Restaurant Toko Oen, the most well-known restaurant in Semarang. Situated on the Bodjong road

Restaurant Toko Oen, the most well-known restaurant in Semarang. Situated on the Bodjong road (1950)

Restaurant Toko Oen, het meest bekende restaurant in Semarang. Gelegen aan de Bodjongweg (1950)

18 April 2001, 65 year Toko Oen in Semarang.
18 April 2001, 65 jaar Toko Oen te Semarang.

The story of Toko Oen, the city's oldest restaurant, begins in 1912 in Yogyakarta with a housewife who had time on her hands.

Liem Gien Nio was the wife of Oen Tjoen Hok, a Chinese-Indonesian lieutenant, who wanted something to do after finishing her housework.

She was an expert cook of Dutch and Chinese food, so she started making different types of cookies and selling them, with her customers including the Chinese and Dutch communities and the Javanese nobility of Yogyakarta.

The cookies sold like, well, hot cakes. Liem soon established a small cake shop, Toko Oen, at the strategic location of Jl. Tugu Kidul in Yogyakarta, with its name taken from her husband.

The shop, with its delicious cakes and cookies, soon established a regular customer base.

As more people came to try the cakes, the family opened another room where people could sit down and have a drink.

After three years, they expanded the restaurant again and hired staff to help them, including cooks making more substantial meals than cakes.

The family considered opening branches outside of Yogyakarta, and on April 16, 1936, Toko Oen Semarang on Bodjong Weg, now Jalan Pemuda, served up its first meals to customers.

Branches in Jakarta and Malang soon followed. Bodjong, running from the Tugu Muda (Youth Monument) through to the harbor, was the main road in Semarang, home to important offices such as the train bureau and post office.

Liem's granddaughter Yenny Megaputri, who is a graduate in architecture from Delft University and manages Toko Oen, said the restaurant, with its tall windows and high curved roof, was built in the Jugendstijl (young style) that was popular in Europe from the end of the 19th century.

What makes Toko Oen special it that it has not changed over the years.

Today it has a mall in front of it and modern shops as its neighbors, but Toko Oen has not changed.

Toko Oen has always been famed for its rich menu -- beef steak (a European style dish which, however, is never found in the Old World), fried rice, satay, tutti frutti ice cream and many others are firm favorites, just as they were when president Sukarno and the Sultan of Yogyakarta dined there.

Its interior is even more beautiful than its exterior.

The windows have green curtains and there are checkered tiles on the floor.

Two fans, like in the old days, fight the Semarang heat.

A grand piano has been a resident since 1936 and it still works well today. Dutch cookies and cakes are displayed in tall glass jars, and its menus and crockery hark back to the 1930s.

Even the waiters, some of them are the sons of the men who first worked in Toko Oen, wear the peci (traditional black cap) and white uniforms of their forbears (the Javanese blangkon hat worn by waiters before independence was changed to the peci at Sukarno's suggestion.

"If a chair is broken, we change it for a similar one," said Agustiana Sustianawati, one of the staff members.

Yenny Megaputri said any change would be to the detriment of the restaurant's atmosphere.

"I love old buildings so I will not make any change to this restaurant," said Yenny.

The Semarang restaurant is the only one in Indonesia still run by the family.

In 1970, Toko Oen Jakarta and Yogyakarta stopped running due to the absence of family members willing to take them over.

Toko Oen Malang is still running but under different management.

But Yenny has made some strategic business steps.

She opened two branches in Delft and The Hague respectively in 1997 and 2000.
But they are close in 2009.

Some of them spent their youth in Semarang; as they sit on the chairs in Toko Oen, perhaps they are reliving in their mind the days of their youth when they danced, sang and dined at this famous restaurant.

Update: July 1, 2009