Where mobile vendors still come a-calling


YOU know they are in your area from the honking of their vehicles’ horn or ringing of hand-held bells.

Yes, the ever-faithful mobile vendors who ply housing areas bringing putu mayam, ice cream and fresh milk have withstood the test of time.

StarMetro chased after four to find out what makes them tick.

The ice cream man

Mohan Mutuvellu can confidently say he is not the type to easily yield to the tempting dessert he sells.

As the neighbourhood “ice cream man” who plies the residential areas of Taman Desa, Jalan Kuchai Lama and Bukit Jalil in Kuala Lumpur, Mohan revealed that he had never once dipped into the ice box for his own consumption.

“I carry up to RM300 worth of ice cream in my box every day. I have about 20 different types and flavours,” said the 34-year-old father of two.

How is business though?

“On a typical day, I get about 50 or so customers,” he said.

“My earnings are based on commission, which is 20% from daily sales.

“From that, I have to pay a daily rental of RM5 for my motorcycle.”

He got into this trade because he was spurred by the spirit of entrepreneurship.

Mohan making a stop at Taman Hock Aun, off Jalan Kelang Lama.Mohan making a stop at Taman Hock Aun, off Jalan Kelang Lama.

“Unlike working for a restaurant or factory, I get to be my own boss. I can take off whenever I want.

“Best of all, people are always happy to see me,” he quipped.

“But as in any business, there are challenges.

“Once, I was robbed of my daily earnings.

“Some thugs stopped me on the pretext of buying ice cream,” Mohan recalled.

This ice cream man’s working hours are from 11am to 7pm every day.

He gets his ice cream supplies from a wholesaler near the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Devasthanam temple in Pusat Bandar Puchong, Selangor.

Mohan said his goal was to be able to earn enough to buy his own house and live the rest of his life in comfort with his family.

“Until the day comes, I am happy to see the many children who come out when they hear the music that I play to attract customers. They remind me of my children at home,” he added.

According to a statement from Nestle (the brand of ice cream sold by Mohan), there are some 1,000 mobile ice cream sellers on motorcycles and bicycles in Malaysia, including Sabah and Sarawak.

More than 50% of these vendors are scattered around Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.

The company stated that mobile ice cream sellers had been increasing in numbers over these last few years, at least three to four fold compared with 10 years ago.

“In view of the current Covid-19 pandemic where more Malaysians are staying at home, these mobile ice cream sellers play a very important role in reaching out to the neighbourhood’s residents in providing fresh ice cream to them.

“The concept is similar to that of home delivery for grocery products, but much more convenient and with no delivery fees,” it added.

String hoppers and vadai

Though his identity card states his name as Kesavan Kanaisan, the 44-year-old father of one said he would rather be addressed as “Philip”.

This is the name his customers know the mobile string hoppers and vadai seller by, for the past 19 years.

Also a telephonist who works the midnight shift, Philip starts his food trading rounds in SS12, SS13 and SS15 in Subang Jaya at 3pm and carries on until 7pm.

After that, he reports for duty at his full-time workplace.

Philip makes his rounds in the various areas according to a schedule.

On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, he is seen riding around the housing areas of SS12 and SS13.

Once a week every Thursday, he turns up at the office of an industrial hardware company in the Subang Jaya Industrial Estate.

On these days, his last stop is beside the commercial lots located near Subang Jaya Medical Centre.

On Thursdays also, as well as Saturdays and Sundays, Philip parks in front of the betting shops in SS15.

“I started my mobile business after a friend who had a restaurant in Klang said it would help me gain financial independence,” said Philip.

“He told me that once I had my own business, I would never have to ask anyone else for help.”

String hoppers (or putu mayam) seller Kesavan sells an array of Indian snacks too, including vadai.String hoppers (or putu mayam) seller Kesavan sells an array of Indian snacks too, including vadai.

The desire to be financially secure is the main motivator that has kept Philip going.

Not even a hit-and-run accident with a lorry in 2005 that left him scarred, deaf in one ear and impaired vision in one eye, has deterred him.

“I had just collected my supply of vadai and string hoppers from Klang when the accident happened.

“I don’t remember how long I was in hospital, but I have an OKU card because of my injuries,” he said.

Then a bachelor, it was his grandmother who urged him to get back on his feet.

“She said if I did not help myself, no one would.

“At the same time, she also urged me to get married so I would have a life companion.”

Philip now has a nine-year-old daughter.

Incidentally, he met his wife while taking his badly damaged bike for repairs.

Today, he gets his supplies from a third party located near Sunway Pyramid in Bandar Sunway.

“I don’t buy in bulk, limiting to 100 pieces in a day.

“If I can achieve a sales target of RM100 a day, I am satisfied.

