Wed, 23 Jul 2003

'Amigos', booming alternative business

Zakki Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

When most people talk about Amigos, they are referring to a Mexican restaurant that serves tacos and burritos. But when you ask for lunch at Amigos in the Sudirman Business District Center, you might be directed to a completely different place.

In the Latin language Amigos means friends, Amigos here stands for Agak Minggir Got Sedikit (a little bit next to the sewer). Most of the food stalls at Amigos food court stand next to or even in the gutter.

Located behind the Mandiri Plaza, around 4,000 employees from surrounding offices flock into Amigos food court every single day. There are currently 20 different food stalls at Amigos which only operates for five hours during lunchtime.

Amigos coordinator, Anton Aris, told The Jakarta Post that the employees come from Bank Mandiri, Directorate General for Taxation, Jakarta Stock Exchange, Artha Graha buildings and even from the City Police headquarters.

Amigos began in 1998 when the country was suffering not only from a financial crisis but also from riots and general unrest. Business in Jakarta was slowing down at that time.

Aris had been employed at a private company in Jatinegara, East Jakarta, but he was laid-off in mid 1998.

To survive, Aris and his wife searched for an alternative business and decided to open a food stall at the current location. The couple sold Chinese Food and tongseng, a popular Indonesian dish of spicy goat meat with broth.

He stayed being a food vendor as the income was good.

"Actually, it (the income) is far better than my last salary," he said.

The 39-year old man now can earn Rp 650,000 (US$79.3) per day from his business.

However, for the sake of order in the busy area, vendors can only open their stalls from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.. After all, the site they are using for business belongs to the ministerial housing complex.

"Authorities in the area have given permission to us to open food stalls, with one condition -- we must maintain order and cleanliness in the area," said Aris.

Yusuf, whose stall is considered the most popular in the area, is a 40-year-old vendor who sells pecel lele (fried catfish served with chili sauce and raw vegetables) and other fried delicacies.

Roughly around 200 visitors eat at his stall everyday. He can earn Rp 1.8 million a day, with one meal sold for Rp 7,000.

Yusuf opened his stall and three others in mid 1997.

"Business was very slow back then," said the man, who came from Lamongan, East Java.

Amigos vendors also get an advantage from street vendors who sell household products alongside them.

Yusuf said that having the vendors there is another selling point for Amigos. After having lunch patrons can shop for what they need at home in the four-hour market.

"This is a lucrative business now," he said with a big smile.

Ahmad, the assistant manager of a multinational company, said that the vendors provided everything from water faucets to kitchen knives.

"You can buy anything you need for the household. Anything but furniture," he said.

Ahmad said that he preferred to have lunch at Amigos due to his longing for a little fresh air, after working in a fully air- conditioned room all day long.

"A little perspiration is also healthy," he added, smiling.

But the main reason why he chooses Amigos is the delicious and comprehensive menus the stalls offer. All at considerably cheap prices.