Indonesian culture goes global thanks to Potato Head

Updated 8th August 2016
Indonesian culture goes global thanks to Potato Head
Written by Kate Springer, for CNN
Can you name an Indonesian company with a global presence?
Probably not. But one design-driven, Jakarta-based hospitality group is about to change that.
The brand behind Bali's famous Potato Head Beach Club, PTT Family, has ambitious plans to export the archipelago's cuisine, crafts and heritage with its chic yet authentic range of restaurants, bars and hotels.
"I am very inspired by (Indonesian artisans)," says Ronald Akili, CEO and co-founder of PTT Family. "I think we have something very beautiful here and I want to showcase that to the world."

Spud you like

When Akili launched the group's first restaurant -- Potato Head Jakarta -- back in 2009, he didn't have a business plan, let alone a one-year plan.
Then working as a real estate investor and art collector, he opened the diner as a fun side project with his chef wife.
With local artists' works hanging on the walls and classic comfort foods on plates, the space quickly found a following among locals and travelers.
Fast-forward six years later and PTT Family has grown rapidly, with more than 1,000 employees working in seven locations in three countries -- with more to come.
"We want to create a movement for (Indonesian culture)," says Akili. "Like what chef Gastón [ Acurio] did in Peru."

Potato Empire

After that first Potato Head in Jakarta, the empire mushroomed.
Bali's iconic Potato Head Beach Club opened in 2010 -- if you've been to Bali, you've likely stepped into the expansive lounge or taken a dip in the infinity pool -- followed by Potato Head Folk in Singapore's Chinatown in 2014, and Potato Head Hong Kong earlier this year.
Japan is the next city in Akili's sights, with Sydney and Melbourne, in Australia, and Los Angeles, in the United States, also on the to-do list.
The brand's expansion is a big win for Indonesia in terms of soft power, says Akili.
"Not only is Indonesian cuisine pretty much unknown (at the moment)," he says, "most people don't know where Indonesia is. When I was living in the U.S., I had to explain so many times that Bali is in Indonesia, not the other way around."
The 8,000-square-foot Hong Kong address is another step towards introducing Indonesian cuisine to the wider Asian region.
It is also the first international property to feature Kaum -- meaning "clan" or "tribe" in Indonesian -- which showcases lesser-known Indonesia ingredients and traditional cooking methods with a modern twist. Look for dishes prepared using the age-old technique of bamboo cooking, still popular today in villages around Indonesia.

Contemporary craftsmanship

Global ambitions haven't stopped the Potato Head creators from expanding at home.
In April, The Katamama became the group's first hotel.
Nearly everything in this all-suite property is handmade -- the exterior is crafted from 1.5 million handmade bricks sourced from a village in East Bali, over a period of two years.
"If I had to create my house on the beach, this is what it would be," says Akili. "As you can see, every single thing is personal and made by artisans. We have a relationship with these people and it's a much more authentic approach."
The interior features contemporary Indonesian artwork, hand-dyed indigo textiles, teakwood furniture, terrazzo floors and Javanese tiles.
Designed in collaboration with award-winning Indonesian architect Andra Martin, and located just behind Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak, Bali, the Katamama is the first of three PTT Family hotels to plant its flag in Bali, with the others to follow in 2018 and 2019.
Each property will work with local artisans to promote Indonesian heritage.

Going against the grain

For Akili, the brand's success has been down to its relentless instinct to move against current trends -- right down to the name.
"(When we started out) in Jakarta, people wanted to have something elegant and exquisite ... very modern, very clean lines, minimalism, and we wanted to create the opposite.
"And we wanted to name it something catchy. Potato Head just popped up on us both," he says.
Looks like it's here to stay.