It was in the middle of 2015 when I heard the buzz about a trending coffee shop in Pluit that offered premium quality (and price, of course) coffee. However, as an employee with regular working hour, it’s a bit difficult to find the time to visit Ombe Kofie as it was closed on 6.00 pm.
When I finally had the chance to go there, I was quite surprised because of 2 things. The first one, was the price. Compared to most coffee shops at the time, Ombe’s coffee is quite pricey. Regular cappuccino was around Rp 45.000-50.000, filter V60 was Rp 65.000, and Panama Geisha was Rp 150.000 for a single cup. Then the second one, in only 30 m2 outlet, I saw almost all of the customers talking to each other. “It must be a private event for some sort of office,” I assumed. Later, I found out that it’s just another daily scenario at Ombe Kofie, like a hip version of kopi tiam. The one who’s responsible for the lively scene is definitely the Godfather of Ombe Kofie, Jason Leo, but most people simply call him “Om Jason”, one of the liveliest silver-haired man I’ve ever met.
Actually, the idea of opening a coffee shop came from Om Jason’s wife, Tante Wiwid, an avid coffee lover. “Actually, I didn’t really like coffee because it kept me awake, I also don’t like bitterness. If I were to drink a Starbucks coffee, usually I put 6 packs of sugar,” said Om Jason.
In 2011, when the couple took their son for college in San Jose, US, Om Jason and wife also visited San Fransisco and Los Angeles. “There’s so many coffee shops, especially in San Fransisco. My wife said that the coffee shop was also trending in Indonesia. When my father passed away in 2012, I began serious research on coffee shop,” he recalled.
At the time, they went café hopping to almost all coffee shops in Jakarta, from Giyanti One Fifteenth, Crematology, Tanamera, and Anomali to learn everything about coffee. “We’re dead serious on the research. Finally on March 2014, I took 2 days barista course with Aji Darius in Hang Tuah. Since then, I made my own manual brew coffee, because I hadn’t got an espresso machine. Of course, my wife became my object of experiment,” he laughed.
In July 2014, they started to get serious in finding location for their future coffee shop from Senopati to Ampera, before finally landed the decision on 12m2 spot beside Putri Pharmacy in Pluit, which actually just 1 km from Om Jason’s house. After expanding the building into 30m2, Ombe Kofie was officially operating in March 2015. It was slow for the first 2 weeks, but after that, Om Jason and his partner were restless because of the customers who are even willing to stand up because they didn’t get any seats. It happened everyday until the end of 2016.
People of Ombe
There are some contributing factors to Ombe’s success. “Perhaps it was word of mouth. When we were café hopping and said we’d be opening our own coffee shop using La Marzocco Strada, but the barista was already old (laugh), perhaps the coffee people started to talk about it. The second factor was the role of social media, especially Instagram,” Om Jason explained.
However, the one thing that can’t be replicated by any other coffee shop is Om Jason’s ability to build relationship with various communities, from bike, runner, car, to motorcycle communities. “From the beginning, I wanted to make a relaxed coffee shop, intimate where we can talk, scream, and know the customers, because it’s our coffee culture. Strangers became friends, so we have more and more friends. We also quick to know customer, we won’t forget if you’ve been here 2-3 times, we’ll remember your name and your order. We even have a Whatsapp group called People of Ombe,” he said.
Even though Ombe is closed down at night, the place is always filled with customers from morning to afternoon. “Basically, if there’s other coffee shop opens at 7, I’ll open at 6, I want to be the earliest. In Pluit, most of our customers are business owners or top level management who aren’t bound to regular working hours. You’ll see some customers came in the morning, and they’d return in the afternoon,” said Om Jason.
Hi End Segment
Since inception, Om Jason deliberately aim for the hi end market with less competitors. “The price of a cup of coffee is around Rp 30.000-35.000, meanwhile there are only 1-3 coffee shops which offer coffee above the price range. I prefer to fight in the premium class compared to fighting in the saturated market, there are more opportunities Of course, in middle or premium segment, you have to offer quality, but if I sell it in premium price, from the ingredients, I can provide better quality coffee bean, so if there’s a mistake, it won’t be as fatal,” he explained.
It’s the reason why Ombe is widely known as imported bean provider, especially from Africa and South America, in fact, 80% of Ombe’s sales come from imported bean. “I don’t mean to brag, but in the beginning, Ombe is known for providing Panama Geisha Esmeralda (Rp 150.000/cup), which cost you Rp 4.000.000/kg of roasted bean. Perhaps in Indonesia, we sold most Panama Geisha, we managed to sell around 1 kg/month,” he said.
Ombe required around a year to change the coffee habit from sugared coffee to black coffee, from flat white to piccolo or double shot espresso. “From 10 people, perhaps only 1 can naturally detect the notes in the coffee. If someone ask me, ‘Om, what are the notes of this Flores bean?’ Is it blueberry? Black currant? Mango? I don’t know, but I know good coffee after I dialed it, that’s the most important thing!” he stated.
Until today, Ombe already has 6 outlets in Jakarta, from Djule Kofi in Melawai (already closed down), Maarkeeze in Grand Indonesia, Ombe Mal Kelapa Gading, Ombe Summarecon Bekasi, Ombe UOB Plaza (exclusive for UOB staffs) and the last one, Ombe Cikajang. We can safely say that Ombe is one of the most aggressive third wave coffee brand to expand, even though Om Jason admitted that he never have the the intention of finding new place. “It (expansion) happened after someone offer their places to us, if I have the feeling and offered a good deal, I’d take it!” he said.
Om Jason has his own considerations in choosing a location. “We already know (the ideal composition) of fixed cost, COGS, rental, salary, etc, that’s all we need to know, if one of them is off, we’ll find out the reason, simple. Perhaps the offered location is slow, but I wouldn’t mind as long as the deal is good and I have ‘the feeling’, because Ombe already has its own market. From the beginning, we even have people from South Jakarta coming all the way here. If we got the deal that we can’t refuse, off we go! One of the good deal is in Ombe Kelapa Gading, where we have our own entrance from outside, it’s a great deal, isn’t it?” he laughed.
If there are some people who think that coffee business is already saturated, Om Jason thinks the other way. According to him, the industry still has immense opportunities. “Did you know that the sales of sachet coffee is ridiculously big? Can those people afford to buy Rp 20.000-25.000 coffee? Definitely, but perhaps occasionally. One day they will have these kinds of coffee and they will know the taste, brewing method, and the proper way to consume coffee. It’s a bit hassle actually, but do you want to drink good or coffee, or any coffee will do? This (habit) should be improved, and actually many are willing to switch," he said.