Ni Wayan Murni: Ubud’s First Restaurateur. Ni Wayan Murni is a pioneer of tourism in Bali. She is the owner of Murni’s Warung, the Kunang-Kunang shops, Murni’s Villas and Murni’s Houses. Murni opened Ubud’s first restaurant in 1974 and it remains first in the hearts of many residents today. Murni is also an avid collector of antiques and beautiful objects, and many of the finest works of craftsmanship turn up at Murni’s shops in Ubud.
What is your background?
I come from a long line of hard-working Balinese ladies. I think I must be a reincarnation of one of them. I was born in the small village of Penestanan, just after the war. My mother was from Penestanan and my father was from Campuan, the neighbouring village. I lived in Penestanan until I was 5 years old and then we moved to Campuan. My restaurant and shops are in Campuan, so I haven’t really come very far!
What was your early childhood like?
Very hard, like it was for all Balinese in the Fifties and Sixties. Until I was 4 years old, my mother used to carry me on her hip as she went from house to house offering salt, dried fish and things like that. She wasn’t selling; she was bartering. In those days she used to offer her goods in return for rice. I think I learnt to bargain watching her at that young age. My parents split up when I was 7 and I went to live with my aunt in Denpasar. When I was 12, I returned to my mother in Ubud.
What was the first enterprise you started?
I made my first money when I was living with my auntie. I had to get up at 2 am to make cakes for morning coffee. Then I had to go to the houses of the Balinese and Chinese families in Denpasar and sell the cakes. The money went to my aunt, but if I sold all the cakes, she gave me 5 rupiah. I had to save 2 rupiah for my school books, which left me 3 rupiah for lollipops.
As I said, when I was 12, I went back to Ubud and lived with my mother. She was then a very successful business woman. I worked with her in the market for 2 or 3 years and started my first business in 1961, cycling down to Sanur to sell batik to the tourists. That started my love of textiles and beautiful things.
How did you discover which products or services appealed specifically to the tourist market?
I watched their eyes. If they opened their eyes wide, they liked the goods and I had a buyer. It was then just a matter of price. I always give very fair prices, so my customers come back. I still have customers from those days. I also discovered that quality is more important than anything. People remember quality. As regards to the restaurant, I think I just knew instinctively that cleanliness, friendly service and good lavatories are really important.
How many businesses do you own right now?
Far too many. I should be retired by now. Apart from the restaurant and shops, there’s Murni’s Villas and Murni’s Houses. We’ve also got into the wedding business. Weddings and honeymoons in Murni’s Villas are very popular. I really enjoy those. My web site, www.murnis.com, is also thriving. It’s probably the largest Bali web site and growing all the time.
Of all your different enterprises, which gives you the most satisfaction?
Hard to say. I like different aspects of all of them. I love meeting old and new friends in the restaurant. I enjoy the shops, showing people my collections and exchanging ideas about textiles and antiques. I also get a lot of pleasure travelling, not just abroad, but also in this country.
Which business is the most difficult to run?
Easy! The restaurant, but it’s a lot of fun.
What difficulties (or strokes of good luck) did you encounter in the early days starting Murni’s Warung?
It’s pretty difficult running a restaurant with no electricity or refrigeration. I did that for 6 years. It’s also difficult getting up at 4 in the morning to go down to Denpasar to get supplies and back in time to serve breakfast. Thank God those days are over.
I had many strokes of luck. I met really nice people in the restaurant who taught me fabulous recipes and we had great laughs trying them out. Many are still on the menu. Every day I meet interesting people from all over the world who teach me a lot about antiques and handicrafts.
What makes Murni’s Warung different from other similar restaurants in Ubud?
I built the first restaurant in Ubud, so I was able to choose the best spot. The location and atmosphere are very special. It sits on a gorge overlooking the Campuan river, which you can hear rushing below. It’s a sacred river. I don’t think any restaurant is quite so romantic. I also keep everything traditionally Balinese – from the food and décor to the costumes of the waiters and waitresses.
How do you relieve stress?
I play the gamelan really hard!
What is the most valuable antique object you own?
What would you like to be doing now?
Having dinner with Walter Spies in Mrs Balbir’s Indian restaurant in Bangkok.
Note: Murni’s web site: www.murnis.com, is one of Bali’s leading online resource centres. She plays the gamelan in a ladies gamelan group in Ubud.
Ni Wayan Murni: Ubud’s First Restaurateur