Good food for a good cause - that is what all food and beverage establishments in Malaysia should strive for. And that is exactly what Charlie's Cafe brings to the industry here.
Patrons of the cafe can pay RM5 for a receipt to be stuck on the cafe's pay-it-forward wall. Anyone can walk in and peel off a receipt to redeem a meal. The person redeeming the meal can then choose from Charlie's Cafe's menu of noodle or rice dishes. They also get a choice of drink from milo, coffee or tea.
This initiative started in July 2015 and has received overwhelming response since. The pay-it-forward wall at Charlie's Cafe now has what looks to be about 1000 receipts.
This pay-it-forward system has never been abused, says Sonny, the owner of the cafe. Only people who really need it take the receipts, he adds.
This homely cafe, which offers simple but hearty dishes, made its debut in May 2015. But it seemed to only really take off in November when Charlie's Cafe was covered by the media extensively and soon after, the Rotary Club wanted to bring refugees in for a meal.
Then a month later, in December, they introduced a special pay-it-forward deal to their customers at RM15 to fund a special Christmas dinner for underprivileged children and people from Malaysian Care homes.
The response was overwhelming and they hosted 100 children for their first night of the Christmas special and more on the second night. There were more receipts than recipients, so Sonny also bought gifts for the children with the extra money.
Now, according to Sonny, 10 months into the social enterprise, he sees companies coming to do their corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects at the cafe fortnightly. He recalls hosting senior citizens during Chinese New Year. Another project, he shares, is a law firm bringing their staff in to teach them not to waste, while also hosting people from the Beautiful Gate Foundation. A local artist has even supplied him with art to liven up the place.
He has also seen a group of crossfitters who brought in kids from Rumah Hope Orphanage. He says that companies are required to call in advance to arrange for big groups to come.
Many have contacted him to order food to send to the homeless as well. He also works with a platform called FeedOn Malaysia to channel food towards the needy.
On top of all the great causes that they support, Charlie's Cafe continues its 'do-good' streak by buying only fresh produce from our local Orang Asli farmers. "We are committed to buying the vegetables at market rate and we eliminate the need for middle men," says Sonny. Indeed, they have made a valiant effort to touch lives every step of the way in their social enterprise.
Though it is a great act of kindness that Sonny is extending to the public at large through this establishment, it comes with great responsibility. "We have an added responsibility of ensuring that the money collected through our various initiatives go to the right people," he says.
At Charlie's Cafe, they are also strong believers of giving people second chances and a fair opportunity of building a sustainable lifestyle, which is why Sonny employs the homeless, those with special needs and even the indigenous.
Ultimately, Sonny shares that they want to make Charlie's Cafe into a place that is comfortable and affordable for everyone. "It's a no frills concept, but we still want to make it special for the underprivileged communities and give the most value for money," he says.
While we were seated at Charlie's Cafe with Sonny, a soft serve ice cream machine was being delivered and set up. Sonny says that he managed to get a really good deal from a friend and he wanted to expand his menu a little to offer soft serve ice cream to the children who visit.
"I want to give children that experience of finishing off a meal with a good ice cream," he adds. "I'll be looking into doing floats, sundaes and cones."
The current menu at Charlie's Cafe is just enough to give every patron a decent choice of meal. Their specialties include a chicken chop, their amazing Nasi Lemak, in which the rice is cooked with the extract of onion, serai, ginger and other spices. He also offers some home cooked style fried noodle and rice dishes.