The Jakarta Post
Hidden gem: Maison Weiner was founded in 1936 by Lee Liang Mey. Located in Kwitang, Central Jakarta, the bakery is known for its traditional Dutch breads and pastries. (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)
Maison Weiner bakery has been serving authentic Dutch breads and pastries in Jakarta for 83 years, but its future hangs in the balance without a clear successor.
Tucked away along the small street of Jl. Kramat II in Kwitang, Central Jakarta, Maison Weiner has a unique historical relevance in Jakarta: In 1936, it became the first bakery to open its doors in the capital, nine years before Indonesia gained independence.
Maison Weiner was founded by Lee Liang Mey, who was of Chinese ancestry. Lee previously worked for a Dutch baker who taught her to bake and encouraged her to set up her own bakery.
“The Dutch baker gave the name Maison Weiner,” said Lee’s grandson Heru Laksana, who manages the bakery today.
Heru said his grandmother never asked what Maison Weiner meant.
At first, Lee was reluctant to open her own bakery because she did not have the funds to buy the necessary equipment. But the problem was resolved when several stores in Gambir Market – which was located where the National Monument (Monas) now stands – allowed her to purchase the equipment on instalments.
Heru has continued to use the same equipment with pride to bake his grandmother's cakes and breads.
The bakery may not have many baked goods on display, but they are like no other, as they are made using the same recipes enjoyed by the Dutch residents of colonial Batavia.
Mason Weiner offers ontbijtkoek, a soft Dutch spiced rye cake, and kerstkrans, a Dutch Christmas ring filled with fragrant almond paste and finished with a sugar glaze that resembles snow.
Heru has maintained the bakery's original interior and exterior so his customers can experience an environment that hearkens the days of old.
“If you come on Saturday, there is a 30 percent discount for all cakes and pastries, because we are closed on Sunday,” he said.
Heru started learning the art of baking at the age of 10, when his grandmother often asked him to decorate cakes.
“In the 1960s, people began to have televisions at home. I was so annoyed when I was watching TV, my grandmother would suddenly ask me to help her,” he recalled.
Maison Weiner was the only bakery in Jakarta until around 1980. Although Lee had 15 employees, she was often overwhelmed by orders for up to 500 cakes a day.
Heru's culinary passion grew out of the time Heru spent in his grandmother’s kitchen. He went to Germany in 1973 to study baking and pastry for six years at Handwerkskammer Braunschweig, and then continued his studies at the Wilton School of Cake Decorating and Confectionary Art in Illinois, the United States.
“I am the second of five children. After my grandmother passed away in 1986, I was asked to manage Maison Weiner because I was the only person who knew about baking and pastry in my family,” he said.
Now 64, Heru is uncertain about Maison Weiner’s future, as his only son has no interest in baking or running the bakery.
“Why should we continue this bakery?” he said.
Heru does not mind if the legendary bakery closes its doors some day. What is more important to him is to transfer his knowledge and skills to others, so that Maison Wiener's legacy lives on.
“A baker is not just someone who bakes breads and cakes. A baker must also have a passion for art, because they must be able to make a cake that resembles a sculpture,” he said.
Heru runs short courses at Maison Weiner on making European breads, cakes and pastries, from baguettes to ciabatta and to sachertorte, the famous Viennese chocolate cake.
“We really want to teach people to make cakes [...] that are not only delicious, but also healthy and nutritious,” he said.
Maison Weiner's heyday ended in the 1980s as more bakeries opened in the city. Its main challenge today is to survive amid the fierce competition.
Heru has followed some trends to attract new customers, such as the rainbow cake hype in 2012. However, he maintains the quality of his products to retain his loyal customers, and never uses preservatives.
Although many bakeries sell Dutch breads and pastries today, Heru believes that Maison Weiner's products are still the most authentic.