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Nusa Dua, a new family-run Indonesian restaurant just south of the bustling King West strip, hopes to bring Bali vibes to downtown Toronto.
“Nusa” translated from Indonesian means “coast”, while “Dua” is “two.” The name is a reference to the dual coasts surrounding the 17,000 islands making up Indonesia, situated between the Pacific and Indian oceans. Owners Winnie and Brian Surya, manage the day-to-day operations of the large restaurant. Upon walking up to the establishment, you are greeted by an abundantly shaded patio decorated with orange umbrellas. A couple is seated comfortably in their lunchtime perch, perfect for people watching or watching each other. A clear glass facade separates the outdoor patio seating from the spacious interior where I’m greeted by Winnie who explains how this all came to be.
In 2019, her parents were actually the owners of their own successful restaurant in Mississauga, but were forced to close due to municipal zoning restrictions beyond their control.
“My parents were devastated after that,” says Winnie. “They decided earlier this year they wanted to try opening another restaurant in Toronto, but would only do it if their kids ran it.” This began a process of searching for the next space that would eventually become Nusa Dua.
Their dad, who is retired, loves to cook. He splits duties in the N2 kitchen with Brian, though it’s not quite clear who’s the sous and who’s the head chef. Even before Nusa Dua, his love of cooking extended to church potlucks and community events. So much so that when they first arrived in Canada and had an impossible time finding decent quality tempeh, her dad began making his own.
“When we first moved to Canada, there was barely any tempeh, and we Indonesians love our tempeh because it’s a staple food for us,” explained Winnie, whose family-made DH Tempeh is made from soybeans sourced from local Ontario farmers and served in vegetarian dishes at the restaurant. “A lot of people are going plant-based or have dietary restrictions, so we want to try our best to offer substitutions for customers looking for different sources of protein and tend to have no problem doing that.”
The tempeh figures heavily into the story because they were initially looking for a space where they could grow their homemade tempeh product into a full-blown business.
“We found a space for a restaurant at another location but it was taken before we had a chance to get in, however, the owner there was nice enough to point us in the direction of this place, which surprisingly didn’t have any notice of being for rent,” said Winnie. “We sort of got it out of nowhere around Spring of this year. The location is great and there's lots of foot traffic. There’s also apparently a lot of Indonesians living in the area.”
Winnie wanted the name of the restaurant to evoke memories of Bali for customers who had been there and project the same energy for customers who hadn’t.
Although Winnie and Brian are the official operators of Nusa Dua, (with Brian in the kitchen and Winnie acting as the front-of-house manager), their parents are still fixtures at the establishment. As previously noted, dad hovers around the kitchen, making sure that everything coming out of the kitchen, including the tempeh, is authentic Indonesian food. Mom, who was too camera shy to let me take her picture, offers me a drink and places a heaping plate of assorted goodness on the table before me. Before I tuck in, I ask Winnie about the family dynamic in the restaurant.
“As the front-of-house manager, from the bar to the cafe, I handle the total dining experience and my brother works in the kitchen with my dad,” Winnie said. “I’m not going to lie, working with family can be hard. They always say don’t mix family with business but we try our best to make it work.”
I pry a bit to get a little more detail on what a typical family argument at the restaurant might be. “Conflicts are usually just disagreements over our roles or service,” Winnie admitted. “That’s where our mom comes in. Although my brother and I have always been in food and customer service, mom’s more experienced in business than any of us. Aside from the business end, she’s also here for fun, and to settle our fights.”
While many restaurant owners have experienced the challenges of supply chain issues through Covid, and Nusa Dua was no exception, as it pertained to some kitchen equipment, the rest of the process has been pretty smooth. They had their liquor licence in as little as two months, while the standard can be up to six. Aside from the food, their coffee setup allows for even more of a Bali vacation experience, with coffee sourced directly from Indonesian coffee companies like Batavia.
“We plan to slowly introduce Indonesian food, coffee and our house-made tempeh to the community,” said Winnie.
Family, community and food make Nusa Dua a winning combination for Toronto’s restaurant scene. They are located at 56 Bathurst Street just south of King Street West.