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'Someone needs to step up': Lawyer chooses hawker life, sells $2.50 dishes to help poor elderly

While many hawkers have been increasing food prices to keep up with inflation, Hani Isnin said she doesn't intend to do so. 

Most of the dishes — such as mee rebus, lontong and nasi lemak — at her humble Jalan Kukoh Food Centre stall over at Chin Swee, have and will continue to be priced at just $2.50, she maintained. 

In fact, the stall, which she runs with her parents, has even been renamed The $2.50 Shop. Previously, it was called Traditional Malay Muslim Cuisine.

While some may find the move puzzling — especially in this economy — there's a very wholesome reason behind it. 

In an interview with AsiaOne, Hani, who started working with her parents at the stall last July, shared that she wants to keep prices low for the sake of the elderly and poor living in the nearby rental flats.

"Someone needs to step up. Everybody is feeling the pinch of inflation, even me," the 40-year-old hawker said. 

What started the whole initiative was one elderly man who sat in front of her stall and stared at the storefront for around 40 minutes. 

Hani had approached him to ask what's wrong and he told her he had no money to eat.  Despite this, she urged him to choose what he liked from her stall as a "treat". 

Another memorable incident involved a mother with four kids who asked Hani what $10 could get them at the stall.

In response, Hani told the woman that she could have anything she wanted. Eventually, the mother got nasi padang, mee soto and lontong for her kids. 

"How could I not feel something? I go through this every day. I need to do something, even though it's at the cost of my expense," she told us emotionally. 

So, after a few of such incidents, Hani discussed with her parents and the family agreed to lower their prices.

Initially, when her parents first opened the family-run business in 2020, their dishes used to cost between $3 and $4.50, she said.

'The profit is miserable': Hani

With it's low prices, Hani told us that the stall only makes a very small profit every month. 

"To be honest, the profit is miserable. But when I think of it, as long as I can pay the bills and save a little bit, that's all that matters," Hani said.

However, with inflation, things will only get harder from there.

In fact, just two days ago (May 24), Hani and her family were informed that the rental for their stall will increase by $300. 


"That few hundred dollars of increment is going to take a very big toll on our expenses because the prices of utilities are rising, the water bills are rising, petrols are rising, everything is rising," she shared. 

Despite feeling the pinch, Hani said that she won't be increasing the prices, and that she'd rather make sacrifices on her end to make it work. 

"I'll try to make do," she told us, adding that would prefer to scrimp and save on her personal life instead of increasing the prices by even a cent. 

"My main concern, my priority right now, are my customers. Because I feel like if I don't do something, these older folks, you see them today and the next day they might just be gone." 

Though people praise Hani for doing "good things", she brushed it off. 

"That's not what I want. The smile I want to see on the customer's faces, they can have more food at a limited budget." 

She shared that when the stall was closed for a couple of days last week as her father was hospitalised, some of her customers were disappointed. 


Some of the regulars even turned up at the stall four days in a row and were sad to find it closed, she said. 

"I felt very guilty and apologetic toward them," Hani told us.

Hawker life over corporate job 

Considering Hani's career choice, some may find it surprising that she has a double degree in law and economics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). 

While she did corporate work initially, she quit after two months because she felt like it wasn't the right job for her. 

"You can't be a lawyer with compassion. I am a big failure in that department," she told us with a laugh. 

Apart from helping with the family business, she said she also used to run a canteen stall at Queensway Secondary School for six years. 

Initially, not everyone understood her decision, including her own parents, who were the ones who wanted her to get a law degree. 

But over time, they realised Hani loved doing what she does and supported her decision. 

"People might stereotype that hawkers are low class, that they are not educated and just run the stall. But it's not easy running a hawker stall. No dumb person can run a hawker stall," she said.

Hani said that apart from cooking, hawkers need to do tedious tasks like taking stock, as well as calculating profits and losses. 

"So I'm doing something that I love. It's a simple, it's a hard life, but at least I can do something, even on a small scale, to give back to the community that is close to me." 

ALSO READ: Telok Blangah coffee shop stallholder rallies fellow hawkers to offer $2 budget meals to curb low footfall

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