Interview with Mandy's Caribbean Restaurant & Bar
From childhood I have always had a passion for cooking, especially traditional British desserts and puddings. After my daughter was born some 20 years ago, I found my close friends had spread the word about my cooking skills and many people were coming to me on a weekly basis for Tupperware top-up catering for traditional Indian & Caribbean home meals. The catering business started in UK. Later we moved to Hong Kong, and after a few years I found I was drawn back into the food industry, by friends and business associates who were impressed by my meals.
Tell us about Mandy's Private Kitchen
I had planned to open a restaurant in 2007 but the world had just stepped into a recession and, rather than take the risk in an uncertain financial era, I opted to start small with low risk and start the Private Kitchen at home. I was prompted to do this by a good friend, Linda Chau, whom I have known since arriving in 2004 and who was my first best friend in Hong Kong.
I had a year long trial period to see if I wanted to pursue this career further. I visited many Private Kitchen venues in the early years to gain knowledge and to experience different cuisines. My good friend, Dan Chan, organized a Private Kitchen group, which originally started on Twitter and became a large following of different people from all walks of life in Hong Kong. (@3starbackpacker was his Twitter name.)
WOM grew and now, reservations can be up to 3 months ahead in the peak season. I decided to remain full time-part time until my daughter started university and have not looked back since.
I am very excited about my restaurant in Sai Kung. I cannot wait to open the doors to the public and serve them delicious authentic Caribbean food. We will have a simple menu with items such as Jerk Chicken, Jamaican Patties, Tacos, Vegetarian and some gluten free options too. There are a few surprises in the menu, so watch this space!
How long has it taken to set up your restaurant business?
The concept to open a restaurant started around 3 years ago, I looked at a number of places in Wan Chai and Central, but sadly the hiked up rents and other issues cropped up, so the idea was put back.
I decided to change my location to Sai Kung and found a local space in a lovely spot that despite needing complete renovation, it had the potential to be The Place that I could see my restaurant opening up.
Connie Yuen, a great local agent, found the right place for me for my budget. I was very fortunate and grateful to have my great friend, Charles Markbreiter, a local Sai Kunger and business man, who was with me initially to view the shop and then to support me in negotiating the contract and assist in the translations with the landlord.
I have walked up a long road in the last couple of months and learnt many things with regards to opening a restaurant and bar; the process, the statuary obligations and paper work! The process can be daunting, however, I have a good team and despite some setbacks, we are on our way to the final juncture. No doubt about it, it is exciting, yet stressful too. Each and every day I find I am motivated with new and challenging goals with something new to learn every step of the way.
I found the most important issue was to find people who you can trust and who can advise you on the industry from their own experiences. They in turn will recommend the team you will need to enable you to start this concept. I was lucky enough to meet Calvin (someone I met years ago) and Edward from Bizbox in Sai Kung, who have been an invaluable haven of ideas, advice, referrals and being there on the other end of the phone at any time.
I recommend the hiring of a Consultant who will make the process smoother, (there are many agendas involved in acquiring a Restaurant and Bar License and best to leave it to the experts) however, you get to learn a lot about what is happening in the background and being part of it.
There are others too who will play their part; eg. Designer, Contractors and local businesses. They all have their roles of responsibility to ensure the team is complete and liaise with each other from concept to opening day!
I have just started the demolition… now comes the exciting part in the renovation of the new space, so I will need to update you on the decorating!
Your biggest challenges so far?
- Fellow shop trader refusing to assist in some free upgrading of electricity in the street or requiring compensation every day for any disruption in the street.
- Lack of space and having to compromise in the layout.
- Waiting for plans and proposals from Designers and Contractors and agreeing.
- Budget, budget, budget! As everyone warned me, there is always something else you need to include and find more cash.
- Opening date now pushed back to end of July instead of 1 July.
What excites you most about the restaurant launching this summer?
I am so excited, I have immense pride in opening my first restaurant, fellow Sai Kungers and Hong Kongers now gain a new place to enjoy delicious food and a new cuisine too.
The running of a restaurant is very different to a Private Kitchen, so I am looking forward to new concepts and new challenges.
Where do you source ingredients from?
Most spices used in our dishes have been specially imported in from the Caribbean. In Sai Kung, we are fortunate enough to know our fellow shop traders on a personal level, gaining a friendship too, so most items are sourced from local butchers, grocers and wet market – reducing our carbon foot print. I have a small farm on my rooftop with Scotch Bonnets peppers growing, exclusively for use in our hotter recipes.
Where do you source your recipe inspirations from?
So many of my personal recipes have been handed down by the best chefs of the world, the grandmothers, mums and aunts of our families. I have been fortunate enough to have learnt so much from my family and living in the Caribbean really did implant the seed of what Caribbean food is all about; enjoy life, eat good food and share with your friends and family!
In recent years I have added my fusion twist to some recipes and hope to include more for the future. I have taken part in a number of cooking classes and hope to publish my first Caribbean recipe book.
Who are your go to business mentors in HK?
My husband Danny and daughter, Seonah have given me the neutral balance we all need and have always been willing to give me their point of view - an invaluable asset to me.
In early March this year, since walking into Bizbox office after a chance meeting with Calvin in Sai Kung Old Town (actually on the same street my restaurant is on as well as their office), things have moved up and up! Bizbox really made things happen and I thank Edward and Calvin for their mentoring and honesty and their straight up, hands on approach to everything and anything I approached or discussed with them about. Edward, you are a star!
I have great friends in my life, and I am fortunate enough to be able to talk to my business friends for their advice and mentoring, particularly when I need clarification or a different point of view.
Are there any good resources you can recommend on opening a private kitchen or restaurant? How does one get into this business?
…. that’s a tough one. I suggest visiting some private kitchens, having a concept with passion and giving it a go. Learning from your mistake and giving yourself a trial period. If it works, then keep going, or perhaps finds areas to improve. It is always good to personally visit a Private Kitchen and talk with the Chef; I did this at the start, and in turn, many new Private Kitchen Chefs have visited me in the following years.
Who does your marketing? PR? Web Design? Can you recommend any vendors you enjoy working with?
Yana from 9amconsulting. She’s a lovely lady and sees my passion and concepts.
What's next for Mandy's Restaurant & Private Kitchen?
We're planning to open another restaurant in Wanchai in the near future and looking for investors!
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