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Sunday May 23, 2010

A big hit

Betty Banafe’s talents are not limited to the entertainment industry as she is just as successful in the food business.

WHILE many people may know Betty Benafe as a successful singer and actress, this Johor-born beauty also is also a dab hand in another industry.

She has been dabbling as an entrepreneur in the food business in Johor Baru for some time now.

“I come from a family that likes cooking. My late father was a chef and painter who travelled around the world and my Indonesian mother is also a good cook,” she tells this writer who met her recently at the Banafee Village restaurant located along Jalan Abdullah Tahir.

Live entertainment: Once in a while Betty Benafe will oblige her fans or even customers by singing at the Banafee Village restaurant.

“So cooking comes naturally in our family.”

Yes, that’s the restaurant that she’s been involved with since September last year and which has been a hit not just among locals and tourists but also with members of the Johor royal family.

Betty, who comes from a family of six siblings, says she likes baking and among her specialities are Kaak (Arabic cookies) and brownies.

“I do not have much spare time but whenever I am free, I bake cookies,” she says, adding that she makes it a point to return to Johor as she finds the place peaceful compared to Kuala Lumpur.

On her restaurant, which features a lot of Jati wood pieces, including tables and chairs and antiques, and thatched coconut palms to make it look like a beach hut, she says it is a venture she shares with her brother Shakib Benafe and her Singaporean relative Moonshee Mohamed.

A wide selection of dishes including Nasi Padang is offered for the lunch crowd at Banafee Village restaurant.

“It is an ideal place to bring the family, and we want people who come here to relax,” she says.

“Besides food, we also have people playing Gambus (traditional Arabic music) in the evenings. And on Thursday night, guests can even take to the floor to perform samrah (Arabic music and dances) after dinner.”

This seems to be a popular activity as, according to Betty, “You will be surprised to find a group of 40 to 50 people, some from as far away as Batu Pahat, coming here to samrah.”

She also considers the restaurant her second home and a place to meet her fans or friends when she comes down to Johor, which is at least once a month.

“Besides meeting them, I also like gathering feedback about the place,” she says, adding that the restaurant was built with a beach concept in mind.

The restaurant has about 300 items on the menu and Betty cheerfully invites: “Please take your pick.”

The menu includes dishes that were once served in her father’s restaurant. “My father had a restaurant in Johor town in the 1980s and now our restaurant serves not just his famous Kambing Berempah, Nasi Beryani Zurbayan, Nasi Mandi and Ayam Penyet, we also have Western, Chinese, Arabic and other Malay food.”

Diners wanting some privacy can opt to enjoy their meals in gazebos set up around the restaurant.

The food are all prepared from authentic recipes which have been handed down at least 30 years, she adds.

Her recommendations include Nasi Beryani Zurbayan (only by order), Salad Kerabu Mangga, Ayam Penyet, Oxtail Asam Pedas, Ayam Santan Berlada, Chili Crab, two-flavoured fish, crab meehoon and steak.

“The prices are affordable,” she points out.

While Betty and her partners are coy about revealing how much they have invested in the restaurant, they readily say that the whole place was transformed from a bare piece of land into a double-storey structure within three months. Work was carried out around the clock, says Betty.

“Many of the items here were sourced from Indonesia and my brother travelled extensively to hand-pick them. He also had some things handmade before bringing them here.”

Since the restaurant opened its doors last year, they have to date had nine wedding receptions and they could easily accommodate about 1,000 people as they have space to put up tents around the restaurant.

The upstairs area can accommodate about 500 people and there is an air-conditioned section that can take in about 40 people. There is also ample parking space with valet service.

The restaurant, which is open around the clock, employs 42 staff including about a dozen chefs and 21 waiters and waitresses.

To know more about the restaurant, or to make reservations, visit its website at http://www.banafeevillage.com; or call 07-333 3377.

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