Feature Story – Niko Sandwich House

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Miya at her Sandwich Stall

Miya starts her day at 2.30am preparing sandwiches. By 7am she has her stall set up on Jln Sultan Ismail, a busy street in the heart of KL ready to sell to the “office crowds”. On a good day, Miya would sell about 120 boxes of sandwiches. However, recently because of the haze and the gloomy economy, sales have plummeted by 20-30%. She makes a decent income nonetheless, considering that she finishes her day by 10.30am. More importantly, this job gives her the freedom to be her own boss and she can enjoy not having to report to anybody.

Miya started “Niko Sandwich House” together with her boyfriend, who was previously the Marketing manager at a Japanese restaurant. For the past three years they have been selling sandwiches every morning at two locations. While jogging one morning in KL the little entrepreneur’s stall caught my attention because it was rather unusual to see a sandwich operation, let alone, a hawker dressed with a pastry chef’s hat serving healthy, wholegrain sandwiches (while everyone else on the street was selling the same stuff such as Kuih, Nasi Lemak and other fried foods). Miya warmly nodded when I took a photo of her sandwiches, and went further to give me directions back to my hotel.

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As I observed her stall I realised that she clearly understands a thing or two about presentation, differentiation and service. The label on the sandwich box said “The Art of Sandwiches” which in three simple words tells customers a lot about the dedication and pride which she takes in her work, despite the petite size of her operation (just a tiny table, no chair – but a warm smile). Intrigued, I bought the signature ham and egg sandwich from Miya. To my delight, she served me a cup of complimentary hot coffee that was part of the deal. For the next few minutes, I stood by her table sipping my cup of coffee while chatting with her about her business. I noticed that even when Miya was talking to me, she would greet each passer-by with a slight bow and she would make sure that the sandwich boxes were always meticulously stacked up. She paid attention to the smallest details.

niko4Watching this lady at work, forced me to re-examine my own perspective. For a start, I will never look at sandwiches the same way again; a sandwich is no longer just a sandwich. It’s a reminder that starting a business is not just about the size; sometimes a small table and a can-do attitude is all it takes. A sandwich created with heart and passion can be more than an opportunity to fuel the body (it tasted fantastic, and by the way- my daughter Siena finished half of it all by herself) – it can also touch the soul. But besides all this, it represents the promise of bigger things to come in the future; by taking care of the smallest details one step at a time, no matter how small the present may be.

This article was published in the Jul-Sept 2016 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!