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Friday, June 28, 2013

1Malaysia UK-style

So you see, the bottom line of what I am trying to tell you, is that the success and failure of my enterprise rests with the Chinese. And I suspect most of the Malaysians who would be patronising the kopitiam are also going to be Malaysian Chinese who live here in the Northwest of England (because the Malays here are too poor to eat out, unlike the Chinese who are mostly working people and not students like the Malays).
NO HOLDS BARRED
Raja Petra Kamarudin
Hopefully, by next week, the first Malaysian kopitiam in Northwest England (meaning Manchester) will be open for business. I will post the details/photos here in Malaysia Today once the place has been spruced up and is ready.
Anyway, in the meantime, let me share a little secret with you.
When we first took over the place from the original café operator, a Cypriot Muslim, we thought we would just sink in about RM50,000 or so into that business. But then the 1800s building was so run down that we decided to do a total refurbishing since we do have a 15-year tenancy on the premises. Hence we would need to look at RM150,000 rather than just RM50,000.
I then spoke to an architect friend of mine, a Malaysian-Chinese from Liverpool, and discussed the concept that I had in mind. He, too, had some great ideas and I was really smitten with what he had in mind. However, how do I get a BMW for the price of a Proton Saga?
That was the challenge ahead of us.
I spoke to another Chinese friend from London who was operating a string of restaurants and he told me that for what I had in mind I would have to look at not less than RM2 million to RM2.5 million. He should know because he is an old hand at the restaurant business.
RM2 million or more is certainly not viable because I just do not have that kind of money. The most I could raise from loans and whatnot would be about RM1 million or so. I do not have the capacity to raise more than RM1 million. Hence we needed to squeeze a RM2 million idea into a budget of less than RM1 million.
We then took a gamble. In January, we signed the 15-year lease and then brought in the contractor and for a budget of about RM10,000 he ripped the place apart. We practically stripped the place clean except for the pillars, beams and roof. Even the front walls came down.
We wanted to see what was underneath all this and what we would need to do to meet the plan we had in mind. And what was revealed was atrocious. A lot more work than we anticipated would need to be done plus we would have to suffer a delay of an additional three months or so.
Nevertheless, we decided to proceed and this architect friend of mine came out with detail drawings. He then searched around for a Mat Salleh contractor who could complete what may cost at least RM1.5 million for half the price -- kitchen equipment and furniture/fittings included.
The Mat Salleh contractor, who had been to Malaysia, Thailand, etc., many times, was so taken in by the project that he was prepared to do the job for the budget that we had in mind (he was even prepared to bring in investors if I needed more money). In short, I would get my BMW for the price of a Proton. He only wanted to see the project succeed because, in his own words, “Manchester needs a fucking good Malaysian restaurant.” Hence he was not doing this for the profit.
When I told my restaurant friend in London what I would need to spend, he responded with, “Fucking hell! That is fucking cheap! How the fuck did you manage that?”
Yes, that four-letter word appears to be the English word for ‘alamak’ or ‘aiyoh’.
So we got cracking with the work and in the meantime my Chinese friend in London arranged for my sons to receive training in his restaurant. He also introduced me to all his suppliers -- all Chinese, of course, and some of them Malaysian Chinese.
Now we are at the tail end and am about to throw our doors open. But what tickles me is that my architect/adviser, my trainer/introducer, my ten of so suppliers who are giving me ‘special prices’ on all my purchases plus credit as well, are all Chinese, many of them Malaysian Chinese.
So you see, the bottom line of what I am trying to tell you, is that the success and failure of my enterprise rests with the Chinese. And I suspect most of the Malaysians who would be patronising the kopitiam are also going to be Malaysian Chinese who live here in the Northwest of England (because the Malays here are too poor to eat out, unlike the Chinese who are mostly working people and not students like the Malays).
And what is my message in this article today? I suppose the message I am trying to deliver is that here in the UK we are not Malays, Chinese or Indians. Here in the UK we are just plain Malaysians. And we help each other where and when we can. And I admit that what I am doing and the way I am doing it would not have been possible without the help of all these Chinese.
I have never done business in the UK. But all these Chinese who have been here for the last 20 years or so have, and they have all the right expertise, contacts and connections.  And they have ‘transferred’ all this knowledge to me to help me achieve what I am trying to achieve.
I do not have the advantage of a Bumiputera status or the New Economic Policy here in the UK. But what I do have are many Chinese who have bent over backwards to help me. Some of these Chinese are Pakatan Rakyat supporters. Some are Barisan Nasional supporters. Some do not care two hoots about what is happening back in Malaysia. But as far as they are concerned I am a fellow-Malaysian and all they want to do is to see a fellow-Malaysian succeed in his endeavour.
I don’t know about Malaysia but here in the UK we certainly have 1Malaysia.
Oh, and another thing, some of the loans I raised are personal loans from these Chinese (plus an Indian) who have given me a one-year moratorium on the repayment with no interest charges whatsoever.
Do you really think I hate the Chinese, as some of you think?

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