On the first day of the Sabah International Food & Beverage Fair, Hjh Fatimah Hj Adam – a spritely woman in her 80s from RPN Mengkubau – video called her daughter Siti Hamdiah Hj Tuah twice to see how their packaged rempah rendang, serunding, acar and rojak were faring at the Suria Sabah Shopping Mall.
“This is the first time our products have ever been outside Brunei,” said Siti Hamdiah, founder of Umi Ka CT. “She was tearing up. She couldn’t be more happy.”
At 48-years-old Hamdiah’s entrepreneurial journey has been anything but easy. Divorced twice, Hamdiah, together with her mom, have soldiered on to raise four children on their own without the financial support of her former husbands.
“I’m both mom and dad,” jokes Hamdiah, who remains upbeat about her chances. “But it’s really down to my mom; she has been the one that has always been by my side, pushing me, telling me to never give up no matter how hard things become.”
Although still very much a home business, Hamdiah carries substantial F&B experience – she served as branch manager of Pizza Hut when they first opened in Brunei in the 1990s, and later took on the same role at Tasconi’s.
She also attempted to launch her own eatery at the food court of PPGMB’s building in the capital in 2003 serving mostly Asian cuisine, but the venture only lasted two years, with the remaining vendors also closing shop as the entire concept failed to take off.
She spent more than a decade after working as a cashier, then in administrative roles in different workshops until 2015 when she moved from Mulaut to the National Housing Scheme in Mengkubau.
“I told my mom that it was time for us to try doing business again,” said Hamdiah, who still supports her two youngest children. “So we built a small stall outside our house began selling ayam salai (grilled chicken) nasi katok and soto.”
Hamdiah explains that it’s her mom – who spent most of her career as a police chef – that’s developed the recipes, initially for the freshly cooked food as well as the packaged products they’ve now branched out to under Umi Ka CT.
“We’re in the process on renovating our front porch where the gerai is so we decided to see if we could expand Umi Ka CT into supplying products,” said Hamdiah. “For Ramadhan we tried out the serunding daging (a spiced meat floss) which we sold more than a hundred (packets) of, as well as a seasoning product which is my mom’s spice mix for rendang (a spicy beef stew).”
Last month, Hamdiah received a surprise call from BIBD, who shared with them their new initiative SEED to help single mothers grow their businesses. After an interview, they were told that their first step would be participating in an expo to validate their products.
“Alhamdullilah if it’s god’s will, it will never be too late for us to make it,” said Hamdiah. “When I was called (to be part of SEED) I believed it was a sign. One day, I hope Umi Ka CT products can make it to supermarkets.”