‘My father’s final gift’

Before Hj Mohd Kamel passed away last December, he built his son Mohd Zaki a garage to house his own cafe

In a pop-up canvas tent next to his house in Rimba’s National Housing Scheme, 20-year-old Mohd Zaki Hj Mohd Kamel – accompanied by his fiance Ayu Azlan – began Z Cafe in 2016.

After a year as a kitchen helper at Tarindak Polo and an NTec in Professional Cookery and Services from IBTE MTSSR in hand, Mohd Zaki was determined to try his hand at running his own cafe, seeing his fellow classmate Mohd Nur Asyraf Noraini’s small but thriving operation in Kiulap as proof that you didn’t need to be born with a silver spoon to kickstart your own enterprise.

During torrential downpour however, his tent was destroyed – and while he quickly bought a second, it too would not hold up when left outside during storms. Seeing his predicament, Hj Mohd Kamel took out a few thousand dollars to help his son build a zinc awning and cemented the floor – but just a month later, he tragically passed away after an unexpected bout with cancer.

“I want you to not waste this chance,” was his passing message, and now, six months later Zaki is holding the line as he slowly inches towards building returning customers through a surprisingly upscale menu for a home-based warong – all at an affordable price.

“We are trying to create a fusion of street food like fried noodles, rice and burgers, alongside western dishes like different kinds of pasta,” said Zaki. “The response from customers has been good, but we are continuously trying to improve with feedback.”

The slow but steady returns has even allowed the 23-year-old to recently get engaged to his longtime girlfriend Ayu – who acts as resident barista, brewing fresh coffee and hot chocolate using a machine donated by Zaki’s uncle.

Clockwise: Buttermilk chicken with rice, spaghetti meatballs, freshly brewed latte and wet char kway teow – all under $4.

“I learned how to make coffee working at Funzania’s cafe,” said the 21-year-old who recently graduated from Micronet International College. “l had applied for many (professional jobs) after finishing my studies, but seeing how Zaki is running it alone and needs a helping hand – I’ve decided to stick with Z Cafe.”

Now, come rain or shine, the Z Cafe opens for business. Against brick wallpaper, wooden planks seal off the cooking area, while classic filament bulbs dangle from the ceiling as the customers are seated on simple plastic chairs and tables.

The DIY deco is functional – the planks were left over from the garage’s construction – and the atmosphere cozy, leaving you to unwind and dine against the backdrop of Rimba’s suburbia.

During Ramadhan, Zaki and Ayu also set up shop nearby at the Jalan 3 Rimba roadside stalls in the afternoon until the breaking of fast at sundown, before returning home to refresh and begin the evening’s shift at their home cafe at 9pm.

The dream of opening a commercial storefront, like his close friend Asyraf has pulled off, is always on Zaki’s mind, but for now, he puts his head down, squares away his savings and works toward making Z Cafe a household name someday.

“This business, it’s my father’s final gift,” says Zaki. “I want to make the most of it.”

Z Cafe is located at No.4, Spg 64-6, Jalan 60, RPN Kg Rimba and opens from 9pm to 2am during Ramadhan from Monday to Saturday, and from 5pm during other months.