Hubert Burda Media

MICHELLE SURJAPUTRA: MADE TO ORDER

The health-conscious young entrepreneur travelled from New York to Seoul to fine-tune the ingredients of a fast-food favourite that’s free of preservatives and MSG

“It’s fried chicken that’s good for you,” says Michelle Surjaputra of her Chick ‘N Roll brand. The health-conscious young entrepreneur travelled from New York to Seoul to fine-tune the ingredients of a fast-food favourite that’s free of preservatives and MSG, writes Chris Hanrahan.

Fast food doesn’t have to be junk food. It’s this belief that motivated 29-year-old entrepreneur Michelle Surjaputra to launch her Chick ‘N Roll brand a couple of years ago. The founder and CEO of Michelin do Food International began her entrepreneurial career at the age of 22. She has now opened 24 Chick ‘N Roll restaurants in Indonesia, including seven in Jakarta.

Michelle has gone international with the brand already, having rolled out one branch in Brunei. Two further Chick ‘N Roll restaurants will launch in Malaysia before the end of 2018. India and Egypt are two more overseas markets where she sees potential in the next five years.

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“It’s fried chicken that’s good for you,” Michelle says proudly of her product, which she developed based on her experiences of sampling various styles of fried chicken in cities all over, from New York to Seoul. “It all started with a dream of serving customers the world’s tastiest and most authentic chicken at an affordable price,” she goes on. “We use clean oil – no frozen meat, no preservatives and no MSG. It’s all fresh, and it’s of high quality. Everything we serve is cooked to order in the restaurants.”

Michelle says her company sources its meat only from farms that raise their chickens “with integrity, and the factory is strictly halal”. She continues: “We have adopted the Asian frying technique, which melts the fat and makes the skin extra crispy. Then we hand-brush our chicken with sauces made of fruit extract. We’re the first fast-casual fried chicken restaurant to mix eastern and western cultures, offering fresh, halal, and zero trans-fat chicken. You can taste the difference. You don’t feel nauseous after eating our food.”

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Why does this fast-food entrepreneur care about the health of her customers? “I’ve noticed the bad effects of salty and sugary food on people, including my own weight,” replies Michelle.

“I’ve seen Supersize Me. I know how some of the street food here can affect you. There are bakso meatballs that contain more tapioca and borax (a food additive) than meat. I’ve learned so much from running fast-food businesses. I don’t want to eat unhealthy food myself, so why would I sell it to others?”

Conscience aside, Michelle points out that now is a good time to get into the premium fast food business. “There’s a huge market out there,” observes this Magna Cum Laude and Beta Gamma Sigma honours graduate of the NYU Stern School of Business in Finance and Economics. “Everyone is going healthy now. That’s certainly the trend in the US. Salad bars have sprung up on every street corner in New York City. People don’t want to give up their fried chicken, but they do seek a healthier version of it. That’s where we come in.

“Customers in Indonesia are looking for healthier food now. They’ve heard about all the bad stuff there is out there. A major part of our demographic is senior high school and college students. They’re the cool kids, the hipsters. Eating nutritious fast food is what these smart young people want to do.”

On the subject of young people, Chick ‘N Roll has an active CSR programmer, Project Kook, targeted at children. Michelle and her team are working with fashion designer Barli Asmara to build a school in Sumba in partnership with supermodel Petra Nemcova’s Happy Hearts Foundation. Happy Hearts has rebuilt 128 schools in Indonesia following natural disasters, enabling more than 50,000 children to resume their studies in clean, safe environments.

“Petra is so glamorous and yet one of the nicest and most down-to-earth people I have ever met,” says Michelle. “She is sincere about changing children’s lives and this is why I decided to work with her. Previously through Project Kooka, we’ve sponsored a full year of education for 50 students. This year, we’re tripling our target and building a school. Our goal is to raise Rp 350 million through selling Kooka mascot dolls and merchandise.”

Born in Indonesia, Michelle was raised in Boston and educated in New York City. “I don’t much like going to parties,” she tells us. “If I can, I would rather hang out at home. I don’t drink and I don’t do crazy things, so going clubbing doesn’t interest me at all.”

In her online resume, Michelle writes: “I’m a Scorpio, I’m an introvert, I’m Type A. I love new adventures and dream about travelling around the world. I love to challenge myself. At the age of 10, little did I know that joining the swim team would change my life. As a solution to my eating endeavours (aka weight management), my mom enrolled me in the swim team and year after year I became more and more serious. In the winter season, I swam six hours a day and had travel meets on the weekend. Juggling swimming with school, I learned the importance of persistence, determination and hard work.

“Going to Stern and being able to experience the vibrant NYC culture and immense offerings changed the way I saw life. Attending a school full of Type As encouraged me to be the best I could be. Though out my four years in NYU, I interned at various industries and firms, acquiring an array of knowledge. In the summer of my junior year, I interned in my dream job, investment banking in NYC. Then, breaking away from the Stern pack, I explored the opportunities in my home country: Indonesia.

“I love being an entrepreneur and enjoy the F&B industry. It allows me to use my creativity while honing my corporate nance skills. Being an entrepreneur also allows me to better manage my time. I’ve always been awed by marathon runners. Missing sports, I embarked on my first marathon in 2013 in Paris. Shortly afterwards, I became addicted to triathlons.

“However, because I spent most of my young life in the water, I’m usually clumsy on land. I crashed my bike multiple times and finally, when I broke my collarbone, I called it quits on cycling. Now, I resort to marathons! I’ve met wonderful friends, mentors and supporters throughout this journey. I look forward to building more ventures and embarking on more endurance sports and challenges.”

On the subject of eating, Michelle says she likes American food best, “although I am cutting back on the carbs” to keep her weight down. Her favourite places to eat in New York are Balthazar, a French restaurant on Spring Street, and Burger Joint, which is to be found at Le Parker Meridien hotel on 56th Street.

“Burger Joint has got the best burgers I’ve ever tasted,” she grins. “It’s a unique place, a no-frills burger restaurant located inside a ve-star hotel!” When she was a student Michelle enjoyed eating at the Waldorf Astoria hotel (located on Park Avenue, but currently closed while undergoing a renovation and restoration). “It had the best brunch in the city,” she recalls.

Michelle sees herself as a fairly adventurous foodie, as ready to try something delicious at a food court or on a street stall as she is to dine in style at a Michelin-star restaurant (Jean-Georges on the Bund in Shanghai is a favourite). “But I don’t go as far as some people,” Michelle laughs. “I won’t eat scorpions, for instance! I don’t much like raw food, like oysters, uni (sea urchin) or eel. But I’ll try more or less anything that’s cooked and looks tasty.

“I love to go on trips with my mom. We travel around the world and eat great food. But it doesn’t have to be expensive food all the time. When I’m in Tokyo I always go for cubicle ramen at an Ichiran restaurant. It’s super cheap and super good. When I’m home I like to eat at Akira Back (Japanese cuisine with a Korean accent, located at the MD Place Penthouse in Setiabudi). The food’s great, and the restaurant is handy, not far from my apartment.”

Michelle’s favourite travel destinations include Bali, where she will get married to Sunggoro Tjan of IndoSterling Technomedia, a subsidiary of IndoSterling Capital, on June 30. The ceremony will take place at Alila Uluwatu and about 400 guests are expected. “Now that I’ve become a Buddhist, I’m hoping we will go to Tibet for our honeymoon,” she says. “It’s one of the places on my bucket list.”

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