Carrying on the Family’s Tradition
Name of business:
737 North Bridge Road, Singapore 198715
Food & Beverage
The name, Sabar Menanti, means “to wait patiently” in Malay. The family restaurant sells Minangkabau cuisine, specialising in classic nasi padang. The restaurant is currently run by third-generation owner Mr Iszahar Tambunan, who is determined to keep his grandfather’s legacy alive.
At first glance, Sabar Menanti is just another brightly lit modest size restaurant. But Mr Iszahar Tambunan, the shop’s third-generation owner, has taken pains to put in the details that reflect its history and roots. Hanging overhead are lamp shades made of rattan, a material synonymous with Southeast Asian traditional craftsmanship. Shelves of tropical potted plants are affixed to the wall, alongside the gallery of photo frames with newspaper clippings, as well as images of Kampong Gelam in the past.
Today, Iszahar is the third-generation owner of the restaurant, carrying on his grandfather’s legacy. The restaurant’s cuisine has its roots in Minang, West Sumatra, Indonesia. When Iszahar’s grandfather, Haji Marlian Athar migrated to Singapore, he started a pushcart business along Kandahar Street in the 1920s. The business grew into a modest restaurant, the original Sabar Menanti on Kandahar Street, where Haji Marlian and Hajjah Rosemah’s children became involved in the family business. They eventually branched out to run their own nasi padang restaurants. For instance, Zulbaidah, the youngest daughter, went on to open Rumah Makan Minang. In the 1990s, there were two Sabar Menanti restaurants in operation. This was because Iszahar’s mother, Maryulis Bagindor Marlian, established Sabar Menanti II. Meanwhile, Iszahar’s uncle, Tarmizi, operated the original restaurant and a branch along Shenton Way, until both outlets eventually closed. Sabar Menanti II hence became the one and only Sabar Menanti to survive to the present day. “I kind of tell my mum that I want to pursue the business because it is a heritage business and there is a lot of history to it,” Iszahar says, explaining why the restaurant is so significant to him. “After the two Sabar Menantis closed down, this [Sabar Menanti II] became the flagship restaurant, so now this is the Sabar Menanti.”
Iszahar took over the business full time from his mother in early 2022. His wife Lena Kamarudin assists him with social media marketing to promote the restaurant. His involvement with the business began in 2014, where he helped with the restaurant’s “back-end” work, such as the administration of the business including hiring staff and liaising with government agencies. His responsibilities increased after the restaurant moved to its current location from another unit on North Bridge Road.
Under his care, Iszahar strives to improve the business operations and fill manpower gaps. Apart from staffing, he is also looking into improving the outlook of the restaurant. He aims to refresh the restaurant’s image and make it more inviting to customers. In terms of long-term goals, Iszahar’s ambition is to make its food easily available in more places around Singapore. He plans to open an evening restaurant with busking in front of it, and “mini Sabar Menanti” in other locations in Singapore. He also needs a bigger space for the flagship restaurant, so that it can cater to events, such as weddings.
Growing up in Kampong Gelam, Iszahar knows the district inside out and loves it dearly. He values the community that he and his family are an integral part of. “People [here] have seen me grow up, like [Warong Nasi] Pariaman. I cycled my little bicycle to Pariaman and greeted the uncles. I am now in my forties and still go there, and it is still the same. We grew up together, the heritage businesses grew up together—of course there is competition in any business, but we look after one another. Whenever they have any issues, they will come and talk to me, talk to my cousin in Minang, who is running the business. Whenever I need some advice, I will go to them because I treat them like my uncles and aunties.”
Ultimately, continuing the tradition is especially important to Iszahar. He remembers how his mother had brought him to the shop to help sweep the floor, do the catering, and go to the market with her. Now, he is passing what he learnt to his children. Every Sunday, he brings the children to the restaurant to learn about the business, regardless of whether they will eventually take over. “I am trying to bring [my children] to the restaurant so that they will get involved in the day-to-day (operations) of the shop such as serving the customers, catering, and cleaning the shop for closing,” he explains. He wants his children to understand that earning money is no easy feat. His hope is that his children will have the same passion as him to carry on the family legacy. “Hopefully, my kids can be the fourth-generation owners of Sabar Menanti one day.”
Interviewed by Nadim Nazri and Ahmad Hasif Bin Mohammad Amran on 22 May 2022.