Flavours of Malaysia, a popular eatery in downtown Pittsfield, closed its doors this past December after 13 years in business. But the restaurant was more than just a place to grab a meal.
Co-owners chef Sabrina Tan and her husband Chin Lee have made a huge impact in their community through their hospitality and philanthropic work. And while people in Berkshire County may miss Sabrina’s food, it’s the sense of community that she and Chin created at Flavours that residents say they will miss the most. Executive Producer Tony Dunne brings us the story .
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Flavours of Malaysia, a popular eatery in downtown Pittsfield, closed its doors this past December after 13 years in business. But the restaurant was more than just a place to grab a meal.
Co-owners chef Sabrina Tan and her husband Chin Lee, have made a huge impact in their community through their hospitality and philanthropic work.
And while people in Berkshire County may miss Sabrina’s food, it’s the sense of community that she and Chin created at Flavours that residents say they will miss the most. Executive producer Tony Dunne brings us the story.
Tony Dunne, Connecting Point: It’s a Saturday night in December, and Flavours of Malaysia in downtown Pittsfield is doing a brisk takeout business. Co-owner Sabrina Tan cooks up a storm in the kitchen, while her husband, Chin Lee, handles business at the front of the house.
The phone is ringing off the hook and orders are flying out the door. But for Chin and Sabrina, as well as their loyal customers, it’s a bittersweet evening.
Bittersweet because it’s their last night in business after 13 years.
Customer: We’ll still see you guys.
Chin Lee, Flavours of Malaysia: Thank you. Thank you.
Jennifer Muil, Customer: They have a wonderful restaurant with incredible food. But aside from that, the amazing things that they do for this community.
Kate Teutsch, Customer: They’re always feeding the homeless and helping out with the needy. And I don’t know where they find time to sleep because they’re always out in the community or here at the restaurant.
Jenn Smith, Customer: They poured their heart and soul into to really, like, offering something authentic and meaningful through food and in culture and also just humor.
Chin Lee: I feel like I feel like a beauty pageant.
Customer: Yeah, well, you are. You are!
Jenn Smith: That’s what brings people together,and that’s really what — the space will be, a little empty without them.
Jennifer Heck, Customer: It’s definitely going to have an impact on this community because they are so involved with the community. From the Elizabeth Freeman Center Walk a Mile in Her Shoes that Chin does every year.
Sen. Adam Hinds: I participate in a lot of community events and it seems like they’re at almost all of them, especially when it’s really important issues that matter to all of us. Domestic violence and violence against kids.
Janis Broderick, Elizabeth Freeman Center: Chin and Sabrina have raised thousands of dollars for Elizabeth Freeman Center. You can’t say enough about them, they’re just so fabulous. They just kind of embrace you and involve everyone around them and doing good work.
Tony Dunne: And that work includes making soup for those in need for places like the South Congregational Church and St. Stephen’s.
Mary Rentz, South Congregational Church: Just about every night there’s a meal site in this community. And to bring a pot this big, once or twice a month, to just one church and then to other churches, that’s amazing.
Daniel Moon, St. Stephen’s Kitchen: And one of the really cool things I can think about that they did, is they hired a couple people, you know, from within that they came here for meals. They didn’t need thanks. They never asked for anything in return. And it was just it was really neat to see.
Tony Dunne: Chin and Sabrina’s hospitality and philanthropy have made a huge impact in their community. And while both have called the Berkshires home for years, their story begins halfway across the globe.
Sabrina Tan, Flavours of Malaysia: I’m from Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia. Grew up, born and raised there. I went to a convent school. Being too independent and too wild, so they put me in a convent school to calm down.
Tony Dunne: After school, she worked for a time as a stewardess before entering into an arranged marriage back home.
Sabrina Tan: It’s not a good marriage being married to an older person, an abuser and all this. So I say, you know what? I don’t need men. I, I’m good.
In Asian country, once you got divorced from the husband or your husband left, it’s always your fault and you’ve been kind of ostracized then. So, that’s the reason why I came here, so that I can be myself.
Chin Lee: Ok, my story. My family is really, really poor. In order to go to college, I have to get a scholarship.
So, at the age of 15, the entire country — for boys, you know, they apply to this most prestigious college. It’s a high school. It’s called Royal Military College. Out of one hundred students all over the country, they pick two Indian, 10 Chinese. And I was one of the Chinese that got a scholarship.
So, after high school, I can go to UK, US, or Australia. So I pick US. So, they brought me to New York City in the 80s and I stay around here because, you know, land of opportunities.
Tony Dunne: After meeting in New York and then settling in the Berkshires, both worked a series of jobs before heeding the advice of friends who were floored by Sabrina’s cooking.
They opened Flavours in 2007 and Lenox before eventually relocating to Pittsfield in 2009. The restaurant was a small operation and a family affair.
Sabrina Tan: It’s just two of us running the show with maybe one or two wait staff part-time. Daughter help us even when she was like five. You started. She loves it.
For bringing up kids — I have three. We always teach them whatever you do, you have to put in 110 percent. You know, that’s that’s how you succeed. Everyone says America is paved with gold.
Chin Lee: No, it’s not.
Sabrina Tan: And I was, even when I went home, I says, “you know what? There won’t be any gold if you don’t work hard.”
Tony Dunne: Even though they enjoyed a loyal customer base, a rise in food costs and a decline in business due to the pandemic contributed to the difficult decision to close their doors this past December.
Sabrina Tan: It was tough. I mean, our customers that we said become friends and we got to know them personally.
Jennifer Heck: Their love for their friends. They don’t love you just like our friend. They love you like your family, always. So, it’s they’re really going to be missed.
Sabrina Tan: And I miss them. Yeah, I do miss them.
Chin Lee, Flavours of Malaysia: Yeah, I miss everybody.
Sabrina Tan: Yeah. And I do miss cooking, too.
Tony Dunne: And even though Flavours is now closed, Sabrina is still cooking for the community. S
he has been making food at home during the pandemic for the less fortunate. And she and Chin have been enjoying time with friends while they work on plans for the future.
Sabrina Tan: I would still be doing soups if I can. And now that I have time to join the board of Elizabeth Friedman Center and really get my hands on and helping those in need, I think that give me a brighter future to look for.
Chin Lee, Flavours of Malaysia: But I still need a new job. I need a real job. My daughter’s still in college!