Meet Helga | The Plant Evangelist

SukkhaCitta (SC): Hi Helga! Could you share your story and the events that led to the birth of Burgreens?

Helga Angelina (HA): Surely! I was raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, by an entrepreneurial family. My father was a business man until one day, he experienced bankruptcy. Things were tough then and my mom, who was a doctor, had to leave her practice and open a simple business to provide for the family. This shaped how I viewed success, which was correlated with financial security brought by a career in an established, multinational company. 

Ever since I was small, I often experienced various sicknesses until I was recommended to be a pescetarian - and later vegetarian - when I was 15 years old. I was shocked to see the positive impact this change in lifestyle had on my health, and was driven to know more. My research made me convinced of the benefits of plant-based eating for both ourselves and on the environment. I finally decided to be vegan which fuels Burgreens' mission.

I then went to the Netherlands to study Marketing Communication and found internships in multinational companies. I was 22 then, yet somehow I felt like something was missing. It's like you wake up and you realize what you always wanted is not really what you want anymore. It's a tough feeling. This was the beginning of my search, my spiritual journey to find my purpose. 

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SC: What were the struggles you encountered as you strive to establish your new identity as a women-led/new healthy food brand then? What helped you to hustle?

HA: I definitely did not anticipate the amount of struggles we had to grow through so it's been quite amazing looking back and seeing each challenge allows us to evolve through different business stages!

When we started Burgreens 3 years ago, the market for healthy food (that actually tastes good) is almost non existent. Awareness was very low and the fact that we established our first store very humble in a secluded suburban area did not help. It was hard to get people to actually come down there - not to mention regularly. We literally had to spend all our efforts on educating the market to create enough awareness to go on.

During this stage, we could not even pay ourselves until we decided to take IDR 1,5mn every month ($100). I am not a spender, but this stage was very challenging physically and emotionally.humans-of-change-helga-burgreens-quote




The second year was also a tough one. Me and Max (my husband) did not have any experience in managing a restaurant so we faced many operational and HR problems. Although things are starting to pickup for the business, we only had 2 people in the management with way too many things on our plate. At some point, we nearly got burnt out with the workload.

What keeps us going is the faith we have in our social mission, we firmly believe that providing healthy & wholesome food experience by working with local, organic farmers, is something that more and more people will look for in the future. It helps a lot that Burgreens is the manifestation of my and my husband's passion & vision - that what and how we eat do have an impact on their health, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability. We held on to this thought throughout our darkest moments.

 

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SC: Now you are a known thought leader of the healthy food campaign in Indonesia. Has your values changed? What matters now? 

HA: It's a new year and we spent time reflecting on where we are now. We look back to our struggles and feels fulfillment seeing where we are now, seeing the strength of the business and the community we have nurtured from its baby stage to the impact we've had on local farmers. Answering your question, definitely my values have not changed. In fact, it's gotten even stronger. What changed though is my priority, work-life balance matters more that me and Max are married. 

SC: What does happiness mean to you?

HA: I think back to the words of Gandhi, that happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do is in harmony. I could not agree more. It has been a blessing to build a business that is in harmony to everything we value.

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SC: What is the most important thing you learnt from running Burgreens?

HA: One fact I learnt is that nothing will ever come out the way you planned it. It was such a hard lesson as I am naturally a fast-paced, go-getter, perfectionist person. Sometimes, we need to slow down and appreciate the process. Numbers and goals are just as important as the connections you build with your team, your customers, and your community. At the end of the day, tough times teach you to persevere. Be comfortable making mistakes as long as you can learn from it, and have the patience to step-by-step improve yourself and grow the business. By making small improvements everyday (even the ones that may seem insignificant), I was surprised by the progress we have made.

 

SC: What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue their dreams and build a purpose-driven business?

HA: Don't overthink and just do it! Nobody got it right from the start; you'll learn as you go. Fine tune your vision, mission, product and system in the process. Expand your knowledge and skills while doing it. Don't wait until you got it all figured out before you start, as the learning will be on the job. 

As a purpose-driven business, it's important to be clear on what your values are as the business grows. Many businesses start with well intentions but compromise their values for profit. Know that your success is not determined by the conventional measure of the society but it's defined by us. That is what it means to be authentic. 

Lastly, trust that there is a Force that is guiding us to achieve our vision; we are on the path that we're supposed to be, learning, progressing towards our purpose. It is important to keep this faith when things are bad and even when things are good, to never forget why we started and have fun in the journey!

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Helga and her husband Max are the founders of Burgreens, an organic, healthy eatery and catering based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Their mission is to create food that look naughty but is actually healthy.