Lo & Behold's Wee Teng Wen On His Business Story
There is barely a facet of modern life these days that is untouched by disruption. So it is no surprise that established country clubs are now facing the rise of challengers with distinct views on how a new generation wants to connect. Straits Clan, housed in the former New Majestic Hotel and opening this month, is a case in point. Launched by The Lo & Behold Group managing partner Wee Teng Wen, The Ate Group co-founder Aun Koh and hospitality veteran Sally Sim, this private members’ club has a radically inclusive vision.
“The ambition is to bring together a purposefully diverse community of individuals united by passion, creative energy and entrepreneurial zeal, rather than profession, geography or economics,” Teng Wen explains. “Singapore has been pushing boundaries and driving change on so many fronts, but these have been for the most part led by individuals in their own silos. Straits Clan is a modern-day clan for our generation to bring these individuals together, because an inspirational network is the cornerstone of great ideas and friendships. This community of people driving today’s ventures, movements and change will be tomorrow’s architects of possibilities.”
We ask him about a phrase that caught our attention on Straits Clan’s website, which describes the club as a space where members “can be themselves”. Does he see conventional country clubs as places where people can’t be themselves? In response, Teng Wen underlines the venture’s commitment to bringing people from different industries and walks of life together. In that way, he believes, “traditional rules of social convention don’t apply here. In contrast, conventional country clubs may appear more stuffy and rule-based, as well as built around wealth or industry. We want to create a club that very much represents our part of the world, and how we live, work and play. Ultimately, Straits Clan tells a distinct Singaporean story and seeks to showcase a sense of place—Singapore as a cosmopolitan city with a confluence of cultures and a hub for boundary-pushing ideas”.
We got a sneak peek of the 22,000sqft clubhouse earlier in the year and even glimpsed Teng Wen unpacking some newly delivered chairs himself after our photo shoot, “just to check they are the right ones”, he tells us. The aesthetic is a tastefully calibrated mix of contemporary elegance with nostalgic accents that manage to be both playful and sophisticated, and to fill this beautiful space, the Straits Clan team is building a content programme to ignite meaningful conversations.
“Our programming is extremely important to the club, and we have an exciting roster of talks, showcases, performances and workshops coming up,” Teng Wen reveals. “We’re talking to personal development coaches to create workshops to help our members’ mental and physical wellness. We’re looking at events that showcase local performers, as well as talks about policies and social issues. This content will serve as the backbone to start new conversations, or encourage individuals to share or create new ideas or projects.”
Beyond Straits Clan, 2018 is shaping up to be a busy year for his team, following on the heels of a fruitful 2017 that saw The Lo & Behold Group expanding into the hotel business for the first time with the exquisitely restored Warehouse Hotel, and Teng Wen and fellow co-founder Daniel He receiving the Outstanding Tourism Entrepreneur award from the Singapore Tourism Board.
On the slate this year: Le Bon Funk, set to open along Club Street, will be led by chef-owner Keirin Buck, and offer natural wines hand-picked to complement Singapore’s tropical climate, along with house-cured charcuterie and a rotating menu of delectable small plates. The group will also debut its first Japanese dining concept—Esora, a kappo-style restaurant at 15 Mohamed Sultan Road, will be helmed by chef Shigeru Koizumi. “The decision to venture into Japanese cuisine was more of serendipity,” says Teng Wen. “We were fortunate to meet an incredibly talented chef and wanted to bring his vision to life and tell his story.”
“Story” is a word that often comes up when Teng Wen talks about his work. Aspiring lifestyle entrepreneurs who want to enter the fray, he believes, should “focus on timelessness over trends. Develop a strong story and focus on the execution. Ten years ago, audiences were much more forgiving, so it’s even more important now to get the execution right”.
When it comes to his own business story, cohesion is a key theme. He started out in 2005 with rooftop bar Loof, and “I realised after the first five years that I had effectively set up individual and distinct restaurants, but not a company that functioned at a group level. The latter is what I have devoted the last eight years to building, which I now witness coming into its own. We have managed to establish distinctive, individual restaurants, yet are still able to tie everything into a company that functions as one entity”.