Today, our interview is with a romantic. Roy K is the chef and owner of Bakkerij Voorneman, the only original dutch bakery in Jakarta, loved by customers because of its owner’s passion for detail, health-mindedness and personal approach.
The hotelier, turned movie star, turned baker tells us why he keeps his business simple and why more people should find their passion to do the same. We met up with him in his bakery.
What is your relationship with Indonesia?
I was born and graduated high school here but left the country in 1964. It was essentially wartime then.
I went to Holland and was educated at a hotel school there and in Austria for two years and then hotel management in London.
In 1978 I came back and have stayed here ever since.
What are you working on right now?
This bakery here. I did restaurants before but it is too much work so I started a bakery.
I had a big restaurant in Kelapa Gading until it was sold 2007. If you want to succeed, you have to work very hard with a restaurant. I used to work from 8 in the morning ‘til 1 o’clock at night, seven days a week. That is too much. If you don’t do it you will fail.
That is the difference between the local management style and the European type. You walk into a local restaurant – you never see the manager. This doesn’t allow the person who is really in charge to make good decisions about how the restaurant is run.
With the European style it is simple – the boss is there! He even works! And that really impressed people when they saw me working in the kitchen – the movie star working in his own place! But they have respect for you because of that.
Always being there also gives you the advantage of speaking to people if there is a problem. In my experience that will make them come back, and bring more people.
Ever think about leaving?
I have no plans to go back. Even though Holland is a beautiful country there is nothing that attracts me there. The economic system is very bad and possibilities for making a living with a business are not very good.
It is not possible to open a bakery like this in Holland. There are so many rules and regulations to follow.
Indonesia has so many opportunities to offer to people that have skills. Also you can transfer your skills to other people. I work in a kampung (ed. village, residential) area and I feel that everyone that lives around this area benefit from my presence. Some work here and learn skills.
You seem passionate about this?
Yes, I see this as a serious problem for Indonesia. People work but are not motivated to do so. Today they sell shoes, tomorrow underwear and the day after that, hamburgers. It is unmotivated employment with money as the only goal. Money is important but you also have to have pleasure in your work and you can only have this when you have knowledge about what you do.
It’s the same thing with me – I’ve always worked hard and sometimes that work hasn’t been enjoyable. At the age that I am (66) in I still work hard and long hours, but it is a pleasure.
I sell something that people buy and that makes people happy that you’ve made it. There are thousands of bread sellers here but I started offering something that wasn’t here. Maybe this sounds strange because bread is still bread but my customers come back because of the quality of my bread.
Over 90 per cent of my customers are expats from all over the world. They come long distances to get here and I find that amazing. There are so many people going around on bikes yelling ‘Roti! Roti! Roti!’ (ed. ‘bread’) – they are not making bread, they are making money. I admit that they might make more money than I do but my heart says that at least with my products people stay healthy. That’s the main point.
‘Money is important but you also have to have pleasure in your work’
Have you thought about opening your own store?
I don’t know. Indonesian people are trend-minded people and you might have people coming for a month or a week and… then they’re gone.
At this stage I don’t need stores. I have a delivery system and a website people can order from.
How do you find local staff?
Many people want to learn in Indonesia. The question is how to motivate them and how to get them enthusiastic with learning. My staff here doesn’t have a bakery education – they are just very eager to learn.
I have explained to them that they are getting these skills for free while many have to pay for them. If they do not use the knowledge that they have been given, I would kick them out. I cannot use people who do the bare minimum, it doesn’t work like that. If people are just motivated by money and they don’t give a thing about the work, the skill is not there.
I do not expect my staff to spend their entire lives here in this bakery, but here they can grow and specialize.
How has your bakery business evolved over the years?
It’s growing. I am using more modern tools for communicating than bakeries usually do – like Facebook – and my clients have a very international background. It is good to see people from around the world taking interest in what I do.
Where do you see Voorneman bakery in the next five years?
I would want to expand, but do it slowly. I think Bogor will be the first, Bandung and Bali, maybe.