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AHEAD OF HER TIME

October 01, 2015

To date, Jakarta’s 1,000-person- strong The Union Group spans eight concepts and 11 outlets with plans for more. epicure catches up with the Group’s marketing and PR director Jennifer Karjadi for an insight into the F&B giant’s success story and the sprawling capital’s changing face. It is 4pm Jakarta time, and we’ve just connected to Karjadi via phone. Although currently busy with new and ongoing projects including a research trip, the restaurateur sounds relaxed and energetic. She and three other partners helm The Union Group: Winfred Hutabarat leads the project development team, working closely with their chefs and sommeliers to create menus; managing director Donny Basuki heads operations; and Michael Wijono is their go-to expert on music, outlet design and the bars beverage programmes. Karjadi’s journey with Wijono began around 2000, when they started bar and wine concept Manna Lounge. However Karjadi’s father disapproved and she had to pull out. The market, too, was not yet ready. She recounts: “People used to put ice cubes into their wine [glasses]; they didn’t know how to enjoy [wine] and they thought it was very expensive. We wanted to change this perception.” Six years later, Wijono again approached her and Cork&Screw, a similar concept, was born. It was lapped up by the more cosmopolitan city that Jakarta had become, endowed with a savvier and wealthier middle market. The Group’s influence has been massive on Jakarta’s F&B industry. In 2008, the retro-chic Loewy with an al fresco terrace was introduced. Initially, few locals would consider dining outside, but that soon changed. Karjadi attributes this shift partly to the bar and restaurant’s central location where many expatriates work and dine: “When [Indonesians] see others doing something comfortably, they don’t mind [doing the same too].” With Benedict, their all-day breakfast concept that opened early this year, she is also steadily nurturing the city’s demand for homemade products such as pickles and jams, which can be purchased in-house. Karjadi also notes the importance of ambience, design and personalised service to Jakartans: “They will use a restaurant to conduct business meetings. It is their office space, their second home… some visit up to five, even seven times a week.” Karjadi and her team of guest relation officers focus their efforts on getting to know each customer and their preferences,connecting frequently (via emails, physical invites, social media and text messages) and organising monthly events to keep regulars excited. This continual engagement ensures The Union Group’s success despite the mushrooming of many other similar concepts that have taken a leaf out of their book. Where others have fallen short, The Union Group has succeeded. Solid groundwork adds a confident edge to the Group’s knack for revitalising spaces – even those that have previously harboured many failed establishments: “[Our predecessors] didn’t really think about what concept would suit the space, and they lacked good marketing,” Karjadi offers, citing the first Cork&Screw that opened in the Kuningan area, then mostly home to offices and largely devoid of F&B. To stay abreast of the latest and greatest in F&B, Karjadi and her fellow directors travel extensively, especially to the ever-vibrant New York and Los Angeles. The homey Caffè Milano, which opened its doors in March, was modelled after Milan’s old-school trattorias. In the works for 2016 is a City of Angels-inspired grill and smokehouse that will produce its own cold cuts,sausages and smoked meats – a rare breed in Jakarta. How about an overseas expansion? “We would love to open in Singapore,” Karjadi enthuses. “We’re just looking for the perfect space to do that right now.”

Reproduce with permission by Epicure magazine