Shawn Liem - Founder & CEO of Kyoyu Japanese Fusion Restaurant and Kabuki Artisanal Cocktails

Shawn Liem - Founder & CEO of Kyoyu Japanese Fusion Restaurant and Kabuki Artisanal Cocktails
Magani unites tradition with the new; reimagining the traditional batik shirt for the needs of our contemporary society. We combine Indonesia’s rich cultural heritage with the latest innovation in performance wear material to build the ultimate durable and comfortable shirt for the modern Indonesian man who is constantly on the move. 
As we celebrate Indonesia’s heritage, we also celebrate the individuals who are unintimidated by the sweat and hard work required to defy challenges, push boundaries, and move Indonesia forward.
Meet the #MaganiMen who have inspired us that with grit and endurance, there are no limits to what you can achieve. #NOSWEATNOLIMIT
#MaganiMen: Meet Shawn Liem, Founder & CEO of Kyoyu Japanese Fusion Restaurant and Kabuki Artisanal Cocktails
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m Shawn and I’m 30 years old. I was previously an investment banker at Mandiri Sekuritas and also President & CEO of ONIC ESports. I learned how to cook during the pandemic and I’m really passionate about F&B. I started Kyoyu last year 2022 as a passion project that turned into a serious business.

Shawn wears Phoenix Bloom.

What is Kyoyu? 

Kyoyu also means “to share” in Japanese and that’s why our menu items are all family-style and shareable. The idea for Kyoyu initially started off as a simple cafe but as the business progressed we realized we needed to do something different to sustain our revenue stream and expand into being a full-fledged restaurant. Kyoyu’s identity is yoshoku cuisine, which is Western-influenced Japanese cooking. For instance our pastas have Japanese elements like nori, tobiko, salmon, while our rice bowls have Western elements like beef brisket and chimichurri. At the end of the day, there is also a science to what actually tastes good to our taste buds, such as the amount of seasoning, the utilization of herbs and the balance between fats and acid. Japanese fusion gives us the space to create menus that are unique, complex, yet affordable, but we also stay consistent to the science of what genuinely tastes good as the primary guideline to our experimentations.

Shawn wears Pastel Florals.

What is Kabuki?

Kabuki creates affordable, high-quality, artisanal bottled cocktails. I personally like to drink, but as we get older we cannot have whiskey on the rocks all the time, especially during the day. I decided to make Kabuki as an answer to that. A refreshing and light drink that you can have anytime and anywhere. In line with the Kyoyu brand, Kabuki is inspired by the Japanese Kabuki artform of performance theater. Kabuki performances were held in makeshift theaters on riverbanks that were accessible to the masses. With the same philosophy - I wanted to make cocktails accessible to everyone. Usually one cocktail at a bar can be around 150k for a few gulps, but we are offering a 300mL drink for around 270k.  

We have very unique and bold flavors utilizing fruit purees. This is because fresh juice mixed with liquor needs to be consumed directly and does not have a shelf life. On the other hand, packaged juices tend to taste too sugary and artificial. For instance, we have one of my favorite flavors called Valencia Bourbon. Valencia is a region in Spain that is known for their oranges. So we combine Valencia orange puree with bourbon, dark rum, orange liqueur, lime puree, creme de menthe, mint-infused water, and angostura bitters. Even though this seems like a lot of ingredients for a cocktail, we make sure that the flavor profile is still balanced enough for new cocktail drinkers to accept and complex enough for enthusiasts to enjoy, while still maintaining costs down. We also have another drink that is inspired by the aviation cocktail utilizing gin and maraschino liqueur, but our version is centered around the taste of the sakura flower. I enjoy creating complex botanical flavours that surprise people and give them a new perspective on cocktails.

What is the biggest challenge you faced thus far? 

It has been challenging to continue to evolve the brand. We started from a cafe to now a Japanese bistro. The next logical iteration for Kyoyu and Kabuki is a bar. We have to figure out how to get a pipeline of DJs and live bands and become a cool social destination for people, in addition to balancing our existing family-oriented market segment. 

What would you do differently if you could start this process all over again?

