$12,000 rent and 12-hour shifts: Here's what it's like to be a stall holder at Geylang Serai Bazaar

Hariz Baharudin
The New Paper
5 June 2017

A stall owner at the Geylang Serai Bazaar this Ramadan, Mr Shazeril Jailani's challenge is arguably greater than most.

Not only does the 32-year-old have to endure hunger in a bazaar full of food, he has to remain friendly and approachable to customers too.

Mr Shazeril told The New Paper with a laugh: "Yes, I cannot deny that it does get challenging. There is so much food here, you can see and smell it.

"You just cannot taste it, at least not till it is time to buka (break fast)."

He is one of the four managers of Pisang Melokek, which sells traditional goreng pisang as well as modern versions of it, like a cheese or ice cream version.

His family own a stall - opened in 2015 - at Adam Road Food Centre, but this is their first foray into a bazaar stall, with Mr Shazeril taking the helm.

The rental for the spot cost him about $12,000 for all 30 days of the bazaar, which opened on May 26 and will run till June 24. He said the investment has already started to pay off.

Mr Shazeril's stall sells about 100kg of bananas a day in five to six hours. The same amount would take more than 10 hours at Adam Road to sell.

He said: "The good business makes the amount invested in the stall worth it, and we're looking to increase the amount we sell because the demand is there."

Mr Shazeril, who serves about 1,000 customers a day, is happy he gets to raise his brand's visibility at the bazaar.

"It is a waste if we can be found only in Adam Road. People have said they want to try our food but they stay far away," he said. "The bazaar can help bring our food closer to people and introduce it to people who haven't tried us before."

To keep up with the crowd, Mr Shazeril has made sure that Pisang Melokek is a well-oiled machine. From the time they start preparing the food at 2pm to when they finish washing up 12 hours later, there are about six people manning the stall, each with their own task.

Based on the first week of operations, Mr Shazeril will hire additional manpower on the weekends.

"We were overwhelmed by the crowds on the weekend. I stood here cutting and frying bananas from 8pm to midnight without taking a single break," he said.

When the time comes to break fast, meals consist of easy to consume food as speed is a concern. When TNP visited the stall, Mr Shazeril wolfed down fried noodles under five minutes.

"Usually it is okay, we take turns to eat and there are enough people to take charge of the stall," he said, in between mouthfuls of mee goreng.

With more than 1,000 stalls at the bazaar, competition is definitely an issue. Just within the vicinity of Pisang Melokek, there are four other fried banana fritter stalls.

"I leave it to customers to make their own choices. I respect everyone here. There is no need to put anyone down," he said.

"I am confident those who know our products will keep coming back."

Secrets of the trade

1. Things get hectic at a bazaar stall and you have to be patient with customers. Having a good team is important.

2. It is useful to get some experience - either by selling at smaller events or examining processes at established stalls - before setting up shop at a large-scale bazaar.

3. Grab any chance you can to take a break and rest, you never know when the crowds will come or when they will stop coming.