Restaurants and bars in Jakarta are like babies, a new one seems to pop up every day. It’s hard to have staying power in a city where customers are demanding new, innovative experiences from each and every place that slaps a neon sign in a window and turns on the open sign over the front door.
But what really works? Khusyi, who got his start in the food and beverage industry more than 10 years ago washing dishes, talks about his newest baby, Bureau, a gastro pub in Pondok Indah, what it’s like to work seven days a week, and why not everybody should open a restaurant.
What other businesses were you involved with before you opened Bureau?
I opened Birdcage on Jalan Wijaya in 2008. I also was involved with the opening and creating the concept for Bibliotheque at Sampoerna Strategic Square. I was the general manager back in 2009.
The restaurant business is cutthroat. Why not just sell something simple, like insurance or wicker chairs?
I’ve been doing this for more than 10 years. I studied hotels and hospitality in Switzerland. I focus on the operational, front and back of the house, while my partner who went to the same school as I did studied the management and accounting aspect. So we always have the passion to open up our own establishment.
You own a restaurant, but did you ever spend any time really making your bones?
I’ve been everything from a dishwasher to a waiter to a housekeeper. I’ve done almost everything there is to do in a restaurant or hotel. I started at the bottom. Like I said before, there are people who are passionate, and there are some who have money and just want to open up a restaurant.
I know in my mind when something is out of place, sometimes members of the staff just shake their heads and say, “How did we miss that?” I know if the table is not right or something is missing in the kitchen as soon as I walk in. It’s all about being passionate about what you do, that’s what gives you the ability to sense these things.
What do you think about the food and beverage business in Jakarta?
The F&B business in Jakarta is growing rapidly everywhere. The middle class is growing and people have money to spend on good food and lifestyle.
There are people who open up a restaurant and understand this business in and out, and others just want open up a restaurant because they have friends and money.
If you want to get into this business you have to be serious and know what you are doing, otherwise it’s a gamble — you open up for six months and nothing happens. You need to have the passion to open up a restaurant.
Do you think there will always be a market for new concept restaurants here in the city?
In this kind of business, there is always a market for everyone in Jakarta — it’s unbelievable. One day I was at Bibliotheque, it was packed, and then I went to another place it was packed as well. You realize that one place cannot accommodate all the people in Jakarta, so there is always a market.
What’s your favorite food?
I love my steak, because I guess it’s the way I cook it — to perfection. If its cooked medium well, it has to be medium well; the meat should still be juicy.
Do you come up with your own recipes?
For some of the food, I came up with my own recipes; the signature cocktails are from my experiments. Again, it all depends on the concept. With Bureau, for instance, I focus on international food, combining French and Spanish tapas, but the ingredients themselves are mostly French.
Do you follow a certain philosophy in this business?
I just want people to experience good food. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. I don’t want to cheat my customers. We serve the best quality at a decent price.
So, do you often cook for your girlfriend?
I usually just bring her to my restaurant [laughs]. I don’t have a day off, so I come here to make my own cocktails and food.
Do you prefer cooking in the back or running the restaurant up front?
I think both elements are important. People in the front are just as important as people in the back. When it gets busy, I can help out in the kitchen or in the front talking to customers.
What qualities do you expect from your employees?
In the back, we have excellent products and we expect that the people in the front know the details of the products and ingredients we intend to deliver to the customer.
I expect that when I go to a fine-dining establishment, the server should be able to explain to me what’s in the food. Sadly, in my experience at some of the more popular restaurants in the city, that’s not the case.
I try my best to train my staff, because I want them to know and understand how the product is made, what’s in it and be able to describe the taste.
Has there been any changes in the city since you’ve come back from college?
When I came back from Switzerland, five-star hotels were still ruling the fine-dining industry. Independent restaurants are booming now and we have more choice today compared to before.
What do you and don’t you like about Jakarta?
I don’t like it when it rains in Jakarta because it’s bad for business; reservations get canceled and people just stay in. However, the traffic in Pondok Indah can be beneficial because those who work in this area stay out after office hours and hang around to avoid traffic.
Khusyi was talking to Iwan Putuhena
Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe
Picture by Iwan Putuhena