Tucked in a narrow alley in the creative hub of Central Park, Chippendale, in Sydney’s inner west is a vibrant new dessert bar that is drawing crowds from across the city. People are queuing through the door to sample the wares and when they leave they can’t wait to get on social media to tell their friends all about the experience.
KOI Dessert Bar is crafting mouthwatering masterpieces with a South-East Asian flourish in a setting that caters to the impassioned foodie as much to the curious passerby. It’s a business model that shows great promise for growth, with a production kitchen recently opened in Ryde and a popular pop-up venture in Melbourne attracting new fans.
The owner-operators are the Poernomo brothers Ronald, Reynold and Arnold. You may remember Reynold from his stint on MasterChef Australia. Kochie’s Business Builders spoke to Ronald about what it takes to succeed in dining.
“Following your passion is not always an easy thing,” he says. “People say follow your dreams, but you still have the day-to-day – chasing invoices, managing staff – you still have to make money.” Since KOI Dessert Bar opened its doors 2016, Ronald has been dealing with the “day-to-day”, learning valuable lessons along the way. He highlights three areas where other small businesses could benefit from the KOI experience.
Find Your Niche
When the Poernomo boys decided to start their own business, they knew they needed to research the market with an eye to capitalising on their strengths. Thankfully, they come from impressive stock. Their grandparents and parents all devoted their lives to restaurants and catering in Indonesia. Reynold is renowned for his ability to craft sensational desserts, Arnold is an award-winning chef who excels in savoury dishes and Ronald is a whizz with cocktails.
“There wasn’t a place for restaurant-quality desserts,” he says. “So we thought let’s offer high-end desserts that are beautiful, elegant and intriguing.”
It was an inspired choice that set them apart in a notoriously fickle market. “We knew it was going to be busy,” he says, “because there isn’t a place like KOI anywhere else in Sydney. But the response was overwhelming. We realised this is what we are good at. No one can do it as well. This is what keeps us going.”
Define Your Roles
Beyond the usual bricks-and-mortar challenges of setting up a restaurant – finding a location, issues of compliance, the Poernomos had to learn how to work together effectively. “Everyone thought they were the boss,” says Ronald with a laugh. All that talent and pressure put them at odds with one another right at the moment when they needed harmony and focus. “We were doing 80 hours a week to meet demand. Lack of staff was a real challenge.”
What was the solution? “We worked out what we were good at individually,” he says. The three brothers learned how to operate more efficiently with less staff by maximising their own performance. Since then they have steadily built up their numbers to a team of 70. “Now it works very well,” Ronald adds.
Set Yourself Up For Financial Success
His strongest piece of advice is to ensure you have a financial system in place from the outset that will enable your business to grow. “We started doing timesheets and payroll with pen and paper,” he recalls. This was both slow and inaccurate. The brothers soon opted for a cloud-based accounting system, QuickBooks Online, which allows them to manage their day to day finances across each of their businesses. “It’s great for monitoring the business in real time while on the go,” he says. “So long as I have my laptop, I can work anywhere. I can check on payroll or expenses at a glance.”
Having access to a diverse array of best-in-breed business apps enabled Ronald to customise a solution unique to KOI’s needs. “It’s allowed us to streamline our transactions from multiple businesses into one platform, which saves us a lot of time.”
So if you’re thinking of taking the plunge and starting your own restaurant or café, be sure to find your niche, define your roles and set yourself up for financial success from the outset. It’s a recipe that can’t be beat – just ask the Poernomo brothers.