KUALA LUMPUR, June 6 — Bruce Wong, who runs a food business from his home, was no stranger to the food and beverage industry.
He used to be one of the owners of local pub chain Tom, Dick and Harry and its sister restaurant Ali, Muthu and Ah Hock.
But he was not the guy in the kitchen. It just wasn’t his domain.
Until Covid-19 struck.
That was when he lost his job as the country manager of a co-working space in Thailand due to the pandemic. At the same time, the father of two became a father of three.
“My wife was pregnant and it was a bad time to go out and look for a job. I could only cook one dish at that time something I learned in Bangkok which was Pad Kra Paw, a Thai basil-based pork dish,” Wong explained.
His wife Liu Wen Hsuan had just given birth to their third son Brennan, and Malaysia was under the movement control order (MCO) which made hiring a nanny or getting help difficult.
And so Wong had to step up and find something he could do to earn money while also caring for his wife and three sons at home.
He taught himself to cook through YouTube; he would replicate recipes he saw online and tweak them until they suited his taste.
“It’s all maths you know. Basically, whatever you put into the meal, you must make sure you lock down the amount,” he said, relating his approach to cooking.
Wong’s previous experience running restaurants taught him how to be prudent. To minimise food wastage, he keeps a small fridge. He keeps an eye on his stock and prices and uses only good ingredients to ensure quality.
When he finally started Wongka Home Cooked Food, it was July 2020. The name literally means Wong family. At first, he got about 60 orders a day.
“Orders are more at the beginning of the month and at the end of the month, we get like 30-40. I like to choose the dishes based on things I like to eat — nasi lemak or bak kut teh.
“Then we have vegetarian dishes on the first and 15th day of the Chinese calendar. We have this famous dish, the Poh Poh Lor Hon Jia, a dish usually served during Chinese New Year,” he said.
It took about six months with his whole family chipping in before the business grew. The two older boys, Bruce Jr, 10, and Brandon, eight, help with packing the food and placing their Wongka company stickers on the containers.
With orders now coming in steadily, Wong decided it was time for him to pay forward the goodwill and faith he had received from others.
And that’s how he ventured into philanthropy.
“When I decided that I wanted to cook for charity, I felt we were out of the deep waters and I was thankful for what God had given me.
“I felt I should be helping others, because I can as I’m already cooking. I felt I should be cooking for people just so they can enjoy a simple meal,” he said.
“It’s also a good way for me to show my kids that when we can, we must give,” he added.
Wong said that he decided to dedicate his Saturdays to cook food for those less fortunate and deliver them himself.
He said he does not have a specific list of places that he provides for, but will just look up places online at random and pick one a week. Sometimes, he gets suggestions from a temple that he is a part of.
On the weekend he met Malay Mail, Wong had donated 60 packs of food to the Bangsar Lighthouse Children’s Welfare Home Association which has 60 residents aged between three and 17 who are from broken homes or abusive families.
One of the oldest kids there is a 17-year-old girl who has been living there since she was 12.
A student of the Bukit Bintang Girls’ School, she said she missed going to school and that it was difficult to focus on lessons due to the various phases of the movement control order.
“It’s hard to study at home and lessons can be difficult to administer, but we do our best. If I could, I’d like to have a tutor help me with some subjects, especially accounting,” she told Malay Mail during a recent visit.
“Would be great to have this Covid situation just go away and we can get back to normal,” she added.
She also related that children at the home used to make popcorn, cookies, candy and other items for sale just outside their gate or at the Bangsar Shopping complex nearby where they had a stall on the ground floor.
However, she said that the home’s financial situation has been affected in the past year and is worried that things may get worse with the current total lockdown that is from June 1-14.
The home’s managers, Steven Sivaraju and Jacinta Steven, confirmed that they’ve lost 30 per cent of their income after their expatriate well-wishers left Malaysia.
“We’re surviving, but it’s due to guys like Bruce Wong coming to help us out,” said Steven.
“We’re still doing our cooking but we stopped selling the items from the centre as we do not want people to come by. It’s dangerous. So for the time being, we’re being more prudent and I hope we can weather this tough period again,” added Jacinta.
Wong said he will continue to cook for those who need food as long as he can.
“To be honest, the cooking part is easy. It’s the prep that takes a long time. It is better to cut and prep the ingredients the night before so your concentration in the morning is only on cooking.
“I will adjust some things like getting the groceries delivered to me so I can minimise my exposure to the outside world as for the rest we’ll take it as it goes,” he said.