Equal parts dreamer and doer, café owner and humanitarian Greg Guerguerian possesses all the ingredients for success
Inside Monsieur Spoon’s French bakery in Bali, a delicious range of authentic French pastries, cakes, freshly-baked artisanal breads, and savory delights, handmade according to traditional Parisian recipes with selected locally-sourced ingredients, beckon passersby into the café’s relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Savoring the quiet of the morning with house blend coffee and Monsieur Spoon’s all-butter croissant, a bestseller on the Island, has become a cherished morning ritual for both locals and tourists.
At one table, two Indonesian women from the nearby gym fill up on a plate of salmon and eggs after their morning workout. Beside them, an elderly Australian man sips his tea in between bites of millefeuille, while a couple from France on holiday and their two children enjoy a taste of home.
Surveying the scene before him, co-owner Greg Guerguerian feels a deep sense of accomplishment and pride. “For me, food is about creating a moment with people, where they can sit around and talk, laugh, and have fun,” he says. “Seeing people start their day at Monsieur Spoon and make it part of their lifestyle—this is beautiful! It makes you feel this is not just a business that makes money but something more that provides others joy.”
Food has always been part of Guerguerian’s lifestyle from a young age, growing up in a traditional Armenian household in Paris. Family gatherings consisted of splitting up into two camps: the men congregating in the living room with a glass of whisky next to the fireplace, while the women held court in the kitchen, laughing, and chatting while cooking a delicious meal together. “The men were boring!” Guerguerian laughs recalling his youth. “There was much more life in the kitchen and I was able to help out. That was my first connection to cuisine: learning, tasting, and sharing.”
As Guerguerian grew older, he studied engineering and then embarked on a successful career in investment banking in the French capital. That connection to cuisine always remained close to his heart. When the opportunity to leave his position with compensation presented itself, Guerguerian called his cousin, pastry chef Raffi Papazian, with a life-changing proposal. Why not move to Bali and open up a French bakery, he suggested. “All of my friends thought I was crazy to give up a secure career at an investment bank to set up a bakery in Bali, but, being Armenian, I knew how to relate and work with people from all over the world. Leaving France was not a big deal. Like a chameleon that adapts to its environment, I can work anywhere and that is the first benefit of my Armenian heritage.”
Despite never having operated a café before, Greg, together with his wife and children, travelled to Bali to begin a new life on the enchanted Indonesian island. Surrounded by forested volcanic mountains and serene ocean vistas, Bali is far removed from the hustle and bustle of Jakarta and offers a welcoming mix of natural beauty and spirituality. It is also one of the world’s top travel destinations. The only thing missing, thought Guerguerian, was an authentic Parisian bakery and café.
The second benefit of his Armenian heritage, you might say, is an inherent entrepreneurial spirit. From a business perspective, Guerguerian could not have been more right—understanding just how important offering customers something they can’t find elsewhere is tantamount to a business’s success. Bringing an authentic Parisian knowledge of pastries and croissants to Bali, Guerguerian knew the business was on the right track from the beginning. “We had to adapt a lot in the beginning, but we were always confident we had something people were waiting for. Even if we made mistakes in the design, the quality of the product saved us and gave us the motivation to always improve and carry on,” he says.
Seven years after that bold move, fuelled by his passion for food and people, Monsieur Spoon today has never been more popular. Guerguerian manages a total of five cafés on the island, along with a central kitchen. With the concept a proven success, his role in the business now is devoted to managing the day-to-day operations, growing the brand, engaging the community with special events, such as a monthly baking class for children and brunch in the garden. “Over those seven years of rapid growth, we have maintained our initial vision, quality and local artisanal touch,” says Guerguerian. “That is very important for Monsieur Spoon and I am very proud of that.”
Turning his dream into a successful business model, he admits, did not happen overnight, but instead required several years of trial and error experimentation. Guerguerian can recall the intense early days spent on a scooter, peddling croissants to the chefs of hotel restaurants and beachgoers, convincing customers of the quality of artisanal bread, while his cousin tested local ingredients and experimented with flour in the kitchen. From there, Guerguerian began to focus on a café, taking his time to find the ideal location, designing the interior, and coming up with the concept of Monsieur Spoon. The greatest challenge he says, was learning to let go of the famous fierte Francaise, or French pride, put his ego aside and adapt to his new environment. “You need to constantly observe people’s habits and question what works best. For instance what Australians tend to eat for breakfast is very different from the French, which is completely foreign to Indonesians. It is very important to be able to adapt while not losing your identity and original vision in the process.”
While adaptation is a key ingredient for achieving longevity in the hospitality sector, Guerguerian says starting your own successful restaurant or café first requires a few fundamental elements. “Start with something you love, whether it is tea or coffee, you must be truly passionate about the product and bring something of value to it no one else can. Everything else will follow.”
The next critical challenge is to find the right location. “Don’t rush this phase,” he insists. “Take as much time to grasp the street life around a potential location, study the habits of people in the neighborhood, and figure out where they will come from and go afterward, this is always changing.”
Guerguerian adds that he also benefitted from his network of friends and fellow Armenians from around the world. Starting as a young boy attending AGBU Armenian language classes every Saturday in Paris, he began meeting other young Armenians and forming close connections. “The social aspect of AGBU was huge for me because I made so many friends who I have kept in contact with, first in France, then the network grew throughout Europe, Lebanon, and Armenia.”
Although he grew up in Paris, Guerguerian has always felt a close connection to his Armenian heritage and ancestry. When he turned 18 years old, he launched his own NGO networking initiative entitled Diaconnect, to solicit sponsorships and funding from Europe to help children in Armenia by renovating schools and sending children to summer camp. The project’s success spurred Guergerian to open a café and cultural center in Artsakh called The Roots. Located in the capital Stepanakert, the café hosts a program three times a week for children to participate in music, sports, arts and crafts, English lessons, and gardening workshops in the garden outside the café. For adults, the center regularly sponsors concerts and photography exhibitions to showcase local talent in Artsakh. “It’s not so much about giving back as it is a deeply meaningful exchange for me,” he says. “Everything that I have learned over the years, especially from the children, that’s what made me into who I am today.”
Although The Roots only celebrated its first anniversary this year, its success helping to create local jobs in the region already has Guerguerian contemplating expansion. “I would love to do something with the wonderful local honey from Artsakh, maybe sponsor a beehive and produce my own honey.”
At home in Bali, he is working on a five year plan for Monsieur Spoon, which will include opening more franchises elsewhere in Indonesia. Yet, just like his hard pivot from financier to pâtissier, there’s no telling where his entrepreneurial spirit will take him from there.