What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘cafe’?
Great food? Good music? Fancy lattes? Sounds about right. In this day and age, the café culture in Malaysia has grown tremendously. At every corner of the street, you can find a queue of people lining up to get their hands on their coffee fix and pastries.
One such café is Charlie’s Cafe & Bakery, a cosy spot located in Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur which offers a great escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. However, there is more than meets the eye to this café apart from an array of delicious pastries and local dishes. In fact, patrons may not know that the café is devoted to help the underprivileged and marginalised community.
The couple behind Charlie’s Cafe & Bakery
Charlie’s Cafe & Bakery is the brainchild of Sabahan couple, Mr. Desonny (Sonny) Tuzan, a Kadazan and his wife, Debra Leong. Upon their arrival in Peninsular Malaysia almost 28 years ago, Mr. Sonny was keen on pursuing his passion of helping the underprivileged. However, he had always wanted to do something ingenious. His mantra – “Don’t give them the fish, instead teach them how to fish,” says Mr. Sonny.
With his experience in the F&B industry, he decided that opening a cafe was the best way forward. Along with his wife, he founded Charlie’s Cafe & Bakery in 2015.
Dine in and “pay-it-forward”
The café seeks to provide urban folks in Kuala Lumpur with good comfort food including East Malaysian dishes. The income from running the café contributes to funds used by Mr. Sonny to help the marginalised such as the urban poor and ex-convicts.
His contribution to the urban poor involves him utilising the contributions from his dine in and ‘Pay-It-Forward’ concept to aid the community. With the ‘Pay-It-Forward’ concept, diners can pay RM5 as a donation in the form of a receipt.
These receipts are then placed on the walls of the cafe. Each receipt is a voucher for the poor community to redeem their meals. Through these RM 5 donations, Charlie’s Cafe is able to help the urban poor within the community.
“We use the donations to buy food and raw materials. The most popular meals thus far that we have sent out are fried chicken and fried rice. The response is really tremendous. People have been really supportive.”
In terms of lending a helping hand to ex-convicts, Charlie’s Cafe provides such individuals with employment opportunities through their Second Chance project. Mr. Sonny is quick to point out that this is a good platform for them to rebuild their lives. “We provide them with the space to start their work. Hopefully, they will then be able to jump-start their life all over again.”
The café also prefers to source for produce directly from community farmers whenever possible.
Over the years, there have been instances where some (ex-convicts) would not show up for work. Others have even caused a scene at work. Other obstacles include the rise of inflation and the lack of manpower.
Through it all, Mr. Sonny remains true to his passion. The question then arises, ‘What still keeps him going?”
“If four years back, I would not have chosen this career path. But as the saying goes ‘age makes you wiser.’ As humans, we are bound to be affected by hardships. In fact, there have been moments where I felt like giving up. But then, I quickly take a deep breath and sometimes a break if I need to. Once I am recharged, I get back to it!”
“A moment of reflection also helps. When I am reminded of the people who have helped me in the past, I am reminded of my passion that is to help people. I have been grateful to have bosses or employers who been there for me. However, not everyone is fortunate as me and that’s where I come in.”
“At the end of the day, it wouldn’t cost you an arm or a leg to help someone.”
So what’s in store for Charlie’s Cafe in the coming years?
“I plan to open new outlets. I believe through them, we will be able to contribute more to the local community. We also want them to be entrepreneurs themselves and continue this cycle of helping people.”
Just as Stella McCartney once said, “Everyone can do simple things to make a difference, and every little bit really counts.”
All of us are capable of making a difference in someone else’s life. No matter how small or big, our actions are able to change someone’s life for the better. Some opt to help through monetary means while some like Charlie’s Cafe choose to take the path less travelled by going above and beyond in finding ingenious ways to help the less fortunate.
Article edited by Archana Patrick
*Featured image by John Tan