Senibong Gourmet – an out of the box pivot

This is our signature Mediterranean Focaccia, the star of Senibong Gourmet.

I have always tried to think out of the box in every situation, be it in the professional environment or at home bringing up three teens.

When COVID-19 was peeking its head up in SEA countries back in early January, we looked back to the SARs era and thought that the coronavirus saga would resolve itself in a few weeks, impacting some countries at some level and that was it.

Never did we or anyone else envision the stark reality that unfolded like a TV series…travel bans, borders close, stay at home orders, companies put a hiring freeze, people losing their jobs, businesses going bankrupt, doctors and nurses getting sick, unbelievable sights of people protesting against stay-at-home orders because they wanted to go get their hair done or claiming that the virus is not going to spoil their prom or spring break, one leader suggesting that drinking bleach or disinfectant may help the cleaning happen from inside! You get my drift.

In our household, hubby was home for Chinese New Year and what was meant to be a short visit became a long one with no end in sight. Hotels are closed, so no job to go to for now. Borders are closed so no air travel allowed, even if you have somewhere to get to. No one really knows how long we will have to live with this current situation.

So what to do? Stay at home and chill? Eat, watch Netflix, play ping pong on the dining table, run around the living room a few thousand times, eat again and so on. That was fine for a week or two, but quickly as the days dragged into weeks, it all starts to get old. For those having to cook meals 3 times per day and deal with homeschooling as well as personal work etc, you find yourself running out of options fast.

As for myself and the kids, food wise we are very lucky. We have a great chef at home so we are not lacking in the array of delicious food coming out of the kitchen. My daughter took to sharing our meal videos on social media to have her friends telling her to stop tempting them.We were the envy of other family members and friends…so we decided to share our good fortune with others.

That’s how the Senibong Gourmet Delights home pop-up shop was born. We offered a simple menu of selected home chef-made gourmet items to our neighbors and friends. We are lucky to live in a community where there is a balanced mix of foreigners and locals. As our offerings are European and western by nature, it resonated well with the expat community and to a smaller extent the local community as well.

With the availability of reliable food delivery platforms, we are able to deliver our items to other friends and contacts within the city of Johor Bahru. So now more people can experience some of our homemade treats. It is great to be busy, to have the opportunity to make other families’ mealtime more enjoyable. To give mums/dads some respite during mealtimes by providing them with dishes that you would traditionally need to sit down in a restaurant to enjoy. Some happy customers have even shared their feedback with friends from other cities who want to experience our items too!

As a family, we all have our part to play. The Chef was the Chef…obviously. The kids were designated commi plus delivery persons, my son Tristan was drafted to film and edit some videos and I am the promoter, marketer and overall coordinator. It has been fun creating logos, designing flyers, setting up a Facebook page “SenibongGourmet”, making regular posts and so on. Reminds me of my early working days starting out in PR department of hotels, but now I am doing it for our own products.

Malaysia just started Phase 4 of our MCO with lightened restrictions yesterday. We are starting to see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel however it is important to be vigilant and patient. No unnecessary travel outside, avoid crowds, eat at home still…we cannot afford to throw away the hard work of the past few weeks with spikes in new cases again. On the one hand, it is heartening to see some activity again outside to help to stimulate the economy and support businesses that are in dire need of help, but on the other hand, there is a need to be cautious and disciplined; maintaining a balance between needing to go out with wanting to go out.

Where do we go from here? As long as there is a demand, we will continue. As long as borders remain closed and international air travel remains limited, we will continue. And since we enjoy sharing our food with people who enjoy them as much as we do producing them, we will continue. And we continue to enjoy this journey, the Chef gets to cook and be the Chef – albeit in a slightly different environment than what he is used to. The kids get to be involved in a small business venture and earn some pocket money and I get to continue to hone my marketing skills. Our customers get to enjoy great food. A win-win for everyone.

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