Women of Substance: Chow Sow Lei


Chow Sow Lei

Chow Sow Lei is a Penang girl who lived near Kek Seng Cafe at Penang Road which was established by Tung Seng Chong and Quah Beh Keat in 1906. As a little girl, Sow Lei had been close friends with the Kek Seng kids, and ended up marrying into the family. 

Being a part of the Kek Seng family, it was natural for her to be involved in the business, committed to learning about the food preparation process, and managing the stall holders. As years passed, Sow Lei had inherited the management of the cafe, making her one of the rare lady bosses in the food industry in Penang, which is normally dominated by men.

Kek Seng Cafe is just 2 doors away from my father’s Siow Seong Studio. Sow Lei and the Kek Seng kids used to play at the back lane of the shops and would occasionally come into my father’s studio. The bond between Sow Lei and my parents had grown stronger over the years. My parents had witnessed Sow Lei growing up. My mother had continued the studio business even after my father’s passing, and she would always receive kind assistance from Sow Lei. She would always offer a ride home to my mother whenever she could. Sow Lei was also the first person to try to reach my mother and send her to the hospital on that tragic day when my mother had a sudden stroke and failed to report for work. Unfortunately, my mother passed away a few days later. I am truly indebted to her kindness and help. Even till now, we remain lifelong friends.

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