COVID-19: How Are Penang Cafes Coping With The Coronavirus?

When you think Eiffel Tower, you think Paris. When you think cafes, you think Penang. Cafe culture, a staple to many Penangites and its visitors, is like a playground where many go for Instagram-worthy brunches and lepak with their friends. Amidst the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the Malaysian government has imposed a movement control order (MCO) in an effort to slow the virus’s spread – putting businesses and communities in completely uncharted territories.

Restaurants and cafes have been ordered to shut down for four weeks – until April 14 – with an exception for takeout and delivery. This has not only taken a toll on cafe hoppers, but also on cafe owners – with sales dropping more than 95%. We spoke with owners of Wheelers, Urban Daybreak, and Carrotfish over the phone to find out how the coronavirus has affected their businesses and how they are coping with it.

1. How has COVID-19 affected Penang cafes?

Kim, Wheeler’s: It has been a difficult time for many business owners. As a cafe that relies on dine-in customers, our sales have gone down by 80% in a time where people are practicing social distancing.

Jeremy, Urban Daybreak: It’s just been rough. We have been doing delivery, but we are barely hitting our usual sales target.

Photo: Urban Daybreak (Official)

2. What are cafe owners doing to combat or cope with the crisis?

Edward, Carrotfish: Unfortunately, we had to cut down our manpower, laying off part-timers and only keeping full-time staffs. As owners, we are now hands-on doing the cooking and delivery ourselves. Some people are concerned with coming in contact with the virus through delivery, and by taking over deliveries, our customers feel safer. There also consumers who opt not to pay for delivery fees, so we are offering free delivery services. It might not be sustainable in the long run, but this is the least we can do to cover the rental and daily expenses.

Jeremy: We are blasting our social media marketing and making online orders possible through Beep Delivery. Our landlord is also kind enough to waive one month’s rent for us! It’s just a tough time for everyone as we are still paying full salaries to our employees. We just have to absorb the losses.

Photo: Carrotfish (Official)

3. What do cafe owners wish the government can do to help businesses in this season?

Jeremy: The 2% discount on electricity charges for six months helps a little. Hopefully the government can do their best to halt the pandemic as soon as possible.

Kim: I’m hoping the government can follow after UK’s example – paying 80% of employee’s salary, but I believe our local government can’t afford that. Honestly, even 50% is enough, and we as employers can provide the other half, making this more sustainable.

Edward: The 2% off TNB can’t really do anything. I’m aware the government is providing monthly financial assistance of RM600 to support employees. That’s good news, but it’s not really taking the burdens off employers. We’ve also spoken to the management about postponing and even reducing our rental, but we still don’t hear back from them. I wish the government can work with landlords/managements to reduce rental, even if it’s a 10-20% cut.

Photo: Wheeler’s (Official)

4. How do they feel personally about the current situation?     

Edward: For me, it’s kind of rough too. I mean.. Penang is known for our local food and cafes. Every night I would want to go out to “tapao” something to eat, and then I thought to myself, “Oh! Still lockdown, cannot go out.” I hope they’ll find a vaccine soon.

Kim: It has been difficult for the whole team, a very discouraging and demotivating season. I’m assuming that when the MCO is over, the economy won’t be recovering so quickly. We just have to work all over again to rebuild the business.

5. Finally, do they think the cafe culture in Penang will change post COVID-19?

Jeremy: I don’t think so. Malaysians are generally a bit more daring and bold. (laughs)

Edward: Everyone is just waiting for the government to announce that MCO is over!

Kim: The culture is so strong that it won’t be changed. However, if the MCO goes on for like 3 months, then it will impact the culture. Assuming that most consumers’ finances will be affected, prompting them to spend more wisely and cut down on cafe hangouts. This will be a nightmare for Gen Y and Z.

*interview has been condensed for clarity*

Urban Daybreak, Wheeler’s, and Carrotfish are now offering take-outs and deliveries!

Carrotfish is now offering in-house free delivery in Penang and BM stores. Any main course will come with a free drink, with an additional 30% off for all medical staffs.

Photo: Carrotfish (Official)

Urban Daybreak is offering deliveries through Beep It, Lalamove, and Grab Express. For orders over RM50, the cafe will cover part of the delivery fee!

Photo: Urban Daybreak (Official)

Wheeler’s offers cold brew promo: Buy two get one free! They are available for delivery through GrabFood, Takeaway, and Foodpanda.

Photo: Wheeler’s (Official)


Due to the recent movement control order, we understand that many eateries are changing their business models to stay afloat. As part of the community, we believe we are all in this together. With that said, Penang Foodie is launching a new app, FOODIE+, a platform where businesses can list any promotions of their choice. During this period, the app will also be integrated with food delivery and takeaway features. From now till April 2020, all listings on the app is completely free. Click here to sign up.

Stay sane, stay safe, and order away Foodies!

We would like to invite you to join our New Private Community Group! Here you are free to ask questions, share your love for food, and explore the Penang community! We will also regularly post about casual promos and latest findings.

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