"The F&B market in Hong Kong is so competitive. In my opinion, it’s the most competitive in the world. A lot of people underestimate the quality and creativity found here,” says Alexis Offe, who founded Meraki Group with his sister Laura. The duo are behind Brazilian-Japanese street food spot Uma Nota in Soho and modern Middle Eastern Bedu in Central's happening Gough Street hub.
“In Hong Kong you need to deliver every single day, because you're only as good as you were yesterday. It definitely gives you that competitive edge,” he says. It’s this Hong Kong grit that the Offes have taken with them to France, where their parents are from, opening Uma Nota in Paris in summer last year.
"I think that because it's so competitive, the concepts here in Hong Kong have a lot more detail. Everything is thought through, from the design to the food menu, to the collaterals, to the packaging, to the music. It's an experience in itself,” he says, which he feels wasn’t the case in Paris until a few years ago. “If you would've told me four years ago to open a restaurant in Paris, I would have said no, because I didn't think the market was ready.” The idea of a “concept” restaurant, with a strong storytelling aspect has made them a leader in Paris – Uma Nota has been nominated best new casual dining concept by French industry awards Les Palmes de la Restauration.
The Offes found a local partner and set up shop in a heritage building in Paris’s 2nd arrondissement. “It's a very up and coming neighbourhood. The building was kind of abandoned, but now the City of Paris is going to revamp the whole building.”
“[Being in a heritage building] is very challenging. There are a lot of things we couldn't do with the façade. There's a lot of things inside the restaurant, like the structure itself, we needed to not touch it. The floor had to be as it was.” Being a two-storey restaurant with a wraparound mezzanine, however, they have the luxury of space, which is always a delight to space-challenged Hong Kong restaurateurs.
“On the one hand you have more space, and rents are lower,” says Rohit Dugar, founder of Young Master, the Hong Kong craft beer brand that has recently opened two taprooms outside of Hong Kong. “But on the other hand," Dugar continues, "you also don't have the density of people, which makes it harder.”
He and his team opened The Guild in Singapore’s vibrant Chinatown in May last year, and after nine months, they’re getting into the swing of things. “In Singapore, fortunately, we’ve had a very strong positive perception,” he says. Part of the success has been to identify a need in the market, he explains: "I think in the Singapore bar scene there are these incredibly high-quality cocktail bars, but I sensed that there was a bit of fatigue among people, that every cocktail bar [was] trying to outdo the other in terms of pure showmanship. I think The Guild represents high quality without any of that superficial nature of things. We wanted to create a solid place that can be around for a long time. I think this is allowing us to find our own space”.