YI POH LOU SHU FUN 姨婆老鼠粉的故事 – THE UNTOLD STORY.
Published on September 3, 2018 | by signpost2indulgence.blogspot.com
‘So who is the person you called Yi Poh?’ I asked Thong Chee Kong the owner of Yi Poh Loh Shee Fun and he answered ‘Yi Poh is my grandmother’s sister and together with my grandfather they all migrated to Seremban from China to escape poverty’
And once they settled down his grandfather reared chickens and pigs to support the family and for additional income they opened a stall to sell Loh Shee Fun (LSF) by the road side under a big tree in Jalan Templer (where the Caltex petrol kiosk is located)
And his Yi Poh was put in charge of the nameless stall in the year 1954 as she sold noodles for only 5 sen a bowl and it was just noodles topped with mince pork and slices of char siew and that’s the original recipe.
Back then the business hours were really short starting at 6am and finish around 8am and then his Yi Poh would go play mahjong with her ‘kaki’ but unfortunately in 1989 his Yi Poh stopped the business as she was due for retirement.
|The humble owner Thong Chee Kong and you can see him most of the time at the main shop in Jalan Limbok.|
After Thong graduated from an IT course in 1989 he started working as a programmer in KL and the job was very stressful and the pay was too low.
And he constantly faced lots of hardship until he couldn’t differentiate between day and night and most of the time when he finishes work he had to take the taxi home because all the mini buses had already ended their services for the day.
Back then his girlfriend and now his wife reminded him of his auntie called Yi Poh and her loh shee fun was one of the best in town and why not get a stall and continue her legacy.
He immediately resisted as it would be a complete turnaround from a desk job to a loh shee fun stall owner and he said ‘No way Jose’ but the pressure from his job keeps on mounting until he had to resign.
‘I was jobless for a few months and my mother’s friend who owns a noodle stall wanted to quit and suggested that I take over and she would teach me how to make the noodles and run the stall’ Thong said.
‘I was very reluctant but I needed to do something so I paid her RM8,000.00 and assumed command of her stall in the year 1992 and started selling noodles in Jalan Temiang the row of hawker stalls (next to 2020 kopitiam) aptly named 四块八 in Cantonese’
And after 6 months of selling noodles using that lady’s recipe business was so bad that he knew he was headed for closure as he can’t even sell 1 kilo of noodles on a single day.
But he was too embarrassed to seek help from his Yi Poh as he has not spoken to her for a long time and it would be very rude that he go to her and blatantly blurt ‘Hi Yi Poh can you share with me your secret recipe’
He procrastinated until the day he realized the business is about to fold and accompanied by his wife together they went to see their Yi Poh.
When they reached her place she was indulging in her favorite pass time playing Mahjong.
She took a long glance at Thong and sighed ‘Hi Kong Zai光仔 what took you so long to come find me and I’ve been waiting for you long enough’
|‘When you wanted to sell noodles why didn’t you come and consult me first?’ she asked.|
And he replied ‘I was too embarrassed to ask for your help’
‘You stupid boy, we are all family and if I don’t help you then I don’t consider myself as your auntie’ she bellowed.
‘And let me tell you a secret the loh shee fun recipe is actually handed down to me by your grandfather and I’m merely keeping it for you’ she revealed.
The following day she gave Thong strict instructions on what, where and how to buy the ingredients and then meet her at his home away from the preying eyes of the public ‘We can’t let the public see how we make our loh shee fun’ she snapped.
‘It was a miracle! As I usually couldn’t even sell 1 kilo of LSF the whole day and when I started selling Yi Poh Loh Shee Fun I sold a whopping 8 kilos on the first day!’ exclaimed Thong.
It appeared that the aroma was so intense that people could smell it a mile away and they all came to cure their curiosity by simply ordering a bowl.
|A tantalizing bowl of their famous Yi Poh Loh Shee Fun.|
And that was how Thong’s business grew from a tiny stall to a shop in Jalan Limbok, Seremban and today he owns 4 branches in the Klang valley.
What are the biggest challenges you faced in your business?
The outbreak of the Nipah virus in 1999 as no one dared to eat pork and I was also afraid to handle it thus my business really suffered and back then we didn’t have the internet or social media and the print media was very slow in disseminating the information and we had no idea how long the epidemic will last.
It was actually not that bad but people were really afraid of close contact with pigs and after a few months when the newspapers finally declared the end of the outbreak things gradually became normal and people started to consume pork again.
Another challenge would be the shortage of manpower as the locals are simply not interested to do this kind of job, the youngsters, aunties and uncles are not interested at all.
Leaving him with no choice but to hire foreigners and he needs to fork out high capitals to procure them and to date he has close to 50 foreign workers stationed at all the 4 shops and this has resulted his business to incur high overheads.
Worried of the customer services provided by the foreign workers Thong taught them a few simple English phrases that he learned in school.
I still remember what Mr Sunny Nunis said during the morning assembly “I’ve got complaints from the teachers that the students have very poor manners so from now on when you need to get things done you must use these 3 phrases ‘Excuse me, Please may I and Thank You’
What are your future plans?
‘I will keep on expanding and maybe venture into new businesses like for example I am selling our Yi Poh Special red chili sauce’ said Thong showing me the jar.
‘It is also passed down by my grandfather’s own secret recipe and now you can buy it at all the shops for only RM13 and RM16 per jar. It can be used as a dip, steamboat, steam fish & vegetables and etc’
Believing that learning is a lifelong process Thong insisted on the need to keep up with the latest trends in the market and learn how to apply it to one’s business.
‘At the end of the day I always ask who keeps the profit? And the answer would be me and that’s why it motivates me to search for gaps in the market and profit from it’ Thong adamantly said.
Most of the time his shop is packed signalling that it is the time for expansion.
|During weekends and public holidays they had to put extra tables and chairs in the front of the walk way to cater to the large crowd.|
|The Air-conditioned section was formally a shop that sold paints but when it moved out Thong quickly snapped it up and turned it into a new wing.|
The final chapter
What advice would you give to future entrepreneurs and young Paulians.
His eyes lit up upon hearing this question and immediately got on all cylinders and started firing.
‘Always treasure the old things coz there is gold hidden in it and you just need to know where and how to find it’
‘The customers are like our parents whether they’re right or wrong it is not important and you must treat them with utmost respect and importance’
‘Must have perseverance, consistency and don’t complain of hardship’
‘Have you ever seen Entrepreneurs wake up late?’
‘Please be punctual and be a responsible person’
‘When you are successful always be humble because the wealth you have today may be gone tomorrow and nothing is forever’
‘Always keep up with the latest news, trends and updates’
‘Dare to fail’
‘I came from a very poor background and I definitely don’t want my kids to experience hardship but the young people nowadays are so well fed and spoilt by their parents. I know because I did the same for my kids but that doesn’t mean they can do whatever they like.
I can only hope they will learn to improve themselves by going through the obstacles in life on their own.
So parents cut your kids loose, let them stumble and fall coz that’s the only way for them to learn by trial and error’