THERE IS A makeshift stall along Lorong Abu Siti that bears no name yet locals who know of it flock to it, especially if the day happens to be hot and humid. This stall makes its business selling coconuts and packets of coconut water, and has a history that stretches back to the years of the Japanese Occupation.
Managing the stall is third-generation proprietor Rangan Priakaruppan, who at 24 years old was called back home to help out with the business. “I was doing odd jobs around the country and in Singapore at the time, but had to return when my father was short of helping hands.”
Rangan is 61 now and the family’s legacy business shows no signs of slowing. Rangan sells three types of coconuts; there is the normal kind, the pandan-flavoured kind which gives off a fragrant pandan aroma once cracked open, and sea coconuts. Many customers are unaware of the last variant, he says: “The flesh of this coconut is sweet and has a jelly-like texture.”
The fruits are affordably priced, at RM3.50 for a normal coconut and RM4 for a pandan-flavoured one; and on blazing hot days, Rangan easily sells between 300 to 400 coconuts. Sales are indeed dependent on the weather, he says. On rainy days, business slows down or he has to pack in early. But typically, the stall opens daily from 8am to 6.30pm.
Rangan’s supply comes from Perak and about 1,000 fruits are brought over every two to three days. “Twenty years ago, Penang had plenty of coconut trees. We used to sell local varieties from Air Itam, Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Bahang. But times have changed and the Island has undergone much urban development.”
And how does he tell apart a good coconut from a bad one? “It’s the sound it makes when I shake the coconut,” Rangan says. “I can’t exactly explain it, but it’s something I picked up from years of working with the fruit.”
A friend's son helps out at the stall.
Rangan's supply of coconuts comes from Perak.
Just like he did for his father, both Rangan’s sons help out on weekends or when they are on their semester breaks, though he says neither has mentioned taking over the business once he retires.
Rangan does not believe in the idea of price hikes, stating, “My coconuts follow the market price and we make it a point to never increase the amount, even during festive celebrations like Thaipusam. That’s not how I choose to run my business.” Nor does he feel compelled to give in to the pressure to innovate, despite another coconut juice stall being set up and operating along the same row.
“What I’m doing is what my father did way back when. I still crack open the coconut, stick a straw in and serve the customer – some of them I’ve known and become friends with for 30 years now. I’ve watched customers’ children who were tiny then grow into adults and they still frequent my stall,” Rangan smiles. “Some regulars first came as tourists as well.”
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