Seven years ago, Ummi Abdullah was a stay-at-home mother who fancied whipping up delicious Malay dishes for her family as well as friends, who would order them via Facebook. Today, the mother-of-three owns two restaurants, a bakery and has one more F&B concept in the pipeline.
Better known as Ummi, the 37-year-old is the owner of Ambeng Cafe, which has been wildly popular for serving up large trays of Nasi Ambeng consisting of rice and 15 generous portions of various Malay dishes.
For the unacquainted, think of Nasi Ambeng as a communal way of eating Nasi Padang, where you’ll commonly find a group eating together from the same tray. Her Nasi Ambeng has also been given the culinary nod by several food critics, who recently listed her in the Top 50 World Street Food Masters list.
Run-ins with the authorities
Looking back at her victories over the last seven years, Ummi still gushes while thinking about it. During a recent interview with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore, Ummi revealed that she even had several run-ins with the law before getting to where she is now.
“The dishes I was selling on Facebook were getting too popular and it caught the attention of NEA (National Environment Agency), who informed me several times that I had to get a central kitchen if I wanted to continue with my business,” said Ummi during an interview at her other restaurant, Noosh Noodle Bar and Grill at the Esplanade, Theatres by the Bay.
“But central kitchens were just way too expensive for me at the time so I ended up renting a stall at a food court located at an industrial area so I could cook everything and deliver my orders from there,” the bubbly entrepreneur continued. “Obviously, it wasn’t the right thing to do. But it was the only thing I could afford.”
Ummi eventually saved enough money to rent a central kitchen in Sembawang, which many of her customers had mistook for a restaurant. “I don’t know where they got the idea that I had opened a restaurant in Sembawang when it was just a central kitchen. We don’t have seats for people to sit and eat,” she said.
“It was then that I thought, maybe I should open one. And since the bulk of my orders were coming from the East, Bedok seemed like a good place,” added Ummi.
Ambeng Cafe is located at East Village, within the Simpang Bedok food enclave, and sees long queues outside the humble restaurant on most weekends. Her Anggerik Bakery, which is situated in the same building, has also been receiving rave reviews for its ondeh-ondeh cake.
Flak over Butterbeer
But amidst all the positive feedback from her customers, Ummi has had a fair share of criticism as well, especially over the Butterbeer beverage.
While many of us may have first heard of the Butterbeer drink from the Harry Potter series, Ummi discovered the creamy, butterscotch-flavoured soda at a cafe in London while pursuing classes at the prestigious culinary school Le Cordon Bleu. Ummi fell in love with the drink at first taste and immediately thought of selling it at Noosh, which is catered to her younger customers.
“I looked up online for the recipe but they didn’t taste the same as the one I had tried in London. So I experimented for weeks until I got the right flavour. God knows how much soda I’ve wasted,” said Ummi, who got help from her sister and chief baker at Anggerik with the flavours.
Once the drink became available at her restaurant, Ummi was taken aback by criticism from some customers. “Just because the drink had the word ‘beer’ in it, some people were against a Muslim-owned restaurant selling such beverages. The criticism really affected me. Some of my family members even advised me against the selling of the beverage so as to appease people,” said Ummi.
“But I’ve learned to ignore the negative comments. If a restaurant like Swensen’s can sell Root Beer Floats and still get a MUIS halal certificate, it shouldn’t be a problem for me,” she added. According to Ummi, the Butterbeer has been one of her bestsellers since launching it in June.
Here’s a peek at how the Butterbeer is made:
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