These days you can find a lot of coffee shops and brunch places in North Jakarta, particularly in Pluit, Muara Karang, and PIK, but this wasn’t always the case. Back in early 2016, when Ottoman’s Coffee Brewers first started, it was one of the pioneers in the neighborhood. Fast forward to two years later, they are gearing up for a second and third outlet, both in South Jakarta. We sat down with Harison, Catherine, and Vanesha—three of Ottoman’s brain and brawn—at its first home in Pluit to talk more about behind-the-scene stories of running an F&B business in North Jakarta and how it has shaped them to brave the South.
Let’s begin with the most important question: Why coffee?
Harison (H): Hmm. I fell in love with coffee when I was in Australia, and was surprised to see that when I came back to Jakarta, the specialty coffee scene was growing quite rapidly. There are strong coffee communities, barista championships. The coffee trend was starting to go up in… 2014-2015? And still is continuing until today.
Vanesha (V): For me, coffee is a universal language, I guess.
But what made you guys decide to open your own place instead of staying as a coffee and food enthusiast?
H: I think we saw good opportunities. We were up for doing something together in the F&B business. Coffee, plus food, naturally came into mind. Catherine and her family has a strong business background in food, while Vanesha & I grew up in a very critical family when it comes to what we eat. So Ottoman’s was born right here in February 2016.
Catherine (C): Yes, at that time there weren’t a lot of cafés serving brunch, which we wanted to offer. Not many people knew about smoothies bowls and no one ate avo on toast yet. But 2018 is definitely a different story.
What was the reasoning behind picking Pluit as the location of your first establishment?
H: Because we all live here! We all live in Pluit.
C: Thus, we know the community already.
H: Besides that, around the time we opened in 2016, I can’t recall any brunch place available in our vicinity. I believe we’re one of the pioneers in Pluit and Muara Karang in this department. Most people around here still eat kwetiaw all the time.
V: But don’t get us wrong, we love kwetiaw too!
These past two years must have been filled with lots of ups and downs. What has been the biggest challenge in running Ottoman’s so far?
H: The biggest challenge for me is trying to educate people of the ingredients we’re using. We can’t avoid the reality that some people expect to get a big portion with cheap price. In this neighborhood, we can get food for around IDR 30-40K or Indomie for IDR 20K and get super full. Our food, considering the area, is not cheap. The same goes for coffee. They expect to spend IDR 10-15K for a cup of coffee, while here the small 5oz cup costs around IDR 40K. That amount can be a big cup somewhere else. Despite that, the quality that we serve and the amount of energy that we put to perfect our skills don’t come cheap. We’re trying to grab the niche market willing to pay for quality, while at the same time educate those who don’t want to spend more on quality food. We’re proud that more people are slowly starting to appreciate what we offer.
How about in maintaining the quality food? Do you find it challenging?
V: I think every café or restaurant faces the same issue. Finding good raw ingredients that are available consistently all year long is not easy. Do you lose it, or not? Is it a crucial element, or can it be substituted into something else?
H: Right. Ottoman’s is trying to use more local products. That’s what we’re hoping to do in the next year or so.
C: But when it comes to maintaining food quality and handling customers’ complaints, we’re quite hands-on. The occasional human errors are unavoidable; overcooked eggs, bits of plastic, hair on the plate. We accept both compliments and critiques with an open mind.
Who do you look up to in the F&B business and what have you learned from them?
H: We really love Union group. *exclamations of agreement from everyone* UNION is our benchmark. From branding, service, product, food, quality control—it’s amazing. Whichever Union establishment you visit, you get a good delivery. As for coffee, we look up to Common Grounds.
C: Yes, Union is very meticulous about everything.
Ottoman’s is going to open a second outlet in Mega Kuningan, and a third one is Cilandak Town Square (Citos) soon. What made you decide that it’s time to branch out?
H: Of course we can get more opportunities by reaching out to a bigger market. And we believe we have the age to go to South Jakarta. It’s going to be good for Ottoman’s as a brand. Show that people of the North can do something too. We sweat blood to build Ottoman’s, and to get where we want to be, we need more attention, attraction, recognition, and exposure. In addition to that, here’s what we have realized: We have the same quality as those in the South. I’m very confident of that.
Any specific reason for choosing Mega Kuningan and Citos?
H: Most café is serving in the radius of 5 kilometres. We feel that within that radius in Mega Kuningan and Citos, there is a market that has not been served properly. Mega Kuningan has a limited brunch, café, and coffee place options. Meanwhile, Citos has a big audience as well.
What do you think is going to be the biggest difference between North & South Jakarta?
H: The people. I’m not saying that people of the North don’t have buying power. But the culture of Western food is a lot stronger in the South. We feel it’s probably easier for us to penetrate the market and for the customers to appreciate what we bring to the table. There’s always this talk between us cafe owners. If you can handle the North, then you can survive in the South.
