Ni Wayan Murni: Balinese entrepreneur and traveler

Ni Wayan Murni: Balinese entrepreneur and traveler
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Ni Wayan Murni: Balinese entrepreneur and traveler
Andrew Charles
Jakarta Post
21 July 2006


Ni Wayan Murni is a revered character in Ubud as owner of Murni’s Warung, Murni’s Villas and many other enterprises, but it wasn’t always like this.

Back in the 1950s, life was hard. Murni’s parents split up and, at the age of six or seven, she was sent to live with an authoritarian aunt in Denpasar who made her get up every morning at 2 a.m. to prepare and sell food to the neighbors.

Difficult though it was for a very young girl, the hard work, discipline and selling skills were an important part of her education and set her in good stead for the future.

Murni’s mother was an excellent businesswoman, but strict. “She was the only person to sell soft drinks in the market”, Murni reminisced. “I remember one of the king of Ubud’s servants used to cross the road to my mother’s shop to buy drinks for the king’s friends.”

On the days the market was closed, Murni carried a load of salt from Ubud to Penestanan, a few kilometers away. She explained how her mother worked: “My mother insisted that I should not waste the journey back from Penestanan, so when I sold the salt, I had to find something to buy with the money and then I had to sell that when I got back to Ubud.”

Even at that young age she was interested in textiles and sold batik. She said, “When I heard that there were tourists in town, I used to go to where they were and display my batik; I even sold a piece to president Sukarno, who often visited Ubud.”

Tourism increased after the opening of the international airport and, from 1965 to 1974, Murni lived in Sanur where she opened several shops.

These were just outside the Tanjung Sari Hotel, where many people stayed, including Mick Jagger. It was at this point that Murni started becoming interested in antiques.

Her major break occurred in 1974 when, with the small amount of money she had been able to save, she bought some land in Ubud on the edge of a cliff overlooking trees and a river, where she opened Murni’s Warung. “I was so lucky to get this property,” she said. “It’s the best piece of land in Ubud.”

Initially, she sold only clothes and paintings but things started to improve when she realized that by selling Western food, she could attract more business, and was the first to do so in Ubud.

In 1978, electricity arrived so Murni was able to purchase a refrigerator and serve cold beers — a landmark occasion!

Diners at the restaurant used to give her their favorite recipes and they often spent hours practicing together. Murni had to modify the recipes as the ingredients available were hardly ever the same as in her friends’ countries; even when they were, the recipes came out differently.

For example, she couldn’t get pecans anywhere so she changed the pecan pie recipe to cashews; it’s still on the menu.

From a very small enterprise, Murni has moved on to become one of Ubud’s most successful entrepreneurs and the restaurant is one of the most famous on the island.

Murni has incredible stamina and energy. As well as running the restaurant, which was catering to an increasing number of visitors, she opened two more shops and bought for all of them.

It was hard to keep up with the business. She was the first woman driver in Ubud and drove all over the island in search of stock. She said, “I’d buy as many textiles, antiques and good-quality handicrafts as I could and they’d be sold the next day. Every day was like that in the 1980s. It was incredible.”

A visit to Murni’s is a delightful experience. The food is excellent and inexpensive with a wide range of dishes, Western to Asian, and a number of real Balinese dishes not found elsewhere.

As Murni’s Warung and Murni’s shops flourished, she decided to get into the accommodation business. The first venture was Murni’s Houses: residential accommodation for visitors in the center of the town.

As if all this were not enough, Murni got the travel bug. It is very rare for a Balinese to want to travel — and a Balinese woman at that. Undeterred, she took off and traveled all over Europe, Egypt, Tanzania and Turkey.

She still loves traveling and is frequently abroad, searching out rare treasures and testing new recipes for her restaurant.

These trips opened her eyes to luxury. About 12 years ago she acquired a stunning piece of land some 20 minutes drive north of Ubud and built Murni’s Villas.

Many people in this country have achieved success after starting from humble beginnings and then become arrogant and egocentric.

Murni is one of the rare exceptions. She has five children and nine grandchildren and is happy with what she has achieved, but shows no signs of wanting to retire.

She is a traditionalist but also a modernist. She has embraced the digital age and runs one of the best websites in Bali. With her commitment and energy, there is little doubt that she will be in the forefront of Ubud society for many years to come.

Ni Wayan Murni: Balinese entrepreneur and traveler