Celebrating Women's History Month with Leni Kumalasari of Simpang Asia

EAT Club Presents: Our Incredible Women Restaurant Partners

 

Tell us about your background, your inspiration, and what led you to starting a business in food.

I came to the US from Indonesia in 1996. After spending a few years in the fashion industry, I moved into food. When I first moved to west LA, I tried to find an Indonesian grocery store and couldn’t find one. Back then, the markets didn’t really have any Asian products like they do today, so that inspired me to open my own small grocery store in 2002. During the first three years, a lot of people asked me why I didn't have hot Indonesian food in my store, which helped me see there was a demand for it and the seed for starting a cafe was planted.

I started looking into locations. There was a bakery next door to my grocery store that eventually moved to a new location so I took over that space in 2005. I opened a small Indonesian cafe that could seat about 20 people. In 2010 I had the opportunity to expand the cafe and nearly tripled its size. I started Simpang Asia about 5 years ago. 

 

What is your current role in the business?

My role is focused primarily on sales these days. I get connected with my vendors, look at demand, and I do pretty much everything but cook. I used to be in the kitchen but now I have 25 employees that help make Simpang Asia what it is. 

 

How long have you been in the food industry, and what has that been like for you?

I have been in the food industry for about 18 years now. It’s been quite a journey. As an immigrant, I was challenged to understand the culture and demand.

 

What is something in your business journey you're particularly proud of accomplishing?

I am proud of myself for being able to grow from a small grocery store to a successful catering restaurant. I am equally proud of spreading awareness and appreciation of Indonesian food in LA!

 

What are your thoughts on being a woman in the food industry?

It’s hard being a woman in food. You have to be really strong and strict. You mostly deal with men and some men have a hard time listening to a woman, so you have to be twice as strong being a woman in this space.

 

What advice would you give another woman looking to start a business in food?

There are three things you need to start a business: a strong foundation, people skills, and business management. 

I think the foundation of knowing how to produce good food is fundamental to success. Then you need to be able to pass the knowledge of how to make your food onto others so you can focus on growing your business.

Second is people skills. You are working with so many people day after day - from your team in the kitchen and front of house to customers so you need to have the skills to lead those people. For me, I have my husband who makes the menu, and we are a good team in that way.

Finally, management skills are so important which is something I’m still working on. It’s a learning process, and I am working to get to a place where I have the ability to manage the business and all the complexities that come with it.

 

What is the biggest lesson you've learned while growing your business?

That you will fall. And then you have to have strength to get back up. There are plenty of challenges that have come up over the years, and I have learned to move on from failures and power through challenges. 

It’s critical not to drown in the failures and to develop the ability to see the opportunities as your motivation. As a small business owner, there are a lot of things that don’t go my way, and the biggest asset I have is the strength to move through hard times and the positive energy to look ahead. 

 

Anything else you want people to know about your business?

I try as best I can to bring authentic Indonesian food to LA so I can share the flavors of my country. If you are looking for authentic Indonesian flavors, please give my food a try!

 

Edited by Leena Chitnis