A Coup d’État for Bali’s Nascent Restaurant Sector

Arthur Chondros created a vision in Bali of an upscale entertainment and dining venue on the beach at Seminyak that has become known around the world. Industry leader Ku De Ta is now celebrating its 10th year of existence, and its popularity sees it serving up to 2,500 guests daily during high season. Chondros, an Australian of Greek lineage, told The Bali Times about the early years and where the island’s most famous establishment is headed.

When KU DE TA started 10 years ago there was no real competition in Seminyak. But with the rise of the villa sector and sharply increased tourism, there are now many similar establishments competing for the tourist dollar. So have you seen your guest numbers drop in recent years?
Ten years ago Seminyak had a “coconut tree” vibe; it was much more chilled … so the only way for the business to go was up. I am happy to report that Ku De Ta’s popularity as a destination continues to rise every year and figures increase year upon year. I see the standard of hospitality excellence in Bali significantly lifting the overall tourist experience, and this has to be a good thing.
I firmly believe that this new standard of hospitality – that we have been perfecting for 10 years – is one of the contributing factors why Bali is voted Best Island in all the major travel magazines.

Does it vex that many venues now emulate Ku De Ta, with spacious lounge areas and chill music?
Absolutely not, and indeed imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Ku De Ta supports Bali on a much higher level and believes that any new business contributes to the overarching commitment to great hospitality, and of course the Balinese economy.

What would you say continues to set Ku De Ta apart from other clubs and restaurants in Bali?
To succeed in hospitality you need to be hospitable and welcoming. Ku De Ta is very focused on meeting – and hopefully exceeding – the expectations of all our guests, whether local or visiting from overseas. Attention to detail and consistency are part of the Ku De Ta ethos.
Also, we pay attention to areas that we are passionate about: we are passionate about brilliant food, fabulous parties, inspired music and creativity. I think our guests can feel this passion as soon as they walk into the foyer of Ku De Ta.

Live music, as in DJs spinning tracks, is a big part of Ku De Ta’s entertainment, and a lot of headline DJs are brought in from overseas, including from Europe. But does the average guest care about who plays the music? Would it not be far easier – and more cost-effective – to either get local DJs to spin or just auto-play CDs back to back?
Actually our musical approach is quite eclectic; we like to mix up our sounds and DJs a lot. As music is an integral part of the Ku De Ta experience we like to integrate our international DJs with local DJs and local live acts and then our headlining superstar acts in high season, like The Brand New Heavies.
During the day we play our own iTunes library to create an ambient feel. Our very special Ku De Ta resident DJ, Billy the Kid – musical director – and Donni One – creative director – are a powerful duo and are really defining the Ku De Ta sound.
What about Ku De Ta Radio and special music compilations? Have these been commercially successful?
Ku De Ta Sunset Soundtracks Volume 4 is about to be launched. We would not have a Volume 4 if the CD series was not popular. Our CDs are sold throughout Southeast Asia and in Australia at both large and independent retailers, and of course in our own boutique. The Ku De Ta Sunset Soundtracks are complimented with KDT Radio and Koffee Radio, which both boast cult followings.
In terms of food, people’s tastes change. How has your menu evolved to suit developing palates?
The Ku De Ta approach to food continues to evolve to meet our guests’ needs. Ku De Ta as a venue is open every day for breakfast, lunch, dinner and grazing, but more than the mechanics of the operation we have been aware of meeting people’s dining preferences, whether it be shared pizza on the sun lounges, fine dining in the restaurant or shared foie gras and wagu burgers in KUVE, the upstairs VIP bar.

What, gastronomically, have you seen a trend away from and towards?
There certainly has been a demand for sharing style plates and tapas styles of food; this sits nicely with the bar and party ethos of Ku De Ta. Having said that, though, our restaurant is placed at number nine in the Miele Guide in Southeast Asia and our restaurant exceeds itself in dining numbers throughout the year.

And for drinks?
Cocktails using infused gins and vodkas, flavoured ice spheres, home-churned gelato and shared jugs of refreshing sangria are all Ku De Ta house favourites.

What about pricing on dishes and drinks – has it increased over the years, and if so by how much?
We have slightly increased our prices as per industry standards, which is to be expected over time.

Has Ku De Ta devised its own signature drink?
Yes, definitely. The Sangria jugs are a perennial crowd pleaser and immensely popular during our party season.
The KUVE margarita with house-churned lemon gelato is famous and a drink for which many make a pilgrimage up the KUVE stairs.
What do you say to critics who view the food and drinks at Ku De Ta as overpriced and very expensive?
Ku De Ta gets 99 percent positive feedback from our customer surveys and unfortunately as a licensed business in Bali, we do battle with heavy taxes on alcohol.

Security on entering the premises is very tight, and police and sometimes soldiers employed alongside security guards. Can this be off-putting to some guests?
Ku De Ta takes security very seriously, and rightly so. Our guest feedback is extremely positive in regards to our highly visible security and we are advised that this contributes to a more relaxed and enjoyable experience within the venue.

Around US$100,000 a year is donated by Ku De Ta to charities in Bali, some donated from meals that guests order and other funds from annual charity events at the venue like I’m An Angel. Do you think this money is being effectively spent on those in need? For example, this newspaper went with the I’m An Angel Foundation to impoverished places in Bali that showed no sign of improvement; and we met lepers in dire straits, outcast from their families and living in mud huts.
Ku De Ta has raised over $600,000 in the past eight years and the task of I’m An Angel is immense and ongoing. I have 100 percent faith in Asana ‘Viebeke’ Lengkong – and her volunteers – who work tirelessly in many remote communities. Viebeke has at least 20 initiatives under way at any one time to provide clean tank water and educational facilities, and medical, environmental and commercial initiatives; the list is endless.

As Ku De Ta enters its second decade, what initiatives, if any, are underway to maintain the venue’s high profile and standards?
We are constantly reinventing ourselves and evolving as a business. We have renovations in the pipeline, so watch this space.

Is Ku De Ta going to branch out to other islands?
Ku De Ta is situated on the Island of the Gods. Why would we want to leave paradise?

Readers interested in the work of I’m An Angel can find more information at www.imanagel.org

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