Monty’s Noodles Secret Sauce

Words by Melissa Thompson

Alex and Jenny How

MONTMORENCY locals were shocked to learn that a much-loved noodle shop would close
after two decades.

Monty’s Noodles on Were Street was a regular haunt for locals.

Owners Jenny and Alex How decided to close the doors after two decades feeding and
nurturing their loyal customers – in more ways than just hot bowls of noodles.

The How’s expressed gratitude to their loyal customers and the community who had
supported them.

After announcing their last week of trading, the shop was flooded by people wanting to say
farewell. So many came in, that ingredients ran out and Jenny had to turn some customers

Regular customer Shane was one who flocked to the restaurant in its last week, arriving
Wednesday night, just as he did every week for his lemon chicken, special fried rice and dim

Shane had not seen the retirement announcement and was surprised by the line of people
outside the shop. Lucky for him, Jenny called him in on the final day of trading for one last
meal, this one on the house.

Another Monty’s Noodles fan is Shirley. Shirley and her husband Geoff, from Briar Hill, got
to know Jenny over the years. When 95-year-old Geoff passed away on Easter Saturday of
this year, Shirley asked for Jenny to be notified.

When she heard the news, Jenny said her “heart just dropped”. From that point on until the
store closed, every day Jenny delivered noodles to Shirley’s home for free, because “I just
wanted to cheer her up…and to spoil her”.

“People around me are not just customers,” Jenny said. “This is a community. The people
that you meet are a part of you. They reflect you.”

For Jenny and Alex, the quality of the food served was always important. Both are
Malaysian-born Chinese. They met and were married in Malaysia, then moved to Australia
in the early 1980s.

They have three children, but the rest of their family remains in Malaysia. Every April Alex
returns to participate in traditional festivals.

Jenny grew up in a family which ran a hawker-style stall, where her parents sold pork
noodles. Alex worked as an electrician, before moving to Australia.

Their first restaurant was in Leongatha, where they worked as staff, before taking over the
business in 1990. They lived humbly in a caravan in Springvale. Jenny explained that buying
a business gave them the flexibility to balance the workload so they could also look after
their children.

Jenny joked that the lifestyle allowed them to save their money since they “were always
working when everyone else was out having fun”.

After a time running a restaurant in Diamond Creek, in 2004 the couple saw an empty shop
on Were Street in Montmorency. It had previously been the Banhof German-style café.

The store was smoke-damaged from a fire in the neighbouring naturopathy clinic. The
How’s gutted and refit it, opening a new style of noodle shop, serving authentic Malaysian,
Thai and Chinese.

Jenny says she was surprised that people would call to compliment them on the food, and
she credits its quality to Alex’s strict and precise processes.

Customers would also use the store as a message service. “A wife would call, asking us to let
her husband know he needs to pick up milk, knowing he would be coming in”, Jenny
recalled. Or a son would call, wanting his father to pick him up on the way home from
collecting noodles. Jenny always wrote the messages in red letters on the docket for the
order, ensuring the message was passed on.

Jenny has watched customers’ love stories play out over time. “There was a love story from
FoodWorks. Jay would come in with Jacinta from the time they were teenagers working
part-time across the road. We saw them courting, then get married. They came in the other
day to say goodbye.”

Jenny said: “We have seen kids grow up in front of us”.

After their closing night, Monty’s Noodles posted on Facebook a picture of a table full of
gifts and cards, thank you notes and well wishes from the community.

Jenny contrasts this feeling of love and appreciation, with the feelings she had as a child
working in her parent’s pork noodle stall. As the eldest child, during the school holidays it
was Jenny’s job to wash the dishes, in a bucket on the floor, visible to customers.
“Girlfriends and their parents would walk past and I felt such embarrassment…I hated it”.

Years ago, on a visit to Australia before he passed away, Jenny’s father expressed his
surprise that she was so happy at Monty’s Noodles. Jenny said it’s because in Montmorency
“everybody knows everybody…[and] I learned to really like it”.

Now that they have retired, Jenny and Alex are spending six weeks on holiday in Europe.
The couple may have felt alone when they first came to this country, but when they get
home and walk down Were Street, they will be met with smiles, hugs and well wishes for
their retirement, from a community of which they are an integral part.