Almost 18 months ago, Liz took me to a cafe called Monolog. I recall her telling me that the cafe was in the car park of a shopping centre. I must admit the sound of the locale had me a little worried, but my concerns were quickly put to rest as I was faced with a chic European-inspired alleyway lined with seats and tables and filled with the buzz of people socialising.
We were soon seated with coffees and delicious pastries, engrossed in conversation about all matter of things including where to source quality produce in Jakarta, worries regarding children settling into new schools and who works well with blond hair in Jakarta (a pressing concern at that stage due to numerous mishaps with my hair colour).
Since those early days, Liz and I have traipsed across Jakarta in pursuit of our favourite coffee establishments. We have even written a blog post about our 10 Best Places to Sip Coffee in Jakarta (of which Monolog is one). We repeatedly return to Monolog for its ambiance (a second Monolog has opened since), but equally for its fantastic coffee and fresh & dynamic menu.
When the opportunity to meet the brains behind the Monolog brand came our way, we jumped at it. So on a recent sunny day in downtown Senayan (in Jakarta’s South Central Business District), we caught up with the inspiring Evie Karsoho of Monolog fame.
Here Evie shares her story (along with some local insider’s knowledge about Jakarta…)
We hope you enjoy!
What is your title?
Director of Daily Operation
Where are you from?
From the town of Makassar in South Sulawesi, (Sulawesi is situated between Borneo and the Maluku Islands). Makassar is smaller than Jakarta. At the age of 15, I left my home town to study.
What is your background?
I obtained my degree in Food Science and Technology whilst studying in the USA. I wanted to go to Culinary school, but my parents weren’t as keen. They wanted me to get a degree.
Where did your interest in food come from?
Growing up- yes and no. I liked to be with my Mum in the kitchen. She would cook simple comfort food daily and bake once in a while.
My interest in food really developed whilst I was living in an international dormitory in Beijing. The students were very diverse – Thai, French, Japanese, Mongolian even Hawaiian. We would gather and cook our countries’ cuisine every now and then. It gave me a buzz and made me happy. That is when I genuinely started to be interested in food.
After the US, I worked for about a year. The plan was to stay in the States, however, when the recession hit in 2008 I came back to Indonesia and returned to my home town. I tried to help with our family business but I had been away too long and I could tell that it wasn’t going to work. So I came to Jakarta. It took me a while to adapt to Jakarta as I wasn’t accustomed to the traffic, pollution and the lack of public spaces. Slowly, I have grown to love the city.
Where did your idea for Monolog come from?
My business partner was an old friend in Beijing. His family was in the restaurant business for a long time. So we joined together with some other partners and researched a concept. We went to Melbourne and fell in love with the coffee scene. It was a lifestyle. We knew we wanted something like that in Jakarta… that was over 4 years ago!
What are Monolog’s Core values?
I would say product quality and people. We strive to deliver the best available ingredients to our customers at its best value. Being in a hospitality business people are our passion. It would make our day if we could see our customers walking out from our establishments with smiling faces.
When we first started, we struggled a bit in introducing our style of coffee and food to the market. Traditionally, coffee was only considered a drink that you consumed for the caffeine; it was not understood for the lifestyle. Monolog pioneered the ‘all day breakfast’ with a 7am start (even today many coffee shops open after 9am). It took 6 months to gain regular customers. Locals weren’t used to our coffee. We wanted to share how we believe good coffee should be, how coffee doesn’t have to be black and bitter; nor does it have to be super-sweet. We wanted to show another way. Early on we received complaints including that our coffee was not hot enough. Slowly we tried to educate; we gave away free coffee. We would explain why we steam our milk to 55 – 60 degrees celsius to bring out the sweetness of the milk. Finally, people fell in love with it.
Who else was on the coffee scene when you first started?
Starbucks of course and Anomali as a local brand.
What are some ways that you have sourced your inspiration for Monolog Quality Coffee Co.?
Through our travels both locally and overseas
Through brainstorming with my partners – we knew that we wanted to do something different; create a space that was both industrial and homey.
What does the future hold for Monolog?
Continued pursuit of fresher ingredients, a creative menu and greater use of local produce (including kale and locally made cheese). We are also entering the catering service for small events (up to 100 guests)
What does your typical day look like for you?
0700 – wake up!
Quick workout – usually swimming
Coffee at Monolog and then sort through emails over a bowl of muesli or a fresh omelette
Touch base with operation and get hands on if required (fun! fun! fun!)
Lunch on the run – I don’t have a standard lunch – I like to mix it up a bit, depending upon what I feel like and what is available
My day ends at different times, depending on what’s happening. Anywhere from 5pm – 12 midnight
3 words to describe your Jakarta
Vibrant, opportunities, diversity (eclectic)
What can’t you live without?
Good coffee (obviously)
Good food with good friends (not always fancy, comfort food goes down well too!)
Travelling (any type)
How do you take your coffee?
Morning – cappuccino or piccolo
Afternoon – americano
Favourite place to dine in Jakarta?
For coffee and breakfast – Monolog and Sophie Authentique for Breakfast
Amigos for fun Mexican
Mamma Rosy and De Luca for Italian
Waha Kitchen at the Kosenda Hotel for a slow Sunday afternoon
For cocktails try De Luca which is great for classic cocktails with a twist as well as Monolog at Pondok Indah Mall
Can you give us any other advice regarding Indonesian cuisine
Nasi goreng is the measure of how good a kitchen is in an Indonesian restaurant. Everyone should try Manadonese food (Beautika restaurant, Sarang Oci, Cak Tu Ci) , Padang food (Garuda Padang and Sederhana are a couple of favourites) and Chinese-Indonesian food (Angke and other restaurants in the Pluit area of North Jakarta are great for pork noodles)
Where do you like to shop?
Online including Asos, Zara, various bazaars, (often promoted on Instagram), Goods Dept, Cottonink and I’m also keen on vintage (but Evie’s keeping her best vintage locations a secret so we don’t steal her treasure!)
Monolog Quality Coffee Co.
Plaza Senayan CP 101 B, Palm Gate Entrance
Asia Afrika No. 8
Opening hours: 7:00am – 10:00pm
Monolog Quality Coffee Co.
Street Galley 1st floor No. 101 B, Pondok Indah Mall 1
Jl. Metro Pondok Indah
Opening hours: 7am – 12:00am Mon – Sun
Since writing this post, the Kemang Red White Lounge has closed, however there still exists a Red White Jazz Lounge in Kuningan, Jakarta.
Words: Jo Photography: a journey bespoke and Monolog