Outback Steakhouse's Franchise Holder Envisions 100 Restaurants Across Southeast Asia In 10 Years

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Prasoon Mukherjee ate his first meal at an Outback Steakhouse during a visit in Los Angeles more than a decade ago, and his eating habit hasn't changed since that outing.

When Mukherjee opened his first Outback branch in Singapore in 2000, most people around him were surprised. His Singapore-based Universal Success Enterprises Limited (USEL) primarily focuses on infrastructure and energy projects like sea ports and power plants, so the company's expansion into restaurants was a departure from those main businesses.

"You know, a lot of people ask me this question, ‘Is this a toy?'," Mukherjee chuckled last Thursday in an interview with Jakarta Globe at the Outback restaurant in Kuningan City shopping mall.

"It's actually the contrary. Outback Steakhouse is my passion. Everything else is just business." Two years after opening the branch Singapore, he opened the first Outback in Indonesia, and USEL became the franchise holder for the restaurants across Southeast Asia.

Mukherjee first heard about Outback while visiting Los Angeles. A local had told him that the city's experience wasn't complete until he visited Outback, which is an Australian-themed restaurant chain that is based in the United States. Offerings ranged from Kookaburra Wings and the Bloomin' Onion to sirloin steak and ribs.

"It was amazing. I could see that it would do very well in Southeast Asia. We haven't looked back since," he said.

Despite a slow start, the franchise gained traction. USEL now manages nine Outback branches across the region.

"I wasn't able to focus on Outback in the beginning, but now we're back on track, targeting 100 restaurants in the next ten years," said Mukherjee who grew up in India and is chairman and founder of USEL.

The company plans to open four new branches across the region this year alone. In Indonesia, Mukherjee is opening a branch at the St. Moritz apartment and shopping complex in Jakarta this year, and is also eyeing sites in Bali. Two other restaurants in operation in Jakarta are in Pondok Indah Mall I and Ratu Plaza.

He said Indonesia has become the leading market for Outback restaurants, citing the country's middle class and its growing purchasing power.

"It is such a bullish country the people are optimists," he added.

Despite that, Mukherjee confesses that pursuing Indonesian customers has taken a great deal of perseverance.

Customer service, which includes handling issues like feedback, is the biggest stumbling block, he said.

"Indonesians are absolutely non-aggressive. They don't say in your face, ‘I don't like your food, but they'll say [it] to their friends. Then they won't come back, or their friends won't come," he said.

To overcome that challenge, Mukherjee has trained Outback staff members to check customers' dishes instead, whether the meals have been completed or haven't been touched.

Moving forward, Mukherjee will continue his passion as a restaurateur. Aside from adding new branches, the company plans to explore other franchises, particularly coffee-theme and Italian-theme establishments.

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