YENN WONG

CEO, JIA Group Hold­ings Lim­ited

Wine & Dine - - LUXURY REDEFINED: VISIONARIES -

Sin­ga­pore-born, Hong Kong-based en­tre­pre­neur Yenn Wong over­sees a port­fo­lio of over 10 restau­rants un­der the hos­pi­tal­ity firm, JIA Group. Her busi­ness be­gan with two bou­tique ho­tels, JIA Hong Kong and JIA Shang­hai, she started in the 2000s. From 2010, she fo­cused her at­ten­tion on the din­ing sec­tor, set­ting up 208 Due­cento Otto, an Ital­ian restau­rant-bar in the artsy Hol­ly­wood Road dis­trict.

Soon came other restau­rants, such as one Miche­lin-starred Dud­dell’s — which spawned the group’s first in­ter­na­tional out­post in Lon­don last year—Chachawan, show­cas­ing Isaan food from Thai­land’s North­east, sev­eral col­lab­o­ra­tions with British chef Ja­son Ather­ton such as mod­ern British restau­rant Aberdeen Street So­cial and Old Bai­ley, their lat­est Chi­nese restau­rant in Tai Kwun opened this year. Her cur­rent projects in­clude cre­at­ing F&B con­cepts for the new Kimp­ton Ho­tel, slated to open in Taipei in late 2018.

How has the def­i­ni­tion of lux­ury changed in the last five years and how will it change in the next five?

I think con­sumers are in­creas­ingly look­ing for more be­spoke ex­pe­ri­ences, even if it’s just a sim­ple act of eat­ing out for din­ner. For ex­am­ple, hav­ing a meal in a strate­gi­cally de­signed space, or ex­plor­ing the emerg­ing neigh­bour­hood where the restau­rant is lo­cated. Whether in art, din­ing, or hos­pi­tal­ity, things like ‘the brand’, are com­ing to be of equal weight and im­por­tance as the food.

Lux­ury is in the lit­tle de­tails. A fan­tas­tic cup of cof­fee in the morn­ing, for me, is a lit­tle lux­ury, and can set the tone for the day ahead. There is also more room for ap­pre­ci­at­ing the ba­sics and beau­ti­ful things, done well. There is al­ways a need for more hon­est and time­less con­cepts that can with­stand the fickle F&B in­dus­try.

How has the preva­lence of food or­der apps im­pacted the restau­rant scene?

In a way, lux­ury din­ing has be­come more ac­ces­si­ble and con­ve­nient. There is a lot more choice now even when you choose to stay home. This makes the restau­rant ex­pe­ri­ence all the more im­por­tant for those who choose to dine out.

Our team is con­stantly re­view­ing what we do with our spa­ces—we want them to be more than a restau­rant, like a life­style space, that when done right ex­tends be­yond the culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence. For ex­am­ple, Dud­dell’s has an art pro­gramme headed by a ded­i­cated Art Man­ager, build­ing on its de­sign con­cept of a sea­soned art col­lec­tor’s home. On one oc­ca­sion, we put a Taschen book store into Dud­dell’s for a month—it was well timed be­fore Christ­mas. There was great syn­ergy, partly be­cause beau­ti­ful books, just like good food and wine, are things we are drawn to.

What’s the next big thing in F&B?

A new din­ing trend, fast fine din­ing has been grow­ing at a rapid pace. Dif­fer­ent from the fast­ca­sual restau­rant, fast fine din­ing fo­cuses on the qual­ity of in­gre­di­ents and the cre­ativ­ity of food. You may find pop­u­lar fine din­ing restau­rants now run­ning a pop-up food truck or food stand, giv­ing chefs the chance to ex­per­i­ment with new ideas and com­bi­na­tions while do­ing away with reser­va­tions and longer turn­around times. I love that in Aus­tralia, Neil Perry has Burger Project—it’s pop­ping up in the main cities and the pro­duce, which fo­cuses on grass­fed beef from Tas­ma­nia, is well sourced. The idea is about fast food with slow food sourc­ing, which is such a beau­ti­ful idea.

Your restau­rants are known for their em­pha­sis on sus­tain­abil­ity. Tell us more.

The so­cially re­spon­si­ble and ed­u­cated diner is a grow­ing mar­ket. Cus­tomers are very pas­sion­ate about learn­ing the sources of their food and the ef­fect it has on the en­vi­ron­ment, be­cause ul­ti­mately, we un­der­stand the po­ten­tial im­pact on the near fu­ture.

I think this move­ment will grow, and we are try­ing to move to­wards do­ing more to en­cour­age this. We added ve­gan dishes, in­clud­ing ve­gan dim sum to our menu at Old Bai­ley, which was re­fresh­ing not just for a Jiang­nan restau­rant, but a Chi­nese one too. With plant-based eat­ing on the rise, we want to do more across our port­fo­lio.

We are con­scious about cut­ting back on wastage in our op­er­a­tions. For ex­am­ple, our fruit and veg­etable sup­plier for the bars make our de­liv­er­ies in the morn­ing us­ing our burlap sacks, to save plas­tics. We also elim­i­nated the use of plas­tic straws across 10+ venues and that’s just the be­gin­ning. We have a com­mit­tee that works to­gether on these ini­tia­tives— which can be over­whelm­ing given the scale of the is­sues we’re hop­ing to tackle—but the first step is start­ing. It’s about lit­tle changes.

What plans do you have in 2019 to re­fresh your ex­ist­ing restau­rant con­cepts or launch new ones?

One of the things that I love most about Hong Kong is the cul­ture of din­ing out to­gether and the spirit of hos­pi­tal­ity that in­spires gath­er­ings. I want to bring this din­ing cul­ture to a wider land­scape and at the same time we re­alise some of our ex­ist­ing con­cepts could be suit­able. In­stead of bring­ing brands into Hong Kong, I think it is time to bring Hong Kong to the world. Bring­ing an Asian brand to the global cities of the world ex­cites me.

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