Jonathan Lee, founder of Dusun, hopes to make the world a better place. Fiona Biggs discovers how one small initiative makes all the difference.
Who would have thought that is would make for a big business opportunity? How and why did you set out on this journey?
Jonathan Lee: That’s a common misconception. Yes, it’s called Dusun but the concept is to shine some light on the Malaysian food heritage. I have a deep love for food. Truth is, I’m a self-declared foodie and so are many of my friends. We would take road trips just to try out the local delicacies available along the way.
I used to speak with local traders and found that the heritage in their specialty would end with them. This was because their children wanted to pursue other ambitions in life. The thought of these great street delicacies being lost in the near future was disturbing.
So, you decided you would learn the trade yourself?
Close but not entirely. I was concerned for their livelihood as well. It got me to think of how I was going to retain the food heritage while providing and creating business opportunities for these small traders. That’s when I started to plan how I would kill two birds with one stone – continue the food heritage and help the local traders while at it.
Has this been a long and difficult journey?
In every journey there are bound to be challenges and so yes, we did face some difficulties. Sourcing for the crème de la crème took a lot of time. Learning the trade also took time and effort. I stayed with the Penang Rojak sifu (guru) who owned a 30 to 40 year old generational recipe. I was under his guidance for a good two weeks and he thought me everything he knew, including some Hokkien (local Chinese dialect in Penang) so that I could negotiate with the local vendors in the market. From picking the right fruits to preparation of sauces, he shared all he knew with me. Truly admirable that he had no qualms nor did he hold back anything that would make it the perfect dish.
Your suppliers are mostly small traders?
That is correct. We really do want to provide them (the smaller players) an opportunity to grow with us as a family. Like our Nasi Lemak vendor in Kampung Baru. We first got into business with both her and her husband and then I was soon liaising with her daughter and now, their son. Here you see that first, the promise of the heritage recipe is likely to be passed on and two, they are growing a business as a family. They have also begun to explore beyond just Nasi Lemak. They have introduced new products to our range too
What lies in the future?
Our plans to expand will indefinitely comprise reaching out to more individuals. For now, our plans include a new kiosk at The Gardens and more outlets will soon sprout up at the LRT and MRT stations now that the lines are being extended.
We intend to eventually make it an affordable business franchise concept too for the youth in Malaysia. This will help retain the heritage of our local foods and the culture it brings for future generations. – SME Malaysia