Ong family – Ong Jap Lik – Reunion 2010 – 王网 Toko “OEN”

Toko “OEN” is one of the oldest family-owned restaurants in Indonesia that are still being run and managed by the direct descendants of the founders. For the radio show of Dutch broadcaster VPRO, “Passages, Passanten”, reporters have visited Toko “OEN” restaurants in Semarang and Malang. You can listen to this show, that was broadcasted on June 18th, 1991 on Dutch radio.

Click on the “play button”. The interview is in Dutch.

Liem Gien Nio ( & Oen Tjoen Hok (, founders of Toko “OEN”.

Many thanks to Fons Baede for digitalizing and sharing this recording. More information about Toko “OEN”: visit their website.

Below are some parts of the show, translated into English.

Toko “OEN”, it is a restaurant that, like many here in Semarang, was established during the Dutch colonial times. We are meeting Ibu Sien, whose name actually is Sinarwati Utama Chandra Megaradjasa. She is one of the children of the Chinese Oen Tjoen Hok, who set the foundations for an empire of restaurants in Indonesia, that was still called Dutch East Indies that time. Ibu Sien has been in charge of Toko “OEN” in Semarang for decades. Just a short while ago, daily management has been taken over by daughter Jenny and son Gilbert.

Toko “OEN” in Yogyakarta

Toko “OEN” was set up from a cookie bakery in Yogyakarta by Ibu Sien’s mother. The Dutch in the tropics had a craving for the cookies from the far motherland. Toko “OEN” eventually expanded to four restaurants in Yogya, Jakarta, Malang and Semarang. The huzarensalade started a new future on the other side of the world. Ibu Sien, the youngest of seven children, was studying in Jakarta when her mother requested her to return to Semarang.

Back in the days, did everybody help in the business?

Ibu Sien: “Yes, indeed. Besides our work for school, we had to work in the Toko as well.”

And your father was also involved in Toko “OEN”?

S: “Yes, my father did the bookkeeping. Cooking is a women’s job. But overall it was my father who was in charge. Both my father and my mother were running Toko “OEN”. And they were very stringent and disciplined. They worked very hard, but nevertheless they still made time for us. Especially for our homework. Oh dear, if our school marks were bad, we really had a problem.”

Toko “OEN” in Semarang (I)

Have you been educated by your mother?

S: Yes, we have learned everything by just doing it. Already as a child, we had to work in the shop and in the kitchen. “You’ll never know,” she said, “even when you don’t own a shop, you still can apply everything you’ve learnt at home.” I can cook everything that is cooked here. But that is a necessity because I need to teach chefs how to cook. Most chefs who work here have never worked anywhere else. My mother has employed them when they were still young. And then she started educating them. First they start with doing the dishes, then peeling onions and potatoes, etc. It takes years until they are fully educated. This was my mother’s way of working.”

Toko “OEN” in Semarang (II)

What kind of person was your mother?

S: “She was a real business woman, but she had a very big heart. Because people, for example her staff, adored her. She took good care of her people. This is what I always have remembered. And all her staff stayed working here until high age. Even if they were unable to work, my mother kept on supporting them. So there always has been a good relation between the staff and us.”

Toko “OEN” in Semarang (III)

S: “Toko “OEN” has been there through many different periods: The Dutch period, the Japanese period, the Merdeka (Sukarno) period and the Suharto period. And despite all the changes, we are still here.”

About 65 years ago, Toko “OEN” was facing a bright future in Semarang, a harbour city located west of Surabaya. At first it was a rendezvous for the Dutch colony. One day the Japanese occupied the rotan chairs. After that Sukarno took over control and eventually Suharto shook up everything again. Headwear of the serving staff had to be changed and moreover, Chinese family names were banned.

Toko “OEN” in Semarang (IV)

Malang, March 1991. Nearby the alun-alun, heart of the town that lies in the mountains of Eastern Java, we can find the only other remaining Toko “OEN”. But unfortunately, the question “For how long?” had become a relevant one. Max Liem, at the age of 71, is Ibu Sien’s cousin. Since 1939 he represents the Oen Dynasty in Malang. Not long after he had found his place in the colonial community, the hostile Japanese barged in and the Dutch were detained. But Toko “OEN” did not close its doors.

Toko “OEN” was one of the few that survived Dutch East Indies. An Indonesian-Chinese business that was inherited from generation to generation. Even staff members were replaced by their children. In Semarang, the future of Toko “OEN” is carefully being planned. In Malang, Max Liem has been considering to pass the business to the daughter of the cashier, whom he considered as his own brother. But how confident is he about the future?

Max Liem: “Yogya was going well. But because of some problems they had no choice but selling it. It has been a big shock for Mrs. Oen. She’s been very sad about it. But there was no other option. Jakarta was a different situation. At a certain moment, it was decided that the former Noordwijk, where Toko “OEN” was located, was supposed to have two- or three-story buildings. My cousin, Oen’s son, had trouble building this. He tried to find people that might want to rent a part of the new building, for example as an office. But there were some difficulties achieving this. That’s why he decided to sell it.”

That is a very sad ending.

M: “Yes, I’m also afraid for a sad ending for us here in Malang…this situation.”

Malang, March 1991. On the day we went to see Max Liem in Toko “OEN”, he had also received visitors who brought bad news. Suddenly he was talking with a person who claimed to be a representative of the owner of the building. The message was that Toko “OEN” had one week to close its doors. The new owner had other plans. Max contacted his lawyer. He couldn’t rely upon an official rental contract, because there simply had not been one. The lawyer already knew about the case, since he also was the lawyer of the owner. Max warned the police, because the visitor had threatened him.

M: “I was very depressed after they came here and told me I must leave the building. “On what grounds, actually?” I asked. “Yes, I have some documents,” he responded. But I have been renting this place since 1939. I just don’t have the receipts. As proof, I can show a picture of the opening of Toko “OEN” in 1939. Old people who know me can confirm it. It has become an enormous problem. I feel sad. Most of them [new owners] want to make a showroom or a bank. For their own pockets, isn’t it? For me, it’s about Malang. Toko “OEN” is one of the oldest restaurants. It still looks the same, nothing has changed. It should remain as a monument of Malang.”

Toko “OEN” in Jakarta (Batavia)

Malang, May 30th 1991. In Toko “OEN”, the phone is answered by Max Liem’s brother. “No, Max is not present and you can’t reach him here anymore.” On June 1st Toko “OEN” will be closed down. In deep secrecy, the building has been sold already one year ago. It is unclear where Max is. Until we talk to him on the phone, four days later. It appears that he has been detained for days in the police station. He has been accused to have used incorrect words while arguing with the mayor about his problem with the owner of the building. The only way to leave prison was by accepting the sale of the building and the closure of Toko “OEN”. He had lost his business.

M: “The 25th, I have been detained. I had to stay in jail for days. I couldn’t stand those people there. I have endured a tough week, but there was nothing I could do. Then I decided to “make peace” with the buyer. I was released, but I also need to leave Toko “OEN” within 14 days.”

Current Interior of Toko “OEN” in Semarang


1 Comment so far
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In the past,I have many a time visited “Toko Oen “in Malang,
during my holiday trips to wonderful Indonesia,just to try
their Dutch dishes/treats,and they were all excellent,
as if I were at home in Holland!!!!
I had no idea,that they had others branches throughout
Alas,my deteriorating health now prohibits me to travel
to far away ” De gordel van smaragd “,as we Dutch used
to call our former “Nederlandsch Indie “,as Indonesia was
then known!
Toko Oen,go forth and prosper ,and “Tot ziens “.

Comment by fbartling

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