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In the middle of May, the bustling suburb of Mont Kiara with its tall skyscrapers and walkable neighbourhoods welcomed its first food hall—The Pantry.

It’s one of the few places in the area where you can get cheap eats. And no, we’re not talking about KL’s definition of cheap where a sandwich typically costs over RM15.

You can actually get a full meal for as low as RM3 at The Pantry. And if you opt to get their PRIHATIN set, part of your bill will be used to feed the local underprivileged communities. It’s a win-win situation. 

However, I couldn’t help but wonder if there’s really a need for such a food hall here of all places. Mont Kiara is after all popularly known for being an expensive postcode to live in, and meal prices there often reflect that.

Image Credit: ahmad haadi

But The Pantry isn’t about those who can afford to eat here. It’s meant for those who can’t, and how everyone deserves a decent meal that won’t break the bank.

On a mission to give back to society

A bit of a sceptic, I initially thought The Pantry was a CSR project to earn social points. Don’t get me wrong as I’m not discounting the good that CSR projects bring to beneficiaries. I’m just not confident they’re all done purely in goodwill without some kind of business gain.

But the call I had with Vivek Sasheendran showed me just how passionate The Pantry’s founder was about his mission to give back to society.

“I think food, education, and housing are basic human necessities. And when we neglect these, I think it’s not fair to the masses and workforce,” Vivek confided.

Image Credit: The Pantry

As the Managing Director of VAD Capital (a financial advisory firm) located in Mont Kiara, he noticed that his workers were struggling with the food prices there. Some of them would rather have the office pantry’s Maggi for lunch because it was just too expensive to eat out every day. 

So his solution to that was to open a food hall. 

Located at Plaza Mont Kiara, The Pantry has eight vendors serving a variety of cuisine. There’s a Western and sizzling kitchen, one catering to noodle enthusiasts, a bistro famous for its biryani, Nyonya food, Malay nasi campur, and also Thai food.

Each of these shops curate their own PRIHATIN set meals that cost RM9 and below. RM1 from each meal purchased will be channelled towards the special fund for their charitable causes.

Image Credit: Yayasan Prihatin Nasional

Sharing more on this, Vivek explained that they’re partnering with Yayasan Prihatin Nasional for this initiative. So the funds are collected and passed on to the charity organisation who will provide affordable meals to the needy. This includes the homeless, orphanages, the disabled, refugees, and the senior community.

It’s an act of balancing the scales

The partnership with PRIHATIN happened earlier this year, where The Pantry reached out to them. 

Vivek shared that they’ve been following Prihatin’s charity work for some time now and really admired their on-the-ground effort. Having met the CEO in person, Vivek particularly admired how the former made charity work his personal mission.

Speaking candidly, Vivek told us that he had started an NGO a couple years ago, but running it was a nightmare. A large part of this was due to the difference in operating a business compared to a charity organisation. Hence, he decided to leave it to the professionals this time. 

Image Credit: Ng Eric / Ooi Ling Fan

I couldn’t help but ask Vivek if every single meal is part of the PRIHATIN programme. If the end goal is to give back to the community, this arrangement seemed to make the most sense.

But he replied by explaining that it wouldn’t be the most feasible plan for all parties involved. “We also have to be fair to the vendors, otherwise they will end up with losses,” he said.

In other words, it’s about balancing a decent profit for the vendors while keeping the bigger picture in mind.

“I think profit is inevitable, but that’s not my main focus here. It’s not to become a profit centre. But of course when you have volume, it automatically becomes profitable,” Vivek remarked.

Image Credit: The Pantry

A noble cause to help the masses

Setting up the food hall didn’t come without its own set of challenges, though. 

We’re at a time when diesel subsidies are withdrawn, and the cost of raw materials is going up. It’s a monthly (if not weekly) struggle to keep costs down, but The Pantry’s team try their best to look for alternatives. 

At less than two months old, The Pantry currently caters to up to 1,000 customers on a daily basis. Vivek proudly shared with us that the food hall has become a go-to place for many residents and workers around the area, from B40s to T20s. 

Image Credit: zzurnatasha zulkifli / Nadzirah Asuhah

In terms of what success looks like for the food hall, it still comes back to their mission of giving back to those in need.

“Everyone’s coming here (Mont Kiara) to work because they have to survive. If you help them in the process, I think that’s something you can give yourself a pat on the back [for],” Vivek stated. 

Because even if only half of the people being served actually needed it, then The Pantry is already achieving what it set out to do.

The founder also happily shared that they’re looking to grow and set up 10 more outlets in various states. About seven locations have been found so far. But until those are established, they’ll be focusing on perfecting operations at the Mont Kiara outlet. 

  • Learn more about The Pantry here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: The Pantry / Anuarul Azhar

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