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 façade of normality on social media, I am in reality 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.