Indonesia Expat
Business Profile Business/Property

Elsie Mullers, Director of Marketing, Product Development, and International Business Development at PT Eatertainment Indonesia

Elsie Mullers

This issue’s Business Profile, we meet an entrepreneurial woman, Elsie Mullers, who is the Director of Marketing, Product Development and International Business Development at PT Eatertainment Indonesia.

Elsie, where are you originally from and how long have you been living in Indonesia?

Actually I’m from Indonesia, sort of. I was born and raised in Jakarta, my mother is Chinese Indonesian and my father is Dutch Indonesian. However, if we want to talk about my passport, I hold an American one. I left Jakarta when I was 17 to study and work in the US, China, and Switzerland and came back at the end of 2010.

You have an extensive and varied background, having worked in banking, business development, healthcare and aesthetics, broadcasting and the restaurant industry. Which of these industries do you feel most connected to?
This is a two-sided answer. I love food, I love to cook, and I like the entertainment of the restaurant industry quite particularly because I grew up with it and it’s a fun business to be in. However, what I really enjoy is business development, because I really enjoy creating and managing partnerships, setting things up, and watching the company I work for grow. It suits my personality more, and I particularly enjoy the strategy aspect of growing a business, especially if it involves working with a team.

Currently, you look after marketing and product development at PT Eatertainment Indonesia, which has been in operation since 1979. You operate the well-known Amigos Cantina, Papa Ron’s Pizza and Spanky’s Ribs & Martinis. I’ve been a customer of Amigos since I was just a child! Please tell us about this institution’s history.

My father started the company in 1979. Amigos used to be called the Green Pub, and it was one of the first of its kind in Jakarta. He tells me stories about how the lines used to go out the door even on a weekday. In the 80s there was a rule that companies had to have an Indonesian name so he changed it to Amigos. When he went to register it, they told him Amigos was not an Indonesian name. My brilliant father told them it was a singkatan or an abbreviation for Ajang, Makan, Minum, Gosip (a place to eat, drink, and gossip)! The first recipes were given to him by the wife of the then-Mexican Ambassador and all her friends, and they cooked all the recipes at his friend’s house one evening. Over the years the recipes have evolved with different customers who give us their recipes.

This is just Amigos. My father actually has opened over 100 restaurants in Indonesia. His other big businesses were that he brought in the Pizza Hut and Dairy Queen franchises (and started the motorcycle delivery trend) to Indonesia as well as opened the Ponderosa Steak House, which stayed open for many years and served Presidents and Ambassadors!

What were the reasons behind the establishment of Papa Ron’s Pizza [in the year 2000]? Were there many competitors at this time?

It’s funny, because when my father sold Pizza Hut, he had said he didn’t want to get into the Pizza business anymore. However, around that time a lot of people were asking him to create pizzas tailored to Asian tastes, which he felt wasn’t being offered in the marketplace. Some people ask about the name, and from where it was inspired. Simple answer: my father’s name is Ron!

How are your three restaurants doing and is there one that requires more focus than the others?

They’re doing well. Spanky’s, being the newest of the bunch requires a lot of attention because there is a lot of competition and as such, very little room for error. Guests are still willing to forgive a few mistakes here and there, which is very nice, because they realize that Indonesia is still working on creating western standards of service. However, I’m a Virgo and a bit of a perfectionist, so until we build a great reputation, I am constantly working with the team on how to improve things.

There is so much competition in Indonesia now, with world-class eateries available all over Jakarta, Bali and more. How do you stay on top of your competition?

It’s definitely not easy. Indonesian and expat habits are different in Indonesia than they are in other parts of the world. There are so many aspects of a restaurant that bring a guest in and keep them coming back, and ensuring friendly and personal service is one of them. Also, you need to know when to reinvent yourself and change the mindset, which tends to be a little more difficult for the older restaurants simply because more people have to be persuaded to try new things.

What are the low and high seasons for restaurateurs in Jakarta? What do you do to tackle the lull periods?

Summer and the beginning of the year are always quiet. High season varies but August and December, when people come back and also for all the end-of-year/Christmas parties, tends to be quite good. During lull season, it’s important to ensure you approach the regular customers and partners, and try to find events to work on so that even though the restaurant may be slower, the business is not.

You’re a busy lady. What do your day-to-day work activities at PT Eatertainment consist of?

First off, I eat my way through vacations so that when I come back, I have inspiration for the restaurants. While that sounds fun, it isn’t really because it also means I have to spend a lot of time at the gym.

But on a more serious note, besides the product development days where I have to eat like a maniac, I divide my time between my roles. I lead the marketing team and that includes thinking of new promotions, managing the look and feel of our branding material, meeting partners, competition research and lots of networking for brand exposure. In operations, I go to the restaurants and literally watch the service and work with the managers and chefs to make sure our teams in the restaurant are up to par. That includes speaking with guests and listening to complaints!

What other projects are you currently involved with?

Aside from PT Eatertainment I am also involved in a few other projects, including my newest investment, Indozu – a startup whose focus is to bring environmental conservation awareness to Indonesia in a very easy-to-digest manner. Indonesia is the second most bio-diverse country in the world, yet it has the highest number of endangered species, and it is a really tragic situation. What we have in this country is something very special but it starts with teaching people not to throw their litter in the streets and respect animals. Indozu intends to combine education while trying to instil a sense of national pride in our flora and fauna. These two things – education and the environment – are two subjects I’m very passionate about. We plan on launching later this year!

Do you have any advice for aspiring restaurateurs in Indonesia?

Don’t do it! No seriously, it’s a lot a lot a lot of work and it’s stressful and time consuming. The fun is fun, but the competition is tough and finding good people to work for you is even more difficult. Food regulations and importation can affect your business, real estate and food prices are constantly rising, customer behaviour can be fickle, especially when traffic is bad, and you constantly have to micromanage your staff, even if you don’t plan on it. You cannot just say you want to open a restaurant and hire a bunch of people to do it – it is difficult to find people who care about it as much as you do.

And finally Elsie, what do you do to unwind from a busy work life in Jakarta? How do you find your balance?

I have a mantra when it comes to this: I work hard, relax hard. I am so blessed to have really great friends and a family who are great at helping me de-stress, even if it is just a conversation over a bottle of wine or margaritas. Besides that I have several hobbies that I love to do when I’m at home – knitting (although in this weather that’s really difficult to be inspired), painting, designing clothes, and believe it or not cooking and baking! I love to entertain guests at my home. My greatest passion however, is travelling. Doesn’t matter where, as long as I’m experiencing something new. Leaving this chaotic environment helps to push that ‘reset button’ in me and I come back refreshed and inspired!

Thank you! To get in touch with Elsie, please email [email protected].

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