Rene’ Suhardono Canoneo: Building Career While Whetting Business Intuition

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The mid-1997 monetary crisis virtually brought to a stop most economic activities in Indonesia. However, the recession, like a coin, had two sides to it, that is positive and negative. One positive outcome was the birth of tough entrepreneurs. Rene’ Suhardono Canoneo is a case in point. He tried his luck in the food business, and along with 10 business partners, set up a tent cafe called “Sambel Tomat” (spicy tomato sauce) on Jl. Mahakam. “It was not a unique idea, but our concept was different from other food stalls,” said Rene’, born in Jakarta on July 8, 1972.

And even though running a tent cafe is easier said than done, Rene’s cafe survived, thanks to his earnestness and passion. In 1999, he moved his food stall to a more established area, Kampung Tenda Semanggi, Semanggi Tent Village, and renamed it Dixie.

It was here that good fortune began to smile on him. After operating for seven months in the new area, his 120-seat cafe, measuring 12 by eight square meters and employing 20 people, reached breakeven. Dixie benefits from its superior menu, which was prepared by one of his business partners, Ragil Imam Wibowo, a childhood friend. Besides Ragil, formerly a chef at a five-star hotel in Jakarta, help also comes from Rico Kasmanda, who is excellent at financial matters. “We survive because we share a common dream to have something better,” said Rene’, the only son of Rini Warsono, 49, and Vicente Canone, 71, who comes from the Philippines.

Rene’ and his partners were not satisfied with one cafe and in 2000 opened another outlet in Lippo Sudirman, but closed it in 2004 after a dispute with the building management. Dixie continued to operate under an easy dining concept, and its owners opened more outlets: on Jl. Kemang Raya (150 m2), in Cilandak Square (80 m2), in Taman Rasuna Said in Kuningan (30 m2) and at Benton Junction in Lippo Karawaci, Tangerang (180 m2). In 2005, they opened another Dixie outlet on Jl. Gejayan, Yogyakarta, which is Rene’s first expansion outside Jakarta. All these Dixie outlets are under the control of PT Trirekan Rasa Utama (TRU), a company Rene’ set up with Ragil and Rico.

TRU allows Rene’ and his business partners to move forward with confidence. In 2005, for example, TRU made another hit when it opened Mahi-Mahi. This restaurant, located on Jl. Antasari, Cilandak, South Jakarta, and also used as TRU head office, serves only seafood, with patrons choosing the fish they wish to eat. There are over 15 species of fish to choose from, like kerapu bintang, amplas, senangin, kaka tua, rop ropo and kaneke, which come from Bali and Makassar waters.

While in the case of Dixie, outlets are established with different investors but operated fully by the management of TRU. In the case of Mahi-Mahi, outlets are developed under a franchise system. Mahi-Mahi franchisees simply pay TRU a fee of between Rp 150 million and Rp 250 million for a period of three years, depending of the size of the outlet. “We can do this because we have a standardized system, encompassing a concept, management and food taste and raw material supplies,” said Rene’.

Indeed, in addition to running his own business, Rene’ is a professional at Amrop Hever, a head-hunting company.

This company, Amrop International and The Hever Group, which is a world leading institution for the recruitment of executives, involves 800 professionals in 85 offices in 52 countries.

How does Rene’ arrange his time so there is enough for his activities as an executive and as a restaurant owner? To which he responds that it is not that difficult, he divides his time on the basis of strict discipline. Of course, when he started his own business, he had to work harder than usual. At one point he was running around in all directions without knowing what to do, especially because, as his Dixie business was booming, he became increasingly busier as an executive. Therefore, he slept less, had less leisure time and worked harder.

However, he became more tactical and strategic in his thinking. “Fortunately, with good management, the work load can be arranged. All jobs, especially those of a clerical nature, can always be delegated,” said Rene’, a graduate of the School of Economics of the University of Indonesia.

More importantly, though, his boss at Amrop, Pri Notowidigdo, who Rene considers his “professional father”, highly supports his office career and his side business. As for hurdles, he says they are second nature to him. “What I mean is that all this is a choice. If you think of it as a hurdle, it will be a hurdle. Just don’t think of it as a hurdle,” said Rene’.

He and his partners are looking for business partners for the establishment of Mahi-Mahi in a number of areas in Jakarta. As for Dixie, Rene’ is planning new outlets in Ambarukmo Plaza, Yogyakarta, Soewarna Park in Soekarno-Hatta Airport, Semarang and Surabaya next year. “We’ll sell not only food but a culinary experience,” he noted.

Sometimes Rene’ does not know to what extent he will ultimately develop his business. He greatly enjoys what he has achieved and is not afraid of failing. He is also developing two new brands, Rice Bar, with rice as its specialty, and Health Freaks, a food delivery service for office workers in Jakarta’s Golden Triangle.

Meanwhile, he is also planning to open, in the immediate future, Warung Pizza, a sidewalk-class pizza stall. “It is not because I like pizza and can make it but because this Italian food is well accepted by Indonesians.” (Burhan Abe)

The Jakarta Post, October 11, 2006

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