Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Interview with Matteo of Semarang's Gelato Matteo

The Italians may not be the envy of the European Union when it comes to economic growth, but their traditions of excellent food and fashion continue. I met Matteo of Gelato Matteo, and we discussed his journey from Italy to Indonesia. 
Q: SemarangIndonesia seems like an odd choice to open any restaurant or cafe. It's not well-known to tourists. 

A: I came here for furniture because my mother was in the furniture business. Then I met my wife. So it's not totally a business decision, but I think it's much easier here than Jakarta. There's more opportunity in Jakarta but costs, such as rents, are higher than in Semarang. I've always wanted to do an ice cream shop, even when I was in Paris. 

Q: But you don't have an ice cream shop. You have a gelato shop. 

A: Ah, but in Italian, gelato is the word for ice cream. Sorbet has a water base. Gelato has a milk base. 

Q: You opened your first location in the old town area [Kota Lama]. Why did you open a new place about two miles away? 

A: Actually, my first shop was in Jalan Mataram, and the old town location is my second shop. The second shop has been open for two months. 

Q: What do you look for when opening a location?

Indonesia is more difficult than Italy. In Italy, we say there are three things to make success: location, location, location. Here is different. You can open in a mall [and get guaranteed pedestrian traffic], but it's very expensive. Outside [air-conditioned] malls, there's no pedestrian traffic, so my first location was a gamble. I just liked the place. I wanted to make sure people felt like they were in Italy as soon as they came in. I wanted people to stop with their cars and come inside. 
Thinking backwards, there are other areas that were more suitable. For example, this new location is in a touristy area. Kota Lama Semarang applied to be a UNESCO heritage site, so they're re-doing everything, including the roads. Soon you'll see the roads filled with stones used in the old time. We hope to obtain this [UNESCO] certification. 

Q: What are your recommendations to aspiring businessowners who want to minimize risks in case they want to move? Obviously, the longer the lease, the more leverage you have, but what criteria do you look for when opening a store? 

A: You need to have someone local. Best thing. My local person is my wife. She's the owner. I cannot own in my name. Actually, I could own a business here, but I would need to change my company and bring more capital. 

Q: You mentioned your work visa costs 1700 USD for only one year. What was the process like?

A: Even though I'm married to an Indonesian woman, Indonesia does not allow dual citizenship, so I'm retaining my Italian/EU passport. The process for my visa was not difficult because I speak the local language and my wife assisted me.  

Q: What are your most popular gelato flavors? 

A: The basics: chocolate and vanilla. I think our pistachio flavor is the most interesting. When we make a flavor, we sometimes use a water rather than a milk base, which brings out the flavor more. You cannot mask the flavor in a sorbet. Without egg yolks and excessive cream, the flavor will stand out. [Interviewer's note: I liked the pistachio flavor, but the dark chocolate and coffee impressed me the most.] 

Q: Funny you mention that. I just tried the avocado flavor and was turned off by it. I tasted unripe avocado, but if you had added more cream, I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference. 

A: [holds hands up in apology] Before my gelato cafe, I used to run a restaurant. I hated TripAdvisor. We would check it all the time, and it became a distraction. Some people are just mean for no reason. You can also buy reviews or get your friends to post positive reviews. 

Q: What's the most reliable review site?

A: Word of mouth. If I tell you I went to a place and enjoyed the food, that's the best [way]. Instagram is extremely popular in Indonesia, so we use that as much as we can. 

Q: What is the most frustrating aspect of being a businessowner in Indonesia? 

A: The electricity goes up and down, on and off. You need a generator. The employees here also need motivation. 

Q: Some people say employees aren't motivated because the compensation structure doesn't give them an ownership interest or some other personal interest in the business. 

A: I give a percentage of income to my employees. Like in the States, instead of having a tip, I give a commission. It's called a service charge, and it's automatically added to the bill, whether customers eat-in or take-away. Also, the employees who stand out, I give them extra salary. I have six employees in one shop, something I could never do in Italy or America--it would be too expensive. 

Q: What are the biggest cultural differences between Europeans and Indonesians? Both seem family oriented. 

A: People here are not encouraged to take risks. They never had a French Revolution here. They are not used to criticizing institutions, practices, each other, or leaders. Look at what happened to Ahok [Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, former Chinese-Christian mayor of Jakarta]. Two years' jail for blasphemy. In Italy, we criticize everything and everyone, even the Pope. 

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