C: Perhaps it’s because of the preconceived image. Find noodles and kwetiaw in the North, but search for Western, French, or Italian food in the South or Central.
If you could turn back time, would you start from the South?
H: Honestly? We would always start from the North because we live here. If we had started in the South, we probably wouldn’t have had the energy to go back and forth. Now we do. We have a goal and we know what we have to do. It makes sense to go South. Not to mention, we’ve learned a lot of things here. We probably would have been judged quite harshly if we directly started in the South. But we’re now ready, I think.
What is the most important learning you get from running the first outlet in Pluit, that you will immediately use in your two South Jakarta outposts?
H: The people of North Jakarta are known for their highly critical taste of food. I think that’s one of our big strengths. Whenever we go to the South, sure the place looks cool, but more often than not, the food is not on the same par with what we can do.
V: We hit the standard of the North. It’s good to bring that standard everywhere. A lot of cafés in the South serve only nasi goreng and the likes. We don’t want to be that kind of place.
Do you think Jakarta has enough coffee shop?
H: We have too much! People need to slow down.
C: Yes, it’s definitely proliferating! But the truth is, it’s exciting to acknowledge that people (millennials) want to know more about coffee—from crop to cup—and we are always glad to educate them about it.
Some of the biggest specialty coffee shops overseas survive because they rely on selling beans. Is this your direction too?
H: It has always been in our radar to do roastery. It’s just… As we’ve said before, the growth of coffee shops is too rapid. The balance of demand and supply both are growing, but mostly the supply grows more. Here’s what happens. We have customers. Say they come regularly for 6 months. Suddenly, they say “Let’s make our own coffee shop!” They bring a chunk of the market to their place. This process happens again and again. The coffee scene is growing, but then how far can it go? The same thing happens with roasters. Most coffee shops would eventually think, “It’s cheaper to have our own roastery.” It’s not sustainable if everyone keeps doing the same thing.
C: There are too many micro-roasteries
H: Far too many. Our vision is to have 3, 4, or 5 coffee shops, then we can start talking about our own roastery to support those 5 places. Once we do that, the roastery can survive on its own without relying on others.
Harison, does joining (and winning) championships help you personally?
H: Oh, yes of course. I can’t stress that enough. Joining competitions is not just about winning. By joining competitions, we enlarge our community. We enlarge our library of coffee knowledge. It’s good for branding as well. When you have your barista or owner joining a competition, it quickly sends a signal to customers that you are serious about your products. People become aware that Ottoman’s is owned and run by a team who is serious about coffee.
In terms of professional development, a competition is the fastest way to learn. It sets the standard of what you gotta do as a barista, including how to use the machine, how to prepare the coffee, how to dress up, how to smile, how to greet customers. At the end of the day, the judges are actually the customers and how you can make them feel comfortable matters. It’s not just me. I’ve got one of our baristas competing in a latte art competition. He worked really hard and has grown so much as a barista and a person. For instance, previously he didn’t dress well, but after joining the competition, he realized that it is important. He also smiles more these days.
How about the business?
H: Winning is definitely a plus. We have received a lot of attention because I won, and customers appreciate our coffee more.
C: Harison is the frontman of Ottoman’s. People come here and ask “Is Harison here?” Some actually are willing to come and wait for him to make their coffee.
How far do you think Ottoman’s can go? What’s the big dream?
H: Very far. As far as we can go. Our vision is to open outside of Jakarta as well. We want to find a local partner that we can rely on. But I guess for now Jakarta is the focus. Once we have covered the main markets, we might consider going out of Jakarta. And after that, we’ll see.
C: For the next 5 years, we’re kinda stuck to one another.
H: Or maybe for the rest of our lives. *laughs*
Any advice for anyone who wants to open their own coffee shop?
H: Do your research. Do your finance well. It’s a really, really tough business to be in.
C: Commit! Anyone who only wants to do this to follow the trend should think twice.
V: I think we ourselves kinda underestimated how hard it’s going to be.
H: But we’ve grown and persisted. We want to make this happen. It’s a marathon. Café is a long term business. See successful brands like Union or Starbucks, they have been doing this for a long time. If you keep on going and improving, it will work. So yes, it’s not easy. Think about it. Really prepare yourself. I’ve heard someone saying “Owning a café is like having a cancer child. Quality of food is not always spot on, prone to human errors. Every day has its ups and down. You gotta take care of them, talk to them, every single day.” I couldn’t agree more. Owning a café is cancerous, but in a good way.
V: Yes, you also have to be possessive!
C: Don’t forget to build connection to your staffs. It’s not just an employer and employee relationship. We’re dealing with humans after all; bonding is important.