I am one in a group of retirees who used to go to Pusing, Batu Gajah Perdana or Menglembu for breakfast and chit chat. We seem to ignore those in Batu Gajah!
The other day, we went to a corner coffee shop across the road from the One-city hawker centre in Menglembu and it was packed! Being new, we had to try out different dishes to find out. Nothing to shout about, though I particularly liked the tau foo from a stall. But it was the pricing of 'teh o kosong' which baffled us. Just imagine a glass costs Rm1.90 when compared with teh sweetened with condensed milk at Rm2.00! Because we were served by a foreign worker, we thought it was a mistake and we actually asked the boss for confirmation.
At home, I used to make tea with fresh milk and without sugar the first round, and plain tea by just adding hot water the second round which is 'teh o kosong'. The profit margin for this particular drink must be fantastic. Once, in KLIA sending off my daughter, she bought me a cup of tea and refused to show me the price. It costed Rm13++ but price aside, the tea bag was put in a cup of hot water and fresh milk added before it was properly brewed!
Anyway, at the coffee shop, when it was time for Chinese tea, I asked for price first. Instead of a pot of tea (since we were new there and some places do not encourage 'long stayers' especially where business is brisk), we asked for a glass each. It costed only 40 sen each and for 5 of us, it costed Rm2.00. In other words, the cost of one glass of 'teh o kosong' (plain Ceylon or English tea) is equivalent to almost 5 glasses of Chinese tea! Some shops actually welcome 'long stayers' (or those with 'cheong see fatt' in Cantonese) because too few customers do not look good for a coffee shop. There is a rule of thumb way of looking for a good place to eat: look for one with the most people!
I notice old established coffee shops still going strong despite competition from new shops and even big hawker centres. There is a big hawker centre in Menglembu, near some blocks of flats. It was well planned and has the coolest of fan, a huge one which could be from a helicopter. Somehow, the customers seem to be reducing each time we were there. It has a lot to do with the variety of foods served there which are presumably unpopular. New stall operators tried their luck for a few months and closed when they could not make enough to make their effort worthwhile. To them it can be as casual as renting a stall for Rm10 a day for a few days to find out. A retired lady teacher actually did that for the experience of selling 'char kway teow'! But it is certainly not for those half-hearted.
Years ago, many Perakians 'jumped aeroplane' when they pretended to be tourists to US or Europe. It was their 'one-way trip' despite having paid for two-way. Tour guides knew about this ruse and immigration officers were wiser too. Some even went to Europe or Ireland first before entering UK, the original destination of choice. But a friend pushed his luck too far when he was caught trying to bring along a couple of friends!
Most of them worked long hours in restaurants, even as dishwashers, to earn USD or GBP. The long working hours meant they could save because they did not have the time nor energy to spend! Except for a few inverterate gamblers, most of them could send back in Ringgit value, a few hundred thousands, enough to buy a shophouse each. They either rent out the shop or be coffee shop operator renting out a few food stalls.
Setting up a coffee shop with a few food stalls must be the easiest and most popular business venture in and around Ipoh. Yet, to be able to sustain for a long period, tasty food and drinks are essential. It is common for people like us to go round from one place to another out of a few favoured ones, and occasionally trying new outlets. Except for festive days when those who work elsewhere came back to visit their parents and relatives, the limited number of customers patronizing an increasing number of outlets means only the tough get going. Those marginal cases will lose out and close shops because customers tend to go to same places where they can expect and get the same standard of food and drinks like before.
Once I was asked by someone from KL which food stall is best in Pusing. I was stumped for an answer because there is none really outstanding and every one is fairly good. As is typical of food, what is good for one may not be so for another.