My Jakarta: Sonia Eryka, Teen Cafe Owner
Kevin Sanly Putera
Some kids are lucky enough to grow up with mothers who can cook tasty dinners, but most would never think to make a business out of it. Sonia Eryka, however, is not like most kids.
As a young girl, Sonia dreamed of running a cafe, and with support from her parents she opened Ninotchka in West Jakarta. The coffee shop and diner is managed by teenagers, but her mother does most of the cooking.
Sonia, 19, tells My Jakarta about an awkward mistake on opening day, how she plans to expand the cafe and what it’s like to run a business with her family.
Why did you pick the name ‘Ninotchka,’ and what does it mean?
‘Ninotchka’ is the title of a late 1930s romantic-comedy [film], but the word itself is Russian for ‘little girl.’ I just think the word is spot on for me. It’s also quite catchy as a name.
How did you start Ninotchka?
I’ve always dreamed of running my own cafe. When I graduated from high school, I told my parents about it and they seemed interested, so we discussed the details. And now here’s Ninotchka, established through our decision as a family.
Your mom does all the cooking, without any other chefs or professional help?
Yes. On our very first day, we had no employees; it was just me, my brother and my mom. My mom was the cook, my brother was a waiter and I worked as a waiter and a cashier. We never thought we’d have so many customers right away, and there was an awkward moment when we didn’t know what to do because we hadn’t made printed menus yet. Diners asked a lot of questions and we had to explain everything verbally [laughs]. It really tested our nerves, that first day.
I also do some of the cooking, but not as much as my mom. And even with seven employees now, we still won’t let our employees do that [cook]. They’re all working as cashiers and waiters. We have strict quality control on the food. For the beverages, we hired a barista.
How do you think Ninotchka differs from other cafes?
Teenagers handle the management. My younger brother even worked as a manager. I believe some cafes marketed to teenagers have trouble developing because they lack ideas from teenagers.
We also don’t sell beer, and we have what I would call ‘fair business’ hours starting at noon because young people should study or do something productive in the morning. We’re open from 2 p.m. until 10 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday, and until midnight on Friday and Saturday. We’re closed on Tuesday.
What makes you so excited about having your own cafe?
I have some hobbies: photography, cooking, blogging, fashion and music. I love doing cooking experiments. Me and my mom often cook to expand our culinary skills, especially pasta and desserts. If we think our creations have a shot at wider success, we’ll add them to Ninotchka’s menu, like with the cake in a jar, the rainbow cake and the chocolate lava cake. But the main purpose [of the cafe] is to develop my business skills.
Will you stop at the cafe?
I can’t wait to have my own boutique — I have an online fashion shop — but I’ll focus on managing Ninotchka first. A thought passed through my mind to study cooking more seriously, but maybe later. The most important thing is that I’m enjoying myself because Ninotchka is my dream.
If your mom handles all the cooking, how does that affect your expansion plans?
We’re planning to open a branch in Kelapa Gading [in North Jakarta]. We also have some offers from Surabaya, Medan and Bali. But since these are all homemade dishes, we’ll still be the ones who supply the food. Outside Jakarta, though, we’ll train employees for as many months as they need to ensure the food they prepare is really similar to what we’re making, with the same high-quality ingredients, but we won’t use this as a reason to raise our prices.
It seems your name precedes you in the online world?
Yes. Many people order our cookies through Twitter and the orders come from all over Indonesia. …The hype on social networks creates big expectations for people who want to come here for their first visit. I was surprised to learn that some customers have come all the way to Jakarta just to visit Ninotchka. They also had their share of surprises; for some reason, they thought our establishment would be a lot bigger [laughs].
Sonia Eryka was talking to Kevin Sanly Putera.