Iszahar Tambunan has been operating the family’s nasi padang restaurant for over a month.
“I’ve been delaying this process for seven or eight years, until she asked, ‘When can I ever rest?’” says the former shipbroker of his mother Maryulis Bagindor Marlian, who ran the original Sabar Menanti restaurant at Kandahar Street with her brothers.
The family operated three stores, but the others closed due to lack of succession, leaving 737 North Bridge Road as the sole outlet. Sabar Menanti, whose name means “to wait patiently” in Malay, has served nasi padang in West Sumatra’s Minangkabau style since the early 1930s. Traditional dishes include beef rendang, grilled chicken, ayam kalio (curry chicken), and ikan bakar (charcoal-grilled fish). With other options such as assam fish, sambal sotong and black ink sotong as well, it has increased its number of dishes from 12 to 25 to attract a wider crowd, including the more health-conscious.
Iszahar has obviously been thinking ahead to the restaurant’s future as he rattles off a list of ideas, including improving operational efficiency, adding an air-conditioned second floor for weddings, and perhaps a takeaway-only version of Sabar Menanti in different parts of Singapore.
He also wants to support local talent, and currently stocks Keropok Aunty, a home-based business that sells belinjo seed crackers fried in pure organic oil. Additionally, he wants to work with a server who bakes on the side to help brand his cookies and add them to the dessert menu.
I like to think that besides the food, it’s the customer service that makes people come regularly. I always tell my staff that nice people serving good food adds to its flavour.Iszahar Tambunan
“My mum ran the restaurant in the most basic way possible. We only accepted cash. My aim is to automate the kitchen and implement a point-of-sale system so I can track sales without even being present. However, I still want to keep the restaurant as an everyday nasi padang place,” he emphasises.
Thanks to a recent push to be more aggressive with social media, such as Instagram and Facebook, Iszahar is seeing a younger crowd, starting from their 20s, these days. Even celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain came unannounced to Sabar Menanti with local TV presenter Najip Ali, who regularly visits the restaurant for breakfast, to try his favourite lontong.
“I like to think that besides the food, it’s the customer service that makes people come regularly. I always tell my staff that nice people serving good food adds to its flavour,” he says.
Now, he often brings his children, a young son and twin daughters, to Sabar Menanti to assist with small tasks, such as cleaning. He explains, “I want to teach them to respect the people working with me and that if you want to enjoy your life, you have to work hard.”
Getting up at 4am to supervise the cooking and pay overheads and rentals is his way of leading by example. It’s a far cry from his previous desk-bound job in which he was paid a regular salary and problems were usually resolved over the phone. But he’s determined to keep at it.
“I’m passionate about taking the brand to the next level. Knowing my family and staff have my back makes me more determined to succeed.”
Photography: Mun Kong
Styling: Chia Wei Choong
Grooming: Vivien Ng | Arly