Gooddam: When restaurant customers vanish, a subdued silence sets in

April 25, 2020

The customers who ordered nearly everything. The couples who always enjoyed having wine with their pasta. The regulars who appreciated a quiet corner for dinner.

For Miki Lie, these are the people she misses. After 16 months of leading the front of house at Petaling Jaya’s Italian restaurant Gooddam, she knew their names, recalled their voices.

Suddenly, they’re gone, as if cruelly banished from the eatery, leaving behind an emptiness both physical and emotional, erasing a soundscape of happy chatter and clinking glasses.

The health crisis' effects are not only economic - it has inflicted an insidious toll, robbing restaurateurs of the elemental satisfaction of feeding patrons in the flesh, caring for them throughout their meal and catching their faces light up.

Miki founded Gooddam with chef Daniel Yap in late 2018, after years of running a pop-up kitchen. Their modern Italian dishes were instantly distinctive - house-made tajarin pasta, ribollita-style stew, savoury pizzelle - borrowing inspiration from Daniel's stints and stages near Parma and Piedmont.

Miki relished her role, steering reservations and setting up tables before service, while Daniel led the open kitchen. Part-time staffers helped her greet guests, especially when the 40-seater restaurant was completely packed for dinner.

When the Movement Control Order kicked in, Gooddam closed for weeks before reopening on April 14 with a menu conceived for pick-ups and deliveries. The focus: Comforting, casual fare - mushroom spaghetti with with creamy kombu and truffle butter, mortadella ham focaccia sandwiches, and tubs of traditional tiramisu. It also offers bottles of wine at deep discounts.

“When we first reopened, a lot of our friends and families supported us. So for the first few days, we had quite a lot of orders,” Miki says. "Ten orders were considered very good business per day. Then we started having slow days - last weekend, zero sales. Now on average, maybe five to seven orders."

That's a far cry from a full house. As Gooddam transitions into online orders, a core team of six remains to work in four-person shifts. Miki spends time reaching out to loyal customers to let them know the kitchen is up for takeaways.

"I contact our regulars and tell them, hey, we’re here, we're on an online store. Some of them order through WhatsApp. That's all we can do for now."

Hearing Miki describe it, she longs for the humanity lost in her work. “The interesting part was, we got to meet and see our customers. Some of them, I knew them by name and talked to them - so now that part is missing."

"Most of the time, I knew what they wanted. For regulars, I knew the people who ordered a lot, the people who drank. I could prepare myself for the weekend crowds, prepare the tables to ensure everything went smoothly. Now we never need to set the tables at all - we just wait for orders."

Gooddam was once busiest for dinner; now, most orders emerge for lunch. The restaurant has changed its setting, with seating shoved aside. A small table stands out front for curbside pick-ups, where a menu is shown for passers-by who live nearby.

"We have people from the neighbourhood who haven't heard about us, but they're searching for food. They don't know what kind of restaurant we are, but they're looking for lunch or dinner."

Miki and her team are bracing for these challenging circumstances to persist.

“Even after the MCO is lifted, we don’t have to immediately reopen the restaurant. We have to ensure our customers' safety and our employees' safety - we have to be very cautious.

“If we have 10 people in the restaurant, how do we disinfect everything? It’s a risk. The worst-case scenario is that restaurants reopen and the virus has another chance to spread. So we might not be willing to reopen for dining in. We might do deliveries until there are clear safety protocols. We have to take responsibility for what happens in our restaurant."

To order from Gooddam, click here or WhatsApp 010-766-9708 - please place your orders two hours before mealtime.

Photos are courtesy of Gooddam. This feature's opening photo was taken in 2019.

Gooddam is one of over 100 restaurants participating in Eat Drink KL's Faith For The Future. Purchase a cash voucher at eatdrinkkl.com/faith and enjoy a 10 percent discount off your bill when you redeem the voucher within four months. The restaurant will receive your payment within three working days. Click here to read about Faith For The Future.

Reporting by EDKL writer Aiman Azri. This is the fourth part in our series on how people working in Malaysia's restaurants, cafes and bars are confronting their current challenges.

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