Meet Kazuya Takami of Warung KZU who shares his love of food and music and how Bali changed his life.
Kazuya-san, where are you from in Japan?
I was born and raised in a small village south of Nagasaki, although I have lived and worked in Italy and Australia before coming to Bali.
What brought you to Bali?
To make a long story short, I was working at a restaurant in Japan and my boss had been surfing in Bali a few times. He loved it over here, and dreamed to have a restaurant.
So I came here initially on his behalf to check out the business prospects for us. I never left! Our partnership dissolved over time, as it’s very difficult to explain the Bali condition without being here, but I stayed on in Bali. For six months, I looked for a job and just enjoyed living my new and different life here.
As my money was running out, I eventually found a position at a Japanese Restaurant, Kaizan on Jalan Oberoi, and worked there for over two years. It was a great experience and I learned a lot about the restaurant business here in Bali.
I was always into different foods and always enjoyed the preparation of it. When I was growing up, I always got involved if someone was making food. When I was old enough, I started working in restaurants and eventually became a chef.
I have never been a serious Japanese Chef. I have done some travel and have been influenced by many different cuisines from different cultures. But I am more influenced by what I can get at the markets; what fresh product is available.
How has Bali changed your life?
Completely. Bali created a whole new life for me. I found my Italian wife and we soon had a daughter, who is already five years old now. And of course, now we have two restaurants. And a team of staff that help me feed the hundreds of expats and travellers that come for our food.
I find life less stressful here, as it is in Japan. Japan is also very established and it is hard to get a foot in the door. Indonesia is more open on a different scale from what I knew before. Here you can go right to the source for supplies and products; not too much red tape.
Of course, there is stress everywhere but much less in Bali. Here the culture still respects the importance of ritual. There are also many interesting people from all over the world being creative and actively enjoying their lives.
We are now seeing extremely fast growth in Bali but the lifestyle still remains more laid back and there is not the pressure to constantly work. That said, I am always busy working, but I enjoy what I do so it’s not really like ‘work’ for me.
How did KZU come about?
When my wife became pregnant it became obvious I needed more income to support us all, so I had the idea to make a small warung, My first place was a little bamboo building near Golden Village in Seminyak. I rented it for 15 million for the year, made a small renovation, found someone to help me cook and clean up, and we started opening for lunch with fifteen dishes a day. Now we do about 50.
Step by step, people started coming for the food and as a meeting spot. It was mostly local expats and travellers. Within six months, the clientele grew until we were making 120 lunches a day in a two-metre square kitchen! It was crazy, but everybody loved the place! It soon became obvious we needed a bigger location. It was time to step it up.
At about this time I met Marcus Mcentee, an Australian expat who ate at my warung regularly. He had a lot of experience in building and business in Indonesia and was looking to set up a healthy fast food brand and offered me a partnership. Discussions went on for a year while we tried to find a good location. Eventually we found a perfect location on Jalan Drupadi.
My partner and friend, Marcus. He loves to build and customize everything. He even builds our fridges and kitchens and so forth. We have fun trying new things and keeping things quite urban industrial with rusted panels, bare concrete walls and stencilling logos on walls, while also designing for maximum air flow and light; keeping the venue cool and comfortable. We each have different skill sets and different areas of expertise, so we are not competing on any level; rather we complement each other.
What is the secret of your popularity?
Good ‘clean’ food at a great price, and enough choices that you can eat there every day if you want, many of our patrons do; some twice a day. It’s just easy. You walk up to the display, point at what you want, pay and within seconds you’re snacking away at a table or walking out with your takeaway.
We want to make food everyone can eat every day; not rich gourmet foods which should only be enjoyed occasionally. Our food is seasonal and local.
Customers don’t have to wait. They choose what they like and are served immediately. That’s why we are constantly making food and people can see the kitchen and know their food is made in a clean environment following the highest standards. It is comfortable to just drop in alone to eat and meet people. We wanted to keep that comfortable environment of the small warung.
I love the music here. Do you create the playlist?
Yes, KZU is all about the music. I listen to music on and off for 12 hours a day in my restaurants, so over time I have found that I like the real music, not stuff made by a computer. I like to hear real voices with real people touching strings. I love to mix the old music from the sixties and seventies. We also make sure we have music in the kitchen; people are always moving and it is good to have good music to move to.
What brings you joy in your life?
All things which bring us great joy take a lot of work. My work and my family bring me the most happiness in my life. Being here in Bali and doing what I love brings me great joy.