day prior to advise that someone’s reported to the authorities that I’ve been bringing a baby there, and that the occupational health and safety inspector would be around to check the next day, hence why I’ve had to hire an extra person and make myself scarce in between setup and pulldown.

You can appreciate why I would feel under siege of late and why the prospect of bailing seems somewhat more palatable than Gwen’s experience of my rojak.

Anyway, as I said above, I concede we need to address some quality control issues with our food.

Other swipes eg. about our uncomfortable seating/basic toilet facilities etc. will NOT be fixed.  The fact is, despite the high rent and overheads, my premises do NOT come with a toilet, so you are in fact coming up to my private living quarters and using my bathroom when you ask for the amenities.  You’re welcome to hold it in until you leave, but if you’re going to use my bathroom, have the decency not to complain about its lack of frills online.  And if my seats are not good enough for you, you’re really missing the point of Malaysian street food.

So from now on, I’m back in the kitchen, and if it becomes too much, we will cross that bridge at a later stage.  If I need to travel for work or am double-booked and am not sufficiently confident that the restaurant kitchen is in good hands, I will close it for the duration.

To all my patient and longsuffering customers, thank you for cutting me some slack this whole time.  To those who don’t know my circumstances, well, here it is, now you know.  To all the other detractors, “please spend another few $$$ and go somewhere erse” as Brindha’s group would say.

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Footnote 1) – the day after I posted this, two guys walked into my restaurant and made me an offer on the lease that I couldn’t refuse. My Malaysian food business still exists but the restaurant is no more.

Footnote 2) – the featured image in this post was taken during a pop-up event promoted as a celebration of my return to cooking after taking a few weeks off when Noah was born. A day or two before the pop-up I was advised that Noah needed to have urgent open-heart surgery by which stage we had already sold a lot of tickets, so I opted to go ahead with it. In between posing for the cameras, cooking and giving a speech I was running to the back of the premises to make phonecalls to the hospital for progress reports on Noah.

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21 thoughts on “Letter to My Customers”

  1. Jackie -don’t let stupid people get you down. Your commitment and dedication as a mother and a business owner is truly amazing and I admire your determination. You are clearly doing everything you can in every part of your life. All we can ever do is our best and you are going above and beyond. The most important thing is you and Noah and as long as you have each other – that’s all that matters.
    I haven’t eaten at your restaurant but I have purchased you pastes online and they are amazing. Love your work and you’re a true inspiration.
    Take care and stay strong.
    Lisa

  2. Seriously people just piss me off. Not you of course, you know what I mean…

    Some of us appreciate what you’re doing and how much you have to go through to do it.

  3. You impress me Jackie, you’re such a strong woman. I ‘met’ you years ago at the malaysian festival in Sydney in 2010 I think it was, when I was photographing it. Your business has grown in leaps and bounds since then. Anyway, I think a lot of people would’ve given up by now but you’ve kept going strong. Good on you and keep doing what you do :)

  4. some people just like to highlight all the negatives especially doing reviews to make themselves stand out, you are a superwoman and mum with so much to handle and still doing so well! i believe both u and noah can pull through! always supporting u and your food!

  5. It’s very brave of you to share your personal story under such tough conditions and it sounds like you’re pretty much a super women all things considering. As you know I’m one of those guilty of complaining about your toilet in the past but I’ll be sure to give you some slack if I ever get to visit your restaurant again for the best popiah in sydney — and hopefully still is when it’s on the menu. My dad is actually from Seremban as well where he took me to the very famous Chicken Rice shop. Perhaps you know about it as it’s been there for decades run by a lady that never lets anyone else prepare the chicken because she’s a perfectionist, and probably doesn’t trust anyone as well including her husband. I hope you find some quality downtime for yourself in all this chaos and remember as long as you’re enjoying what you’re doing then it’s the right thing to be doing. Hopefully your passion for Malaysian food will continue to bring comfort to the Malaysian cuisine lovers of Sydney and the world. Best wishes to you and your little Noah for Easter.

  6. Jackie, you cant please everyone. Just take the negative comments as a constructive criticism. In life, in everything you do, someone is bound to find faults..so dont let it get to you. I know for a fact that you are amazing chef, mother and friend. Keep ur chin up, girl coz bigger things are coming your way!!

  7. Hey Jackie, haters gonna hate and it sucks that they have to hate on you, but it means you’re obviously doing something right. Having followed you here and on Twitter, I consider you one of the strongest and bravest women I’ve met – a role model for giving it your all no matter what life throws at you. And the cream on top is the food you make is rock solid orgasmic.

    As for the toilet, for reals? They should check out the toilets in Malaysia and Thailand then. And you don’t go to an eatery that serves authentic street food to admire their bathrooms. You go for the food.

    Things will get better, but in the meantime, you and Noah have a great relaxing Easter!

  8. hi jackie, we live down the road in rhodes and finally tried out your restaurant after years of seeing it there. We loved your food and, knowing it was a public holiday night, your staff was very good considering she was the only one on the floor. We even spied you and baby Noah throughout the night!

    Big kudos to you lady, I’ve been spending the last hour or so reading your blog and you are a very strong and inspiring lady.

    Best wishes to you and Noah and we will definitely be visiting your restaurant again for the delicious food!

  9. Jackie

    I have lived in Concord for over two decades. I am a young lawyer and eat out at least two nights a week. I eat across the spectrum – very fine dine, to local casual places. I often travel and eat around the world. For the first time last night, I ate at your restaurant. I loved it.

    There are two problems.

    1) People want everything for nothing – they want three-hatted service where waiters wear white gloves, serve every dish at the same time and call you ‘sir/madam’ but they don’t want to pay for it! They want foams, gels, airs, crumbs, soils and confits – but for a pittance. If that’s what they’re after, they’ve come with hopelessly foolish expectations and will never be happy. I’m convinced these people are in the same category of person that goes to South-East Asia on holidays and eat only in western hotel restaurants. That is to say, people with no idea about food or culture and who have no concept of reasonable expectations and cannot appreciate diversity. Nor can they even comprehend the possibility of imperfection.

    2) Ever since food shows have been popular – everybody thinks they are a critic and knows about food. Try eating out for two decades or running your own restaurant before you criticise without qualification to do so. In the last year, I’ve been to Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and Japan. In all but the last, if you even dared say a seat was too hard, you’d be ridiculed. And I hate to say it, but people there are just as happy (if not more) than they are here.

    Australian people love to whine and whinge, without realising just how good we have it.

    I think your story is special, your restaurant remains true to itself and you are getting more than what you pay for.

  10. Hi Jackie,
    Some people have no idea of the impact of their actions. This is a reflection on them, not you.
    Although I am a Malaysian, I do eat out across the range and style of food, and consider myself discerning. There are not many places in Sydney where I can get authentic Malaysian food like you cook. I will be sad should you close.

    It is hard enough being a single working mum, but how many can know what it must be like to add a special needs child and solo business owner to the load? I can never understand how you do it!

    The loving kindness with which you cook comes through in the food that I eat.

    So thrilled the popiahs are back on!

  11. I was looking around for Malaysian in Australia blogs, am really glad the first one that pops out is yours. Super inspiration to me. I hope your restaurant will still be around when I make the move to Oz. Am currently preparing the docs to submit for skill assessment.

    Stay strong and all the best :)

    1. Thanks very much for your kind comments and I hope you make it out here in the near future. The day after I published this post, two guys walked into my restaurant and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I’ve since moved on from the restaurant scene. My business still operates so my food is available at different events and weekly markets, but no restaurant :)

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