How do you start a family business in Indonesia? We spoke to the owner of a restaurant called Mamma Rosy, Daniel Vigone about his first experiences on running an Italian family restaurant in Jakarta.
We sat down with Daniel in his restaurant to discuss how he went from hate to appreciation for Indonesia and how his restaurant came to be.
Table of contents
Complicated feelings about Indonesia
How long have you been living in Indonesia and what did you do before?
I have been living in Indonesia for two years now but I have been coming here since I was 19 years old. So now, I have been coming here for almost 12 years.
I was working in Italy and came here with my family because my father has a textile business here. We are still producing some fine fabrics for the Italian market and for further export to other European countries.
My trips were always work-related.
What perception did you have of Indonesia before coming here?
I almost didn’t know anything! I knew that it was a tropical country with many islands, including Bali, and that you were crazy about football. I found out just how crazy when I got here.
What was your first experience with Indonesia?
Quite bad (laughs). I didn’t like it too much.
I am from the Northern part of Italy, where it is quite clean and there are not too many people. Compared to Jakarta the roads are totally empty. So the first time was hard. I felt there were too many people and everyone was staring at me because I was a foreigner.
It was quite a shocking experience. After 15 days I went to China to meet a friend because I felt I couldn’t take it anymore.
I came back because my father was based here. I started coming more often and really started to appreciate Indonesia and the local culture.
What made you decide to stay in Indonesia?
Well, I like Asia in general. It’s vibrant. Here, if you have an idea, you can apply it immediately. In Europe, you have to prepare so many documents and there’s so much bureaucracy. Yes, there’s bureaucracy here too when you start or grow your business but back in Italy you have to have permission for everything. Even to change the ceramic tiles in the bathroom. (smiles)
Indonesia is not at this level – at least not yet.
How did Mamma Rosy come to be?
The restaurant business has been in my family for three generations. My grandmother started the business in the 1920s in Italy and my mother followed. She wanted to be closer to me and to her family so we brought her to Indonesia. Now she works here and Mamma Rosy has now been open for seven months.
I want to follow the same business that my family has been in.
How did you get the idea to open this business?
I have wanted to open a restaurant in Jakarta for a long time. I love to eat and I spent so much of my time working in the family restaurant when I was younger.
When I had spent some time in Jakarta, I realized there were no family Italian restaurants in this city. It is very common in Italy with something like 90% of the restaurants being owned by the family who runs it.
Here, it is very different. Companies here just hire a chef from Italy who then tries to create a genuine atmosphere. It usually doesn’t turn out like that and it looks fake. And when the chef leaves – and they usually do – you can be sure that the food quality is not going to be as good.
Where do you see the restaurant market here evolving over the next few years?
The market is very complicated here. There are so many different restaurants opening and such a diversity of offers. But the quality is also very chaotic. So we are focusing on the quality and believe that it will pay off – and we can last longer in the marketplace.
Some restaurants are very good with marketing and communication. Maybe we are not so good in that, but word of mouth is in my opinion still the strongest. When you serve someone well and they tell others to come, it is the best advertisement you can get. No paid advertisement can compare with that.
Where do you get your ingredients for the restaurant?
(smiles) That is very complicated. You can ask chefs all over Jakarta the same question and the Italian chefs will start to cry. (laughs)
When you open a restaurant in Italy, the suppliers queue to ask you if you need anything. But here you really have to search and look for them. They usually have very low stocks and all the merchandise comes in by air due to complications in docks, which makes it more expensive. Sometimes I’ve even resorted to having friends bring in cheese when they come to visit and then I use that cheese in specials in the restaurant menu.
This is actually the biggest challenge facing the restaurant. The suppliers can be unprofessional and when we find a good one it is very helpful for the restaurant.
What would you tell foreign investors to look out for when investing in Indonesia?
I would advise them to get a very good consultant. The laws are very constrictive when it comes to foreigners doing business here. It’s quite complicated.
If I put myself in the place of a new investor that wants to invest in Indonesia and I do not have anyone here to help me – I would be lost.
Do you have any tips to people who want to open a restaurant business?
The most important quality of running a restaurant is perseverance. This is because you will have a lot of bad days. (smiles) You will face a lot of problems that even the most enthusiastic person will start losing some of the enthusiasm. You just have to keep focusing and not mind the hours and holidays that go by. It is our job to always be with our business.
If you had a million dollars of spare money to invest in Indonesia, where would you put it?
Maybe natural resources. You would have to have someone to guide you through…
At this point, our interviewee excuses himself and welcomes a person walking into the restaurant. After a chat in Italian with, who turns out to be ‘a good customer and a good friend’, they both agree that it would be a good idea to invest a million dollars into their own businesses. ‘I’m the only person I can really trust with a million dollars’, says the customer laughing. Daniel says bye to his friend and sits back down with a smile on his face.
…yes, I would invest it in my own business.
Last question for you. If you would have to choose any other industry the restaurant business – what would you choose?
That is a very hard question. I like the businesses that you have to be creative in and I would invest myself into something I am passionate about. I’ve had so many people I know go into a field because of the money and I do not want to do that.
I just follow my feelings when it comes to these choices.