Katie Truman talks to Juan Pierre Anthony, owner-creator of MyWarung, about their winning recipe of beloved Indonesian warungs, rustic hip interiors and a snappy menu. Oh, and did we mention the steaks?
Juan Pierre, tell us about your background and the Bali connection?
I’m Indonesian, with Balinese and Ambonese roots, born and raised in Jakarta. After moving to Singapore to further my studies, I worked in a five-star hotel chain until 2004. Currently I’m based in Dubai, UAE, where I’ve had work commitments with an international airline for the past 14 years, but my family is based in Bali – it’s where I call “home.”
What’s MyWarung’s main concept and what inspired you to make it happen?
Bali’s got a diverse dining scene, from budget to upmarket, where you can spend a small fortune on a good steak. Friends holidaying in Bali used to ask me for recommendations for restaurants with good food, nice ambience, and most importantly, cheap; back then, I told them straight, that type of restaurant is pretty hard to find. So, I thought, why can’t we create something classy but good value, combined with a distinctive warung ambiance, where everyone knows one another, and you can enjoy simple, delicious food. IMO, the trend nowadays has shifted from ostentatiousness to more back-to-basics. During my youth in Indonesia, I frequently ate at local warungs and it’s something I miss bigtime when I moved abroad.
Was it difficult putting the MyWarung vision into reality?
Like any other start-up, there were challenges, but luckily, I’ve been supported 100 percent from day one by my team and French-Canadian chef Hugo Coudurier. I met Hugo by chance on a surf session; we really hit it off and soon after, while riding my scooter around Canggu, I stumbled upon a ruko (shophouse) up for rent in an excellent location in Berawa. I contacted a group of close friends who loved the idea of me opening a warung-style, laid-back eatery with a contemporary twist – and they backed me up with their expertise. MyWarung was essentially born from a group of people who share a similar passion.
MyWarung’s first restaurant, opened in Canggu (Berawa) February 2017; why Canggu and what’s followed?
A while back, there were still few eateries in Canggu, although the demand for good food was there. Canggu wasn’t as popular as Seminyak and still virtually unknown; I often got asked, “Canggu? Where’s that?” Only surfers knew about Canggu, but my gut feeling was, this neighbourhood is going to boom – pronto. After we located suitable sites, MyWarung Echo Beach (Canggu) opened shortly after Berawa Canggu, Batu Belig followed in August 2017 and MyWarung Ubud opened September 2017, following customer demands for an Ubud branch.
Along with Chef Hugo, do you get involved in the menu creations and what’s on the menu these days?
The MyWarung team regularly gauge customers about what they’d like on the menu. Our popular Nasi Ayam and Nasi Babi Sambal Matah dishes materialised from demands for more Balinese specialties. Additionally, I contribute ideas on latest culinary trends I come across on my travels; the team and Chef Hugo then discuss these possibilities, along with the availability of freshest local produce for upcoming menus. We’ve recently decluttered the original menu for a more simplified, all-day menu, making dish selections easier and helping us sell the most popular items – plus we’ve also adjusted MyWarung’s opening times.
How do MyWarung Bali branches differ?
In terms of menus, MyWarung adapts to the locality and clientele. For example, in Ubud, we have Crispy Pork Belly and Spaghetti dishes on the menu, as there’s different demographics involved than say, Echo Beach, while we’ve just launched a vegan and healthy dishes menu exclusively for MyWarung Berawa Canggu. Within all MyWarung branches, decor is similar: less is more and we want that simplicity to stick. We are a warung, after all!
You’re rapidly building up quite the MyWarung empire: was this the original game plan, or just going with the flow? What’s planned next?
We’ve gone with the flow. MyWarung Pasar Petitenget has just opened this February and My Warung Jakarta, in Java, is in the pipeline. We decided to launch in Jakarta after good friends – who share our same visions – offered to join forces. Currently, we feel that Indonesia still has huge potential for MyWarung growth. Our goal is to give back to the community: we support local talents (like young Balinese trainees at MyWarung branches), small vendors and home enterprises for a better future. And to do all that, for now, we prefer to focus on Indonesia.
Will MyWarung Jakarta follow the same rustic trademark, or translate into Jakarta’s cooler, urban dining scene?
Jakarta is definitely a different ball-game: currently, we’re still finalizing details to implement at MyWarung Jakarta and working closely with the interior designer onsite. But rest assured, the warung vibe will still be there. MyWarung Jakarta will look and feel like a Parisian urban eatery, albeit with an Indonesian warung twist.
From Canggu’s rice fields to Jakarta’s city buzz, MyWarung is a lip-smacking success; what’s the secret?
Simplicity and good value – always goes a long way.
Finally, your all-time favourite MyWarung dishes?
L’Entrecote Australian rib eye steak and Nasi Babi Sambal Matah. Give them a try, you gotta agree with me!