A life beyond service: Maritza Restaurant

After 25 years in the military, Mustapha backed his wife’s dream of running a restaurant. But it was a struggle to get it off the ground

In in the brand new halls of a food court next to Giant Rimba, married couple Mustapha Hj Abd Wahab and Nuraini Abd Rahim (pictured L and R) took their first crack at business by opening Maritza Restaurant.

Nuraini, a Singaporean and teacher by trade, was well known amongst her social circle for her homeland’s delicacies of mee rebus – yellow noodles served with a thick, slightly sweet, curry-like gravy and a mixed vegetable stew with coconut milk known as lontong.

Mustapha, who had retired from the Royal Brunei Land Forces where he served as a warrant officer, forked out half his savings under the Employees Trust Fund (TAP) for the required deposit of three months of rental as well as for cooking equipment and kitchenware.

At the turn of 2017, the family was in business. But less than six months later, Nuraini was forced to close.

Call it bad luck, wrong timing or just awkwardly positioned, the bottom line was that the couple was just one of maybe three – at best four – vendors who opened at the new food court which is no longer operational today.

“At first the location made sense because it was only a few minutes drive from our house,” said Mustapha, who moved onto working as a Health, Safety and Environment officer under the Technical Equipment Maintenance Division (TEMD) of the Ministry of Defence in 2004 after serving 25 years in the military. “But a few months in, we realized we had made a misstep because there were no other vendors moving in, and customers didn’t know of the place.”

Roti kosong served with condiments.

Mustapha and his wife visited financial institutions and other agencies to seek help with restructuring the business, but none were able to help.

“It was clear that the money we had invested was gone,” said Mustapha. “But when I turned and looked at my wife, I saw in her eyes that she wasn’t ready to give up yet. So to me it was simple. I was going to back her.”

The family bootstrapped their way forward, taking out a personal loan to make a relocation possible. Choosing the name Maritza and this time adding Indian and Bruneian cuisine alongside Singaporean – they opened at stall 13 of the Promart Foodcourt in Lambak two weeks ago.

Their children, who are working, along with their in-laws, lend a hand after office hours and during the weekends, pitching in whatever small way they can to keep the business moving forward.

“The response has been much better here,” says Noraini, who admits that it’s a still long way to go, for the couple to make long-term plans about where the business will head to.

“Before we started we were was thinking of using the (TAP) savings to go to Hajj,” says Mustapha, whose contract with TEMD is up soon. “Unfortunately we have not been able to recover that money yet. The truth is that it has not been easy. But I believe there is hikmah (wisdom) behind what we have gone through, that we will learn from.”

Nuraini and Mustapha with their daughter (L) and daughters in laws and staff.

Maritza is located at Simpang 281-7, at the Promart Food Court within the Abraco Industrial Park in Kg Lambak Kanan. For updates follow @maritza_cafe_restaurant on Instagram.