The current Movement Control Order (MCO) has forced many food & beverage outlets to call it quits due to insufficient takeaway orders.
Others who are trying to sustain the business are being dealt a heavy hand for allegedly operating beyond permitted hours, that is 8pm.
One such outlet is Rata in SS15 Subang.
On Friday night, 25 June, the famous eatery was slapped with RM10,000 compound for allegedly still being open for business past the 8pm cut-off time by Subang Jaya City Council (MBSJ) enforcement officers.
The same night, its owner Vicneswara Thenamirtham, who is more fondly known as Chef Vic, took to Rata and his own Instagram IGTV to talk about the incident and what led to the heavy compound.
In the video, which has since gone viral, Vic says that he takes the blame for it but all they were trying to do was to make sure that all the orders, that came in from Grab at 7.30pm, are out in time before 8pm.
And while he tried explaining the same to the enforcement officers, they wouldn't listen.
"RM10,000 is a lot of money," Vic says, adding that he will be appealing against the compound at the Ministry Of Health (MOH) on Monday, 28 June to see if they can offer any assistance.
But what's worse, he says in the video, is how difficult it is to sustain a restaurant business amidst the pandemic when there aren't enough sales and they get penalised before they could explain the situation.
Vic then goes on to appeal to people to support Rata and other small businesses.
His impassionate plea has since prompted a flurry of empathetic reactions from not just Rata's regular customer base but also tens of thousands of netizens including local celebrities and politicians.
They have flooded the comment section, vowing to support Rata and others.
The IGTV video was also uploaded on Twitter by a netizen, who criticised the 8pm time limit for eateries as "ridiculous" and a policy decision that was not "backed up by science".
The particular tweet has attracted almost 9,000 retweets at the time of writing, with Segambut Member of Parliament (MP) Hannah Yeoh sharing it by asking, "how loud must the people scream to be heard?!"
In light of the incident, this SAYS writer reached out to Vic. He agreed to speak to us to shed more light and present his side of the story.
According to Vic, who also runs Big Brooklyn Pizza, their last order at 7.30pm from Grab.
"After that, we did not accept any more orders as that is our cut-off time. The orders were slightly big so the kitchen couldn't manage to finish them by 8pm. But by 8.15pm, we were done and kept the food on the table for the riders to pick up. Unfortunately, at 8.30pm sharp, the cops walked in," he told us.
When they noticed that Rata's lights were switched on — Vic said his staff was swapping the floors, which cannot be done in dark – the cops and the MBSJ officers took issue with that.
"I tried explaining to them that our last order was 7.30pm and we were trying to rush and finish it, despite being low on staff due to restrictions. We only had four staff in the kitchen who were preparing 15 to 20 orders, how fast can they cook? Still, we were already shuttering down and the outlet was in the midst of being cleaned. I asked them 'what is the grace period?', like 'okay, if 8pm we close, we need to still clean the outlet, lock it, which all takes time,'" the Rata owner recounted to this SAYS writer.
Vic told us that it all seemed very futile as they wouldn't listen
"The cops and the MBSJ officers also came in a big group, almost 20 of them," he shared, adding that it was "extremely intimidating" and felt like they could cause a cluster themselves by their sheer number.
I really thought I'm gone like they are gonna arrest me and do something.
"Literally 20 of them came into my restaurant and they weren't even practising any form of social distancing. Nothing at all. And they wouldn't listen to me no matter how much I begged," he said.
"They came, issued the compound, and left."
While speaking to this writer, Vic went on to state that the officers knew that he wasn't breaking any of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) as he had not accepted any new orders after 7.30pm, but it felt like they simply wanted to issue the compound without bothering to take stock of the situation at hand.
"I would have understood if they caught me operating beyond 8pm by taking orders. Say, I had a receipt saying there was a new order at 8.10pm, then if they compound me, it would have been my fault and I would have accepted it. But no, that night my last order was 7.30pm and I've the documents to prove it."
When asked what kind of response the viral IGTV video has translated in terms of business, Vic shared that they have been overwhelmed by the immense love and support everybody has showered at them
"All our regular and loyal customers have shown an incredible amount of response. Our Saturday sales were really good. A lot of new customers also came in due to so many celebrities sharing the video on their pages. All in all, Muslims and non-muslims, everybody is showing love and support," he said.
Vic also clarified that they are not accepting any donations from anyone.
"Although our customers asked if there's any way to make a donation, we told them we are not accepting any donations. If they still want to support us, they can just do that by ordering from us," he added.
Meanwhile, he is hoping that the operating hours can be extended to 10pm as it's proving to be impossible for eateries to even break even
"Restaurants operating with 8pm as the cut-off is very, very difficult for them to sustain. It's impossible. Because every restaurant makes money during the dinner time. Prior to that, the lunch and all nothing much happens. Our entire livelihood right now depends on dinner time orders," Vic shared.
The same sentiments were shared by a couple of other restaurant owners, with whom this writer spoke earlier on Friday. One of owners fears the worst if the operating hours don't get extended.
Vic believes that the 10pm operating hours will help everyone.
"The staff also needs to cook for themselves. Therefore, I really hope they listen to us and push the closing time to 10pm. It makes sense for everyone involved, even for customers and the riders," he added.
In news that will come as a relief for restaurant owners, it has just been announced by Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob that operating hours have been extended from 6am to 10pm starting 28 June
Prior to this, an eatery owner in Asia City, Kota Kinabalu was slapped with a fine of RM2,000 for allegedly operating past permitted hours: