Read the story of sisters Mariam and Zaleha as they struggled through the years to establish what would end up being their own empire – Sri Talamaz.
The story of Sri Talamaz is a story of two sisters: one approaching retirement yearning to move to Kuala Lumpur to be closer to her family, and another in a little bit of a financial rut, struggling to find work that she loves in order to provide for her family. Together, these two sisters decided to start a home-based business together.
My mother, Zaleha, started off with baking buttery honeycomb cakes and moist chocolate cakes, slathered in rich ganache which she supplied to an aunt who had a food stall in central KL. At this point, my aunt Mariam was still living in Penang but would often come to KL to help out.
Once my aunt had moved back to KL, they continued to work together, baking these cakes but they were not making much headway. They were at something of a crossroads – do they continue what they’re doing? Do they quit and find something else? Presented with these choices, the sisters decided to turn to what they know best: making traditional local kuih.
The story of Sri Talamaz is a story of two sisters.
They grew up watching their grandmother and mother making kuih who did so to supply to food stalls for the family’s sustenance. Their mother, in fact, made such good local delicacies that friends and family members would often call for favours when they have social gatherings. It felt only natural to the sisters to continue their kuih making legacy and to honour the traditional recipes from their mother and grandmother.
When they first started making traditional kuih in year 2000, social media didn’t exist. There was no room for marketing their products online for the rest of the world to see, share, and place orders via WhatsaApp. They would market their kuih by the roadside every day, selling them to passers-by and to family and friends who would order their kuih for special occasions. They worked from home, making kuih in the late afternoon and nights, and went out early to sell them. Meanwhile they continued to learn new kuih-making skills and adding new recipes to their repertoire.
But special occasions didn’t happen every day and while they slowly gained popularity at their sidewalk stall, they were also chased away often.
But special occasions didn’t happen every day and while they slowly gained popularity at their sidewalk stall, they were also chased away often. They were facing problems making sustainable volume when one their brothers who works in the hotel line took some samples of their kuih. He presented these samples to a well-known hotel and they loved them!
They were presented with the incredible opportunity to supply local delicacies to the leading local hotel. Being able to do so added a new spring in their entrepreneurial step and became THE turning point of their venture. If it’s good enough for THAT international-standard hotel, it should be good enough for the rest of them as well! From this, they charted their way forward. The chefs at the first hotel had passed on good reviews to their friends in other hotels and slowly, by word of mouth, Sri Talamaz gained much needed attention. While they continued to sell their kuih by the roadside, they were also earning tenders to supply kuih to other hotels in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.
Soon enough, the house became overturned, the children who often helped out could no longer assist to their required capacity, and the ladies barely got any rest on busy days as they struggled to make the orders for their husbands to set out for delivery at 4am. They could no longer operate from home and they needed serious staffing help.
Struggles were many in the days leading up to right now, and I can’t imagine surviving those difficult times without the ladies’ strength, patience and perseverance.
In 2002, production finally moved out of our home and into a small facility in Sg Penchala. And another year after, to our current facility in Bandar Sri Damansara. The company name continued to spread. They soon stopped selling kuih by the roadside altogether and focussed their energy solely on supplying these traditional delicacies to hotels and caterers. Even with staff, days started early as my mother, father, aunt and uncle would leave the house as early as 2 or 3 am to cut up the prepared kuih for delivery. And they ended late, always; I remember days when they were so bogged down with orders, the whole family would camp at the factory to work through the night.
They soon employed more staff and a whole set of delivery guys as they now had to deliver to 4 different parts of the city. Every penny they earned as well as investments made by their brothers were put back into the company to facilitate business expansion.
17 years down the road, with a management team made up almost entirely of family, over 80 different types of kuih on their menu, a new line of frozen products, and a café helmed by their offspring, Sri Talamaz which started off as Mariam and Zaleha’s baby has become the whole family’s child in which we all contribute and take pride. Struggles were many in the days leading up to right now, and I can’t imagine surviving those difficult times without the ladies’ strength, patience and perseverance. Aside from honouring tradition, they practice an insurmountable level of tolerance for each other despite their disagreements, and this in turn has led to their family bond becoming stronger.
They are tired – you can see it in the way they walk.
They are tired – you can see it in the way they walk. They speak often of retiring and resting. But every morning, they show up at work with renewed spirit. They continue to fight the good fight. Their aim is to put traditional kuih at the same level as modern cakes, to have everyone appreciate the hard work, attention to detail, and long hours that goes into a 10-by-10 inch tray. And if you look into their eyes you’d know, they will not rest until they achieve it.
It is by Allah’s grace and blessings that we are where we are today, and it will be with His mercy that we soldier on in the years to come.