“If I have any left over, it goes to the dogs, birds and cats in my neighbourhood,” he said.

Philip’s success strategy is a blend of thrift, hygiene and a measure of down-to-earth public relations.

He keeps his supplier and sales routes close to his home base. And he does not rev his motorcycle.

Both methods save him fuel.

“I spend RM7 weekly on fuel and no more than RM90 to service my motorcycle monthly,” he disclosed.

And if a customer has missed him while he is on his rounds, they can always call him on his handphone to make a U-turn.

On hygiene, Philip always makes it a point to keep his food box clean and well sorted as it is the first thing customers see.

The milkman

Currently in his seventh year delivering fresh milk, Sivaneshwaran Rajasekaran’s foray into the business started when a family friend suggested he try his hand at dairy farming.

“We started off with 10 Thailand and Friesian Jersey cows on a 0.97ha farm in Batu Arang, Selangor.

“Today, we have 30 cows.

“At any one time, we will have 10 dairy cows which can produce up to 90litres of milk per day,” said the 35-year-old.

A former mechanic, Sivaneshwaran started distributing fresh milk to Brickfields, Bangsar, Pantai Dalam and Petaling Jaya on a 90cc motorcycle.

“I can make about RM2,500 monthly from selling the milk.

“There are days when I have to source from other suppliers, which is a good thing.

“However, there was one time when I could not hit the sales target and had to throw away 200litres of milk,” he said.

He has no issues with manoeuvring a heavy basket through the busy city streets, but keeping the freshness is a major challenge.

“Unlike the pasteurised variety in the supermarket, fresh milk can easily sour and spoil if improperly stored.

Fresh cow’s milk is delivered by Sivaneshwaran to places such as Brickfields, Bangsar, Pantai Dalam and Petaling Jaya.Fresh cow’s milk is delivered by Sivaneshwaran to places such as Brickfields, Bangsar, Pantai Dalam and Petaling Jaya.

“People have to pay attention even to where they keep the milk in the refrigerator.

“This often happens to new customers who may unwittingly keep the fresh milk next to onions and yogurt.

“The yogurt has live culture while the pungent smell of onions will get into the milk,” he explained, adding that such fresh milk should also not be kept next to lime.

Sivaneshwaran has 10 to 15 customers a day.

He packs his milk into 600ml, one-litre and 15litre bags for individual customers and restaurants.

The entire process begins at 7am daily when the cows are milked.

The fresh milk is then transported to his house in Kuala Ampang, and he starts delivery by 10am.

The restaurants get their orders first. By 2pm, the milk is sent to individual consumers.

In addition to door-to-door deliveries, Sivaneshwaran’s regular customers sometimes buy fresh milk from his home.

The enterprising man also supplies yogurt, paneer, goat’s milk and mutton, besides delivering flowers.

Last year, he applied for and received a 110cc motorcycle under the Selangor Indian entrepreneur development state programme to aid him in his delivery business.

Hot traditional ‘pau’

Kota Damansara, Ara Damansara and Aman Suria residents will always know if Chong Yen Keng’s van is in their neighbourhoods.

That’s because the 55-year-old plays a repetitive soundtrack over his loudspeakers announcing that his hot and freshly steamed traditional Chinese buns (called pau in Cantonese) are available.

Known as “Ken” to friends and customers, he only takes days off during the Chinese New Year celebrations, and when he has to send his truck for service or inspection.

He comes from a long line of mobile pau vendors.

“My grandparents were migrants from Hong Kong. Their family business was making steamed pau.

“To make a living when he arrived here, my grandfather went from house to house in Sitiawan, Perak, selling pau in containers hung from a pole carried on his shoulders.

“After he died, my father took over the business, first riding a bicycle and then a motorcycle.

 Chong’s steamed pau, lotus leaf rice and dumplings that sell for between RM2 and RM4.Chong’s steamed pau, lotus leaf rice and dumplings that sell for between RM2 and RM4.

“Now that I have taken over the business, I have progressed to using a truck,” said Chong.

He sells pau, lotus leaf rice and dumplings at between RM2 and RM4.

They are made by his sister at a factory in Puchong and are kept piping hot throughout the day in a steamer installed in his vehicle.

His daily schedule starts in Kota Damansara from 11am to 2pm, followed by Ara Damansara from 2pm to 5pm, and ends in Aman Suria, in front of Hong Leong bank, where he will be stationed from 7pm to 11pm.

He can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to complete each street.

Though preferring not to reveal how much he can make in a day, Chong did not hesitate to admit that it was during the movement control order period that his sales shot up by 50%.

“People did not want to go out for fear of the virus.

“So, when I was able to deliver pau to their doorsteps, they were very happy,” he said.

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