Janet DeNeefe

Restauranteur, author, festival organiser

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Bali has been home to Janet DeNeefe for more than 30 years and the island and its people continue to weave its magic on her. The author, restauranteur and organiser of the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival and the Ubud Food Festival has carved out a dream life in the hillside town of Ubud.

How did you start? What made you choose this career path?

I trained to be a teacher, an art teacher. Art was one of my greatest loves and I wanted to build my world around painting. But my father advised me to study to become an art teacher so at least I would end up with a profession, so I took his advice, for once!

How did your Australian experience contribute to your success, or your approach to your work?

I have always believed that learning to teach is a highly valuable skill and loved studying it. I use it in every part of my work, from delivering instructions and educating staff to the organisation of people and time.


What made you take the leap overseas and why Indonesia?

I first visited Indonesia in 1975, when we were on a family holiday, and was immediately smitten. I decided to return in 1984 and met my husband the second day. I basically never went back!

"In Bali, I particularly love the importance of family and community, the importance of relationships with all those around you" – Janet DeNeefe

What were the biggest hurdles in building your business and how did you overcome them?

Managing any business in a foreign country is not easy and language and understanding customs has probably been the biggest hurdle but my husband was my mentor and I followed him in every way. Most importantly I learned that a sense of humour was a necessary tool in overcoming difficulties and a firm, but kind, compassionate manner, an asset. If you try and understand your staff, then the rest should fall into place.

What do you think is the single most influential factor in your business success?

Hard work – never giving up – along with constant research of industry trends, matched with a highly personal, individual, sensitive approach to hospitality. I also think it’s important to not take yourself too seriously and to remember that businesses are the sum of many parts and each part is important.

What’s one of your most favourite things about living and working in Indonesia?

I really love the Indonesian people. They are humorous, generous and honourable. In Bali, I particularly love the importance of family and community, the importance of relationships with all those around you. It makes for a contented, happy, meaningful life.

"I also think it’s important to not take yourself too seriously and to remember that businesses are the sum of many parts and each part is important" – Janet DeNeefe

Have you been inspired by the achievements of any particular expat Australians living and working overseas?

Made Wijaya was particularly inspiring. He was one of the few expats who spoke fluent Balinese and helped brand Bali as a tropical, elegant, high-end island destination. He became Bali’s most flamboyant expat icons wearing traditional clothing most of the time in a slightly humorous, if not irreverent, way. In between designing some of the island’s most impressive gardens, he attended Balinese ceremonies and then wrote about them. 

What do you know today that you wished you had known when you first started?

Bahasa Indonesia! I really wish I had started my businesses here armed with a complete understanding of the language and I still lament that I did not formally study it. I believe language is imperative for working in another country and communication is essential in business.


What makes you proud to be Australian? 

I really love the Aussie nature – the classic down to earth quality that sums up who we are. I like to think that I am a pretty typical Australian, who calls a spade a spade and can roll with the punches. I’m also proud I grew up eating Vegemite and still eat it nearly every day in Bali!

More on Janet DeNeefe: Melbourne-born Deneefe is founder and director of the Ubud Food Festival and the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, which has grown into one of the region's most successful literary events. She is the proprietor of Indus and Casa Luna restaurants, as well as Bar Luna and the Honeymoon Guesthouses. DeNeefe also runs Casa Luna Cooking School. Her books "Fragrant Rice" and "The Food of My island Home" chart her ongoing love affair with Balinese food, culture and traditions.

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