Mohammad Fadillah bin Haji Bakar never thought that his ‘Kway Tiaw Abam Panas-Panas’ would become a phenomenon among foodies, nor that it would spread like wildfire over social media. And yet, it has. The dish has become a hit, and he is determined to succeed further.
Before embarking on his journey of selling his fried kway tiaw back in 2016, he gave a lot of thought and consideration into the decision of venturing into a business.
The early years saw him face many challenges, including doubting his own capability, whether he could succeed and sustain in the food business, how he could find a model to start off from, and where he could find customers. While all those negative thoughts first lingered on his mind, they have now become his platform towards becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Mohammad Fadillah (Dillah), who is now 34, shared that in 2007, he and his wife lost their daughter. At that time, his wife, Ismalaila binti Ismail, had to quit her day job to look after their daughter who had been hospitalised.
They spent almost three months in the hospital, back and forth, looking after their daughter, but their daughter passed away at the age of six months.
Accepting it as destiny, Dillah, alongside his wife, tried to embark on a new journey in his life. Dillah shared with the Bulletin that, initially, he did not have any interest or passion in cooking, but after some time helping his uncle at the night market and learning cooking skills, it gradually turned into his passion and he became eager to learn new recipes, cooking styles and skills.
He also underwent a two-year course at the Youth Development Centre (PPB) as a commis chef, and went on to work at Royal Brunei Catering for almost six years and Grand City Hotel for about five years.
The time he spent as a commis chef or ‘kitchen helper’ allowed him to gain valuable experience and knowledge from professional chefs, such as different cooking styles as well as how to slice or cut meat, chicken and vegetables.
Over the years, Dillah’s family, particularly his wife and parents, advised him to start up his own business so that he could generate income for the family.
“It was not easy for me. I took a lot of time and gave it deep thought before agreeing to their suggestions,” he said. “To start, it needed a lot of capital and I could not afford to purchase things that i needed all at once. Slowly i bought the goods, little by little like stoves, woks, tables, wet ingredients and other supplies.”
Eventually, he decided to try selling kway tiaw at the Ramadhan Stall at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium.
“While I thought there would be a huge crowd, as many potential customers look for food during Ramadhan for sungkai, what I experienced was different from what I expected.”
“On my first day selling kway tiaw, I hardly got any customers and at that time, I almost gave up,” he said. However, thanks to his wife and parents, he persevered. “They will always be my backbone of strength. They continuously advised me not to give up easily and try other methods or promotions that could attract more customers to come.”
Dillah tried different ways to attract more customers to come to his stall. “I moved my stove from the back to front so that customers could see me cooking and singing ‘Kway Tiaw Panas-Panas’ with full motivation and hoped it would be a magnet to pull in customers.
“My tactics started to show progress. More and more customers came in and purchased our Kway Tiaw Panas-Panas, Alhamdulillah, and I started to enjoy myself and feel happy.”
Initially the stall was named Warung Karmas, but for more commercial perspective, he renamed it to Kway Tiaw Abam Panas-Panas.
Asked why he uses the name Abam (chubby), he laughed and smiled towards his physical size.
“When I started cooking, I used all the techniques and skills along with experience that I gained. I also learnt to improvise on the recipes and create new ones so that when people eat the kway tiaw, they will instantly know that it is my signature dish,” he explained.
Dillah’s efforts led to both him and his kway tiaw dish going viral on social media and since then, customers not only from the RPN Mengkubau area where he resides but also as far as other districts have come looking for his Kway Tiaw Abam Panas-Panas. He has also received live cooking orders not only in the Brunei-Muara district, but also in the Tutong and Belait districts.
“For the Temburong district, we are still looking at logistical arrangements, because our car’s condition limits us to travel that far, but one day we will think about it,” he said.
“When we talk about challenges and obstacles, of course you will face comments and critics, which I accept with an open heart. It will make you stronger and drive you to be better in developing the business, improve cooking skills, taste and quality.”