Saturday, May 19, 2007

Makeshift Chinatown draws dinners north

Saturday, February 03, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Cheap electronic goods and textiles have long enticed Jakartans to make the trek out to the northern part of the city. But now they have another reason: Stopping in for a quick bite to eat under the stars.

Pagoda Food City is a street food bazaar located in the yard of Mangga Dua Square, North Jakarta, which borders with Kota, West Jakarta.

Despite the area's mall, cinema complex and hotel-cum-entertainment center, many people choose to have dinner at one of the food stalls in the yard. There they are free to enjoy their evening without being disturbed by street singers or beggars.

"After-work gatherings have become part of the Jakarta lifestyle. We wanted to offer diners a comfortable venue with an oriental atmosphere," said Novi Andriani from Mangga Dua Square. "There are lots of food stalls in the city, but we are unique in terms of atmosphere and our prices are affordable."

The square management opened the food bazaar last October, offering spaces to 38 vendors from around the city. Tenants were charged Rp 250,000 a month for the first three months, after which the rent increased to Rp 2 million per month.

The tenants were selected because their food had already proved popular around the city, said Yanee Lasahido, the square's promotions manager.

"By bringing the vendors here, we attract more people and, at the same time, broaden their market. For example, people used to go to Kelapa Gading (further into North Jakarta) for empek-empek Palembang, now they don't have to do that," Yanee said.

However, he said that apart from the venue's "Chinatown architecture", featuring pagodas and tiled roofs, the variety and quality of the food was a main consideration for diners.

"We realize this is only a facade -- not the real Chinatown -- and we can't rely on it to attract customers. Therefore we also have to pay attention to the quality and variety of the food. If we sell good food, the people will come."

He said if a stall was not doing well, the square management would ask the owner to improve the quality of their food or change their menu.

The food bazaar is separated into two parts: a national and halal food section, and an oriental food section. Opening from 5 p.m. to 12 p.m., the bazaar attracts 400-500 visitors on weekdays and up to 900 on weekends.

Vino, a West Sumatran food vendor who used to do business in Gunung Sahari, Central Jakarta, said that after three months of selling in the square, he was thinking of moving his entire business to the site.

"Business is good here," he said, refusing to talk in terms of profits. (02)

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