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Saturday October 13, 2012
MY KOPITIAMBy CHRISTINA LOW firstname.lastname@example.orgPhotos by LIM CHENG KIAT
WHILE most of his classmates are busy attending meetings in air-conditioned offices, Mervyn Lee starts off his day smiling to customers and calling out dishes from his front counter.
Lee is the third generation running the Yut Kee restaurant in Jalan Dang Wangi , Kuala Lumpur, and he simply enjoys his work even if many may think it is uncool for this era.
“If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would be taking over my family’s business, my answer would most likely be no.”
However, he explained that the decision to take care of the business came after his graduation when he saw what his parents had to go through — juggling their time at the shop while trying to make ends meet and paying for his education.
“Taking care of this business is not easy, you have to put in a lot of hard work and time,” said Mervyn, adding that he knew deep down his parents wanted him to continue the business as they were both getting older.
After two years of working with a private company, Mervyn eventually resigned and assisted his father, Jack, full time.
The 33-year-old is now a common face at the cashier’s seat where he not only keeps tabs on the orders, but also ensures all tables are served on time.
Occasionally, you will be able to hear him calling out from his seat to a staff member to attend to a table.
Yut Kee has been around since 1928, the year Mervyn’s grandfather Lee Tai Yu ventured into the food business.
Tai Yu was a chef for the family of businessman Choo Kia Peng during the British administration.
At the Choo residences, his job includes transporting groceries from Gotong Jaya to Kuala Lumpur using a bullock cart which can sometimes take up to three days.
Mervyn said his grandfather had four wives and his father, Jack, was the only son in the family.
When Tai Yu passed away in 1957, his wives who were known as “Yut Kee’s Angels” kept the restaurant business going until Jack was old enough to take over.
“It is funny looking how I am the only son in the family now and it is only right that I continue the legacy,” he said.
His staff members are mostly foreigners but a handful are old-timers like 72-year-old Chan Gan Sim who makes the coffee and also takes orders.
Visiting the restaurant is quite tricky nowadays as you need to be really early or settle for a late lunch.
Do not expect to get a seat at the restaurant during lunchhour as it is usually packed, hence it is common to see a queue outside its premises.
However, do not be deterred by the queue as the waiting time does not take long — thanks to the speedy delivery of food to each table.
A peek into its kitchen at the back of the restaurant shows just how fast and efficient his staff work to keep up with the demand.
Similar to many old Chinese restaurants, customers are allowed to walk through the kitchen (with the excuse of going to the washroom) and you can sneak at the chefs who are busy preparing the food.
“If you come by at 8am, trust me everything on our menu is ready to be served,” said Jack.
Over the years they must have worked out a plan to maintain such efficiency.
Some of the furniture have been reconditioned or rebuilt to retain its original form but the mirrors, tiles and cake cabinet remain untouched.
Today, walking into this restaurant gives me many fond childhood memories as my father enjoyed tucking me and my sister in the backseat of his car to Yut Kee whenever we craved for a sinful plate of Hainanese Pork Chop.
Our other favourite is the kaya roll which has a distinct flavour that cannot be found elsewhere.
Yut Kee is also known for its Chicken Chop, Roti Babi, Roast Pork with Apple Sauce and Lum Mee.
The restaurant calls it a day at 4pm when you can probably spot Jack chilling out with his friends over a beer or two.
“Retirees and old friends will drop by as this place has been a home away from home for them,
“We will usually have a couple of beers and wait till the traffic subsides before heading home, after all we are like an institution for the retired and tired, “ said Jack, 68.
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