‘In it for the long run’

For nine years, married couple and religious teachers Norainah and Ali Sohpian have risen before dawn to prepare traditional food to be delivered to schools and offices

Standing side by side in their kitchen in Kg Belimbing before dawn, Norainah Hashim (pictured main R) doles out fried rice noodles or mee hon, into hundreds of clear plastic containers for her husband, Ali Sohpian Hj Noor (pictured main L) to seal. Welcome to Ann’s Kitchen.

It’s been nine years since the couple, both 43, began their mornings cooking up traditional staples to be delivered to offices and schools. If the customers are situated towards Muara, then Norainah delivers; if its towards Jerudong, Ali’s responsible.

After exchange of pleasantries upon delivery, the couple then begin their full-time jobs; religious teachers at their respective schools in Salambigar and Sengkurong.

Ann’s minimum orders for delivery are 10 packs of noodles or rice, which starts at a dollar each, or a single tray, which typically starts at $20.

“We began (nine years ago) as a way to make ends meet,” says Norainah, whose business Ann’s Kitchen, is named after her nickname. “We were having some financial troubles. But Alhamdulillah, thanks to the business, we’re in a better situation now,” added her husband. “Starting this business saved us.”

Ali, the youngest of sixteen, was raised by parents who sold at the tamu – while his wife was trained to work the wok since she was young by her family.

The couple began by bringing food to the schools they taught at, specifically nasi katok ayam merah – fried chicken braised in a tomato-based sauce (pictured below), served with white rice – sold for just a dollar.

Ann’s kitchen was recently certified Halal.

Simple, affordable and filling, students and staff warmed to Noraidah’s recipe, encouraging her to consider cooking other dishes that they would be willing to order in advance.

Fried noodles were the next most popular; including the yellow egg-based noodles (Mee Goreng Thaitong) and curled flat noodles (Mee Keriting) which began at a dollar a pack and went up to $4 – depending on what ingredients it is tossed with.

“Most of the compliments we get are on how traditional the food tastes,” said Norainah. “The recipes have been passed down from my mother, who learned from her mother. It really is a family recipe.”

Ann’s kitchen now prepares food for 200-300 pax a week.

In December 2016, the couple attended a marketing class, renewing their perspective towards reaching customers – which had previously been almost exclusively based off word of mouth.

“We set up an Instagram account back in 2014,” said Norainah. “But we honestly didn’t know what to do with it, or what its potential was, so we left it inactive. Since the class we’ve been back on – and now have more than 4,000 followers (and growing). It has made a huge difference, and now our orders are almost full, six days a week.”

Ann’s kitchen now makes daily posts of their orders and deliveries; increasing customer confidence and interest.

Without children, the couple are now investing increasing amounts of time into growing their business – and are now exploring new avenues – including developing and marketing their own bottled sambal, which recently made it into their first retail store; Teguh Raya Serusop.

Tomorrow morning, the couple will rise at 4am, and cook up yet another batch of food to be delivered before school starts at 7am.

“We aim to grow our business into opening a food kiosk and hire locals to run it and have our sambal sold at supermarket shelves around the country,” said Ali. “Until then we will continue our business. We are in it for the long run.”

The couple also brought the sambal to the 14th China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning last month.

Follow Ann’s Kitchen on Instagram at @annskitchen_ or Facebook at @Ann’s_Kitchen for their latest updates and news. To order or get in touch directly contact +6738710742.