CEO, JIA Group Holdings Limited
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.