Indonesian Pendawa Cafe in Philadelphia, The pink shop building is located right on the corner. Unlike other buildings, the shop’s door is not on the front or side, but right on the corner. On the glass is written ‘Cafe Pendawa’.
Cafe Pendawa is one of several shops in Philadelphia, the United States, which sells various food products from Indonesia. Iwan Santoso, the owner of the shop, started the establishment of Cafe Pendawa ten years ago.
“I founded this shop in 2004. Initially, I intended to create an internet cafe, so I named it a cafe. The concept is an internet cafe that also sells food, so visitors can eat there,” said Iwan.
But apparently, fate said otherwise. The internet cafe that Iwan originally planned did not develop. On the other hand, food that was once just a side dish actually attracted many buyers. It’s only been a year, the internet cafe was forced to close due to lack of interest. While the food business is even more promising.
If traced back, Iwan’s business adventure began in 1996 when he came to America for the first time. Armed with the belief that finding a job in America is easier than in Indonesia, Iwan, who was only 22 years old at that time, ventured to try his luck overseas.
“Our image is that America is a developed country like in those films, so finding a job must be easy,” he added.
At that time, not a few Indonesians flocked to Philadelphia to look for work. The reason, Philadelphia is in need of workers who do not require special letters and skills. With facilitation from labor agencies, thousands of Indonesians migrated to Philadelphia in search of work, including Iwan.
“It turned out that what I was facing was not what I imagined. Finding a job in America was not easy. The place to live was only modest,” said Iwan.
Before starting his own business, Iwan worked in several restaurants owned by foreigners. That work experience has become Iwan’s provision in developing his business. The idea of starting his own business was sparked when in 2001 his family visited San Francisco and saw an Indonesian restaurant there.
“We think that Indonesian restaurants have good prospects in Philadelphia because there are a lot of Indonesians here. At that time there were about 6 thousand people,” said Iwan.
His first venture was a restaurant called ‘Indonesia Restaurant’ located on Snyder Avenue. This restaurant serves a variety of Indonesian dishes such as satay, pecel, gudeg, soto, rendang, and so on.
With so many Indonesians living in Philadelphia, this restaurant soon had quite a number of customers. In fact, not a few non-Indonesians came to visit. Sometimes, Iwan’s customers come from places some distance away, such as New York and New Jersey.
Success with the first business, three years later Iwan began to explore the second business, namely Cafe Pendawa which was originally designed for internet cafes. Although the internet cafe he had planned could not develop, Iwan actually got a blessing through his grocery business which sells various Indonesian food products, such as ABC soy sauce, chili sauce, crackers, and of course, Indomie. Iwan obtained these products from distributors in California.
“There are two big distributors in California for Indonesian products. Both are owned by Indonesians. I get supplies from them,” explained Iwan.
In addition to raw food, Cafe Pendawa, which is located on Morris Street, also sells prepared food that is specially made to take home or not eaten on the spot, such as rice uduk, yellow rice, nasi Padang, chicken noodles, and market snacks. Some of the foods are produced by Iwan himself, and some are produced by Indonesians who live nearby.
“Not all Indonesians here can find sufficient jobs here. To increase their income, they make Indonesian dishes and then leave them in our shop. We ourselves cannot afford to produce everything ourselves. So this is mutually beneficial cooperation, at the same time we can empower Indonesians here,” said Iwan.
After his business has grown sufficiently, Iwan now has 6 employees for his two stores. One person helps Iwan at Cafe Pendawa, and 5 people help him at Indonesia Restaurant. But even though he already has employees, Iwan still manages his own management. As a hard worker, Iwan still comes to the shop every day.
“I take care of the shop every day. We are open 7 days a week, from 9 am to 8 pm,” he explained.
Of course, there are challenges that Iwan must face in running his business. The first challenge is the decreasing number of Indonesians living in Philadelphia because some of them have returned to Indonesia.
“In the past, there were around 6 thousand. Now if a rough estimate is maybe around 3 thousand people,” said Iwan.
The second challenge is the increasing number of competitors from fellow Indonesians. “Now there are three shops in Philadelphia that sell Indonesian food,” he added.
Observing the country’s economic development, Iwan began to think about building a business in Indonesia. “Now Indonesia’s economic condition is much better. Opportunities are also getting wider. I have started exploring business opportunities there,” said this man from Malang, East Java.