It’s been a steep learning curve to understand the kitchen workflow and all the tools required to make the food production efficient. I would have also focused on higher margin streams like liquor and cocktails so that we can have stronger cash flows. In the beginning it was difficult to start off as a cafe because coffee and tea don’t make much money without volume. Ultimately that’s why we had to pivot to a full-fledged restaurant with higher margin menu items that have the value-add from the creativity and effort that we put in during R&D. However, my aim is not to make massive scale branches, but smaller curated spaces where I can properly quality control the customer’s experience.

We need to have a strong brand and strong products. Margin should always be there and therefore there has to be a clear value-add for every new menu item. Most of the time, this is by developing the customers’ perception. I want to create unique experiences that customers would share with their friends. A special item that represents our approach is our Cloud Latte which is visually very instagrammable but also tastes super interesting like caramel popcorn. It’s a unique sensory experience.

Tell us a fun fact about your industry that outsiders wouldn’t know.

You compete against yourself. Everyone eats and drinks, so it’s really up to you to be creative and do something different and create the unique experience that your customers find relevant. Each establishment has their own demographic, which are the regulars, people who live or work in the area or people that just happen to be passing by. They are our community and it's our job to take care of them.

How did your experiences in banking and e-sports help your journey as an entrepreneur in the Food & Beverage (F&B) industry? 

With investment banking, I was able to get exposure to various industries and how they function. The common thread was understanding the core financial fundamentals of generating recurring income, profitability, and optimal capital structure. These financial concepts are transferable to all industries. When I was in ONIC, I had to focus on branding and marketing because your team’s popularity is crucial in e-sports. Now at Kyoyu & Kabuki I can apply my learnings from my previous experiences to grow a financially sustainable F&B brand.

How did you make that transition from professional to entrepreneur?

Of course being an entrepreneur is more stressful. As a professional you follow guidance/instructions and get a fixed income per month. Now as an entrepreneur, the stakes are much higher because I’m investing my own money and I’m taking on all the risk. You have to figure everything out yourself and things don’t always go your way and it sucks. You have to learn how to deal with it, but the challenge makes it all fun and I get to learn and develop my own business style.

Any advice for young entrepreneurs? 

Start small and just do it. Invest in yourself and just go for it with calculated risk. As best as possible, do it without debt and pay attention to your cash flow. You need a strong value-add offering with enough profit margin to be sustainable. Also, strategy and planning are completely different. You need to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve and what results you expect. You can’t control everything throughout the journey of getting to that outcome you envision and making mistakes is fine. Learn to pivot from your mistakes but still have that end-goal in mind.   

What’s your leadership style?

I’m chill and easygoing. I want to be approachable so that my team can be open and talk to me about anything. I think everyone has their own style of how they want to do things so I am very open to however my team wants to get things done. But I do set clear targets and strict deadlines. I review the results and course-correct from there.

What do you do to recharge yourself?

Lately I have been doing cardio or weight lifting in the morning and taking cold showers. It really sets you up for success for the day. I also like to play badminton with family and friends because it’s a fun social game that everyone can pick up. 

Who are you inspired by?

I am inspired by my father who showed me what it takes to be determined, to not take the easy way out, and pursue his own dream. I also looked up to my boss at Mandiri, who showed me that you don’t need to be the most technically brilliant, but you have to be hardworking and have the social skills to manage stakeholders, push your agenda, and build a solid network. 

Any recommendations for what you’re reading / listening to?

Everyone should read How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Other books I like - Principles by Ray Dalio, Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness by Morgan Housel, and Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear. I would also recommend listening to Andrew Huberman’s podcasts on science-based tools for health.

What about Magani resonated/appealed to you?

I think Magani and Kyoyu/Kabuki are similar in trying to do something non-traditional and creating unique experiences for our customers. I enjoy anything that is avant garde - that pushes boundaries of the norms. I think Magani has been able to create a shirt that has the high quality design of batik tulis in a much cheaper way through digital printing. Also, the printing doesn’t fade and come off like my conventional batik shirts printed on cotton. In addition, comfort is also super important to me and no matter what people say - people do judge books by their covers. Appearance matters and so I always want to look representable while staying comfortable, and that’s why I wear Magani everyday.  


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