The Star Malaysia - Star2
Owning a stable of multi-concept restaurants
WHILE some people discover a magic formula and decide to stick with it i.e. owning and operating a string of the same restaurants, for others, diversity is key to their growth.
This is exactly the case for Wong Yin-how, the Tinkerman restaurant collective founder who started out with a single restaurant – wine-centric eatery Vintry – but has now established a whole string of eateries like Chinese restaurant Dim Dou Duck, pizza parlour Proof, bakery Smith and casual fine-dining eatery Stoked, to name a few.
For Wong, the ideas for most of his restaurant concepts have come about through his extensive travels and experiences dining in some of the best foodie destinations around the world.
“In the past, I used to travel and dine out a lot and that was a key part of germinating ideas. With the Covid-19 pandemic, I had to resort to monitoring a lot of trends and reading about popular restaurants in foodie cities I tend to follow.
“This gives me a range of ideas and then I pick the ones that I think are interesting and see if these are feasible to be translated into an outlet in Malaysia. If I think it is, then I narrow it down and look at the cuisine mix within the restaurant group that I have because I try to diversify. But mostly, I enjoy pulling things together and trying new concepts,” he says.
Despite now having 13 brands and a total of 17 outlets, Wong continues to remain very hands-on with all the eateries under his umbrella.
“For me, I am very, very handson, I think it is critical to be on the ground at every outlet every day. I tend to cover three outlets a day at a minimum. Obviously, some outlets have more pressing concerns, so the person in charge will alert me that this outlet needs more attention so I will spend more time there. Otherwise I do a random rotation to make sure I cover different outlets.
“When I am at an outlet, I mostly speak to the person in charge and just sit there and do work on my computer. By being there, I often find you can sense things. Also it’s about customer interaction – so sometimes I can connect with our regulars too,” says Wong.
Because he cannot be physically
present at every outlet all the time, Wong has also empowered the people in charge of each outlet and has group chats for every outlet, so issues can be brought to his attention. All his senior managers also visit the outlets to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Wong says having more restaurants can be challenging, but for the most part, he has found the experience to be extremely rewarding, as he can apply principles that he has learnt in restaurant A to restaurant B. Additionally, there is the added advantage of moving staff around when a particular eatery is having a critical staff shortage.
“It is very stressful when outlet A is short-staffed so I will often go on the group chat and ask who can spare someone for the night. And that only happens because I have multiple outlets, I have the liberty of swapping staff around – so that gives us a lot of flexibility especially in these times when staff levels are quite low. I think people with just one restaurant will have a really hard time in these situations, so in our case, this has been a boon,” he says.
Wong got into the restaurant business because he is passionate about food and drink (he is widely considered one of Malaysia’s top wine experts) and says that any restaurant owner that has the same passion should definitely consider expanding their brand portfolio.
“I am lucky to be in an industry that I am passionate about so to me this is not just work, it is something I truly enjoy. And I think most people in F&B don’t go into it for dollars and sense, I think everyone starts with some degree of passion.
“I find that I am even more passionate now than in the early days. I started off with wine but in the past five years, I have been diversifying into different cuisines, which I relish. So I would encourage diversifying – it really makes you grow as an entrepreneur,” he says.