Monday, 9 November 2015

Where has the time gone?

So Cuca turned 1… and then 2 and we have been so caught up in this wonder that it has taken me all this while to get back to my beloved blog. I started to write wanting to share with you the magical adventure of moving to a new country and starting a restaurant from absolute zero but once we got it up and running, daily operations, a total dedication to our staff and of course to our guests took over our life.

To narrate Cuca’s 27 months of life would take me another 27 months so my goal is instead to summarize these 2 years in order to bring you up to date and then hopefully be able to resume my regular updates.

I guess one of our biggest accomplishments so far has been to develop a team of wonderful people who care about Cuca as much as we do. Our strategy has never been to hire the most experienced professionals but the nicest ones. We believed from day one that we could train skills but could never change an attitude and this has led us to be surrounded by truly good guys we can trust. Operations in Cuca are now a bliss because each of our staff is totally dedicated and trained to do a great job and this allows us (Kevin and I) to focus on making sure Cuca has a future for the many families that now depend on us. As you may know if you are familiar with the culture in Bali, relationships are here always personal so we feel our family is bigger than ever, with more than 60 “children” buzzing around us. They definitely keep us busy.

Cuca Team celebrating our second birthday
And what about our customers? It may be possible to get people to give a try to a new restaurant but how do we keep it interesting enough so new customers want to come when is no longer new? This is a critical issue that more frequently than not kills businesses in their second year so we had to take it to heart and come up with ways to continue being talked about. All kind of events have definitely kept us on our toes. Events take us out of our comfort zone and make us squeeze our brains to be unique while still offering the highest standards in a more unpredictable environment. We have done events in Cuca, in other restaurants in Bali and in other cities both within Indonesia and overseas. We have delivered talks, created new dishes for a specific occasion and deliver the same experience we offer in Cuca but outside Cuca. Our senior team is thrilled every time we call for a meeting and excitedly share with them the next Cuca stunt. If you haven’t attended any of our events, stay tuned, there are many more to come!

From top to bottom, left to right: Cuca in Ku De Ta, Cuca in Surabaya, Cuca in Perth and Cuca in Ubud.

So… busy with our team, busy with our customers and busy with keeping bright and shiny a restaurant that is well into its second year. And finally now back here and introducing a few sparks in our blog. Be warned that I have convinced Kevin to also share with all of you his unique perspective and will start doing so in the next entry. Don’t miss it!  

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Cuca turns one...

In August 2012 I started this blog with a post titled "DREAM" and with the hope of sharing with anyone who found me in the world wide web the ups and downs of our little adventure: opening Cuca, our restaurant. We had no idea back then if we were going to manage to actually open (so many businesses die before they even start!) or if we were going to miraculously attract any customers. Or even if our guests were going to like at all what we could offer…

If you have followed our journey, you are part of Cuca’s family already, but for those of you who just found out about us and are lazy to read all previous posts, I summarize them: after years in Singapore working way too much in separate jobs, Kevin (a Canadian) and I (a Spaniard) decided it was time to work even harder but together towards a common goal. We had the vision of building a restaurant where amazing food were affordable and served in a casual environment. The concept was simple: tapas, cocktails and desserts made with local ingredients and cooked in a western style.

We chose Bali because we believed an international clientele was our best bet and we jumped at the opportunity to star this adventure. We spent the first few weeks in the island settling in: finding a home, transport, learning the roads. We then started writing down all our ideas and trying to come out with a priority list, what to do first. And finally we hit the road and started looking for the people who could help us, one by one. Although we faced many more challenges than we could have thought of, every day we went to bed having ticked off one more task. There were many days when I felt disheartened and just wanted to give up and Kevin then promised me that everything would be ok. There were other days when Kevin felt frustrated and didn’t know how to move forward and it was then my turn to come up with a plan. Thankfully, we had each other. Cuca would not be here otherwise, although it has not been easy. If you want to test your marriage, go ahead and open a restaurant :)

On July 23rd 2013 Cuca opened its doors. Adrenaline and coffee saved most of our days back then. The challenge was no longer the building but its people: 60 employees from all over Indonesia, each with a different background and a unique set of beliefs and expectations. They only had in common the same enchanting smile that convinced us to hire them and although we have been greatly disappointed by some of those smiles, new ones have come to our rescue and every day make us better.

With $0 advertising investment since we opened, we have been relying exclusively on our product and your word for it. The first few weeks were scary and an empty Cuca is still a recurring nightmare in our short slept nights, but word of mouth is all the magic we needed. Even though and despite being quite busy most of the time, we still stand on our entrance welcoming new and returning guests as if each of you were our first. How could we take for granted the blessing of having all of you?

Well, Cuca is now turning 1 and this first year is being a roller coaster of events and emotions. Any regular day is loaded with tons of crisis, laughs, tears, surprises, encounters and goodbyes. We know this is only the beginning and that consistency is a critical test in the long term. We know we cannot lower our guard because a restaurant is as good as its last meal, but we also now know that Cuca´s miracle is possible and this is much more than we knew 2 years ago!

We dedicate Cuca’s anniversary, our little miracle, to each of you:

- to those of you who believed in us more than we believed in ourselves and to those who didn’t and pushed us to prove you wrong;
- to those who gave us ideas and helped us in thousand different ways and to those who refused to give us a hand and thus made us find an even better way;
- to those who broke our heart because we are not what you were looking for and to those who mercifully mended it by totally getting what we are;
- to those who can see we have put our life into this restaurant and encourage and congratulate us and to those who only see the faults and eagerly point at what we should do better;

We try to learn as much as we can from all of you while remaining true to ourselves.

Thank you for this year and let’s toast to many more to come!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Waves of faces

Cuca’s opening marketing strategy was to focus ourselves on every single guest, welcome them with open arms and make them feel taken care of, spoiled by the food and our sincere smiles. We were determined not to advertise anywhere, firstly because after building the entire restaurant we were seriously broke and secondly because our thinking is: who is going to believe an ad someone has paid for? People believe friends or acquaintances who have tried a place and eagerly recommend it.

Things could have turned sour and we may have failed badly as we knew nobody in Bali so not even friends or relatives could help us out to start spreading a good word about Cuca... However our humble strategy and very hard and long hours of work slowly started to pay themselves back.

It all started by Kevin himself in full uniform fishing for customers among the tourists at the nearby beach (“Come, I will cook for you!”). Once convinced, they would walk in, sit down and be in awe with our food. I guess it is not that hard to exceed low expectations :). Most of them would return the following night and then promise us to tell their friends back at home, write something nice about us on Internet or share their unexpected find with their fellow hotel guests.

It was shocking to start getting guests recommended by previous ones… It was working! Our strategy was working! Then the power of Internet multiplied exponentially the chain of recommendations and the word of mouth started to cross borders. Believe me, it is still truly magical to witness day by day and first hand this phenomenon.

While tourists came and left, we started to recognize faces that kept on coming, every time with different company to show new groups of friends their recent discovery. We know each other by name and they are now our regulars.

At the end of October the tourist season significantly slowed down and locals took over. Guests from Jakarta or Bali timidly walked in knowing exactly what to order. It seems they always watch out for reviews about new places and wait for the tourist wave to leave before trying them themselves.

We are now preparing ourselves for a new tourist peak season: our first Christmas. We don’t know exactly what is ahead of us but we are ready to embrace this new chapter with our eyes wide open, a well-laid table and a Cuca smile that will make you feel at home away from home.