“No Gimmicks” For Lifestyle Entrepreneur Yenn Wong

Close Up

March 16, 2018 | BY Hong Xinyi

The down-to-earth founder of hospitality firm Jia Group hopes to see more honest and timeless concepts.

Ask Hong Kong-based Singaporean entrepreneur Yenn Wong what advice she would give young guns who want to make a splash in the lifestyle sector, and her answer displays the steely determination that she has brought to her own business: “You need to do your homework, and really dig deep. Question if you can live and breathe what you do all the time. You don’t ever switch off. You need to love it, so when you need to quickly check reports or e-mails on vacation it doesn’t feel like a chore. When you’ve made that jump, cut out the noise and focus.”

Honing in on her priorities has become a well-practised skill since Yenn launched her first project at the age of 23—Jia Hotel in Causeway Bay, which was Hong Kong’s first boutique hotel. Today, her hospitality firm Jia Group runs 10 acclaimed F&B brands that are among the buzziest hang-outs in the city. Late last year, she launched Duddell’s London, the first international offshoot of the original Michelin-starred Hong Kong restaurant she opened in 2013.

“Duddell’s Hong Kong was conceived to create a cultural and social destination for people with an appreciation for the arts, providing an inspiring backdrop where they could eat, drink and socialise while surrounded by museum-quality, year‑round exhibitions,” she says.

(Related: "I’m Just Not That Interested In Growing An ‘Empire’," Says Unlisted Collection's Loh Lik Peng)

“The location we were offered in London, the historic St Thomas Church in the heart of London Bridge, lies within a district rich with great galleries and a receptive community. This meant it emerged as the perfect address from which this identity could be encased and nurtured.”

The high-end Cantonese cuisine served at the new London restaurant has received enthusiastic reviews thanks to chef Daren Liew, previously executive sous chef for the Hakkasan Group.

“Currently, we are focused on seeing that the restaurant receives all the attention to detail it deserves. It was an ambitious project, and one that continues to be, which is why we’re not scouting for another European location,” Yenn reveals.

“That said, we weren’t looking when it came to London! It was a site that jumped out to us.”

Generally speaking though, “2017 was a year in which we focused on our internal operations, questioning what we could do better, because we knew 2018 would be one of strong activation both in Hong Kong, and overseas”.

This includes listing Jia Group on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in February, and venturing into Taipei, where the group will be creating F&B concepts for bars in the upcoming Kimpton Hotel. She is also thinking about new strategies that will keep Jia Group’s current restaurant concepts fresh.

(Related: 1880's Marc Nicholson On Building A Community)

“Technology and delivery platforms are changing the way people dine—they can take that restaurant experience into the familiar surrounds of their own home when they don’t feel like cooking or venturing out. When eating out, they’re more astute when it comes to where they’re going to eat, and what to order. They’re consuming information and thinking about where produce came from and how it was prepared,” Yenn muses.

Consequently, her team is constantly thinking of how to make the spaces they run special. “We want them to be more than just restaurants. We want them to be lifestyle spaces that become an extension of the home. Last year, we put Taschen bookstores into Potato Head and Duddell’s for a month before Christmas. There was great synergy, partly because beautiful books, just like good food and wine, are items we are drawn to when wanting to treat ourselves, or a loved one.” 

She used to have three restaurants in Singapore, which she eventually closed because she wanted to focus on her projects in Hong Kong, where she lives with her husband, fellow lifestyle entrepreneur Alan Lo, and their two young children.

These days, Yenn describes her ideal day as one that starts with a very local breakfast, continues with some time spent outdoors in nature, followed by dinner with close friends, “one packed with fabulous food, laughter and quality time, switching off from the outside and catching up. Simple and grounding, nothing flash”.

Her sense of groundedness also comes through loud and clear when asked what lifestyle trends she hopes will end in 2018: “I feel a number of companies have been using feminism as a selling point. That doesn’t sit well with me, particularly when it seems like they’re piggy-backing on what is a fabulous movement driven by smart, clever women who really deserve celebrating. In 2018, I hope to see more honest and timeless concepts—no gimmicks, just pure style and substance.”

Related Stories