Murni’s Success Secrets
Murni’s success secrets
The Jakarta Post
21 August 2013
She has hosted top celebrities from David Copperfield, Richard Gere to Richard Branson but Ni Wayan Murni finds comfort outside the spotlight simply by being herself.
Her hair is mostly grey now but it’s hard to miss the grace and spirit that sparkles in the woman’s eyes, now in her late 60s.
‘I used to cycle all the way from Ubud to Sanur and then Kuta to sell Balinese batik clothes,’ recalled the woman, fondly known as Murni, who arrived in her Balinese kebaya blouse.
‘It was a long way but at that time there wasn’t any traffic at all,’ she added, while sitting comfortably in her legendary restaurant, Murni’s Warung, in Ubud, Bali.
Just like Ubud, which has grown from a sleepy town to a bustling city, her business has expanded fast from when she started it in the 1970s. She is now known as one of Bali’s most successful businesswomen.
Apart from Murni’s Warung, which continues to attract high-profile clientele who cannot wait to taste her signature recipes such as Balinese Smoked Duck or Sweet Sour Shrimp, she has launched several other businesses, from a villa to a spa.
But the restaurant was not her first venture.
Ever since she was young, Murni has been working hard, selling sarongs to tourists at Sanur Beach.
After commuting on her bicycle for three years, she then settled in Sanur for 10 years, getting married and tending to her small shop on the beach from where she sold items to people including then president Sukarno and legendary frontman Mick Jagger, who she claimed she did not recognize at that time.
When her marriage ended, Murni returned to Ubud, opening a small shop where she sold Balinese clothing in early 1974, located near the old Campuhan suspension bridge.
It was in that shop where she met an American tourist who she would go on to marry. They were married for 36 years before he passed away three years ago.
The story of Murni’s Warung began when she made her husband soup and a sandwich for lunch at her shop. Tourists who visited her shop later asked if they could have what her husband was having ‘ giving her the idea of opening a restaurant in the town.
‘Eating at restaurants wasn’t part of our culture back then. There weren’t any restaurants around, people only sold Balinese food in Ubud market,’ Murni says.
‘Since many tourists from Tjampuhan Inn [now Tjampuhan Hotel] asked for the food, the idea to set up the restaurant came to mind.’
Murni’s Warung was soon born. Within one year, she had six tables and expanded quickly.
But the sweet taste of success did not come easy. Murni had to go to another town to buy ice blocks for cold beer and coke for her customers and later cycled to Denpasar to buy groceries to keep the restaurant going.
Slowly but sure, she kept adding more western dishes to the menu, selecting customer favorites.
Her limited knowledge of western food did not stop her from trying to please her diners, although at that time, she could only make simple dishes since there was no electricity in town yet.
Fortunately, many of her customers, who became friends with her, were willing to share their secret recipes. To return the favors, she named the dishes after them.
By the time electricity reached the town in 1978, she had already learned how to prepare a variety of food and beverage items, including homemade ice cream.
Murni still remembers how her early ice cream creations were ruined when power outages lasted for 30 hours at a time. ‘I was so disappointed because I had just learned to make it and it took so much work,’ she laughed.
Murni’s Warung has drawn the attention of both tourists and expats, such as artists Arie Smit and Antonio Blanco, who used the place as a meeting point.
Soon, people dropped postcards and mails to her warung to be picked up later by postmen since Ubud’s post office only operated for certain period of time.
Tourism in Ubud dramatically increased after the Campuhan bridge was built in the 1980s.
At the same time, Murni did business in antiques, jewelry, textiles and souvenirs.
She opened two antiques shops in Ubud in the 80s and 90s to accommodate her passion of collecting one-of-a-kind artifacts and fine textiles. Although she is no longer in control of those shops, Murni said that she still displays her best collections at Murni’s Warung Shop.
Her antiques drew extensive interest from customers.
A piece from her giant barong collection was bought by the American Museum of Natural History in New York. She had also exhibited her collection at the prestigious Arts of Pacific Asia and Tribal Arts and Textiles Shows in San Francisco. She has also discussed Balinese textiles at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.
Her restaurant, which was also given a new look in the 1980s and renovated in 1991, is still bustling with customers despite the presence of an increasing number of restaurants.
Murni also entered the property business with Murni’s Houses in downtown Ubud and the luxurious Murni’s Villas located on the road to Kintamani.
Three years ago she opened Tamarind Spa, which offers Balinese massages with a serene garden view and waterfall.
Her latest venture was co-authoring two books with Jonathan Copeland — the bestseller Secrets of Bali and Murni’s Very Personal Guide to Ubud.
Copeland and two other writers are currently putting together a book, entitled Forty Delicious Years, to celebrate 40 years of Murni’s Warung next year and have invited Murni’s friends to contribute memories about Murni on her website.
Despite her success, Murni is still the woman she used to be ‘ the mother of five and grandmother of 12 who loves to laugh and talk to people around her.
She also values the loyalty of her staff, retaining those who have been with her through the highs and lows since she first opened the restaurant.
‘My recipe for success is to just be myself. I like people, I like to talk. I made a business for myself but I share with people. It just happened like that.’
Murni’s Success Secrets