Cover Syed Asim Hussain (Photo: Amanda Kho)

The restaurateur is honest about the things that keep him up at night, his dreams for Hong Kong, and how he keeps his mind at ease during the latest wave of the pandemic

Syed Asim Hussain is the kind of person who wears his heart on his sleeve. It’s clear in the way he leads his team at Black Sheep Restaurants with rigour and gusto, the way he passionately talks about his business to friends and family, and how he breaks down his thought process during interviews.

Last year, when he was on the cover of Tatler’s May issue, he revealed his experience of overcoming Covid-19 upon his return to Hong Kong from Pakistan in November 2020. During the pandemic, the hospitality industry has experienced innumerable challenges that have tested the resilience and patience of everyone within it.

Giving a window to the anguish and uncertainty that surrounds each successive wave of Covid-19, Hussain, who has kept a diary for years, shares his stream of consciousness from the past few days:

 

March 9, 2022

I have not been sleeping well. There is a lot to think about and I am struggling with the lack of connection the current situation calls for. I am someone who needs to look you in the eye, test the weight of something in my hands and feel the energy of a room. Being removed from all of this makes me feel less alive.

The things that keep me up at night are never really about me. Above everything, I worry about all the black sheep [employees] in my charge. I think the sadness we are all swimming in while seeing what is happening to our home can feel inviting. When sleep does not come, I force myself not to get sucked into doom-scrolling the news, especially right now. Instead, I reach for the familiar. I re-watch old films and read books I have liked in the past. Nothing too taxing. No surprises. I have enough of those. I enjoy anything to do with history, so I had George Clooney’s The Monuments Men playing the other night. I am a little bit embarrassed to admit how much I enjoy the film. I love the spirit of the story: ordinary people risking everything for art. When Winston Churchill was asked to divert funding for the arts to the war effort he asked, “Then what are we fighting for?”

In my darkest moments I wonder if I am crazy to keep paddling against the tide to try and save everything we have built in the city over the last decade. I know [our restaurants] are not the Mona Lisa, but restaurants are a part of a city’s culture, especially this city. In Hong Kong, we do not have the museums full of relics from the past or the historical monuments that other places are famous for. But we have a restaurant scene that rivals the greatest cities in the world. What we as an industry have built here is worth saving.

I have been saying a lot of goodbyes to some wonderful guests who have felt like family. I understand that for many people, especially those with kids, the lack of clarity here has made things untenable, but the sadness I feel to see them go is heavy.

I remind myself that Hong Kong has always been transient. Many people come here for economic opportunities. I secretly hope that when the good times come back, everyone comes back with them. 

I keep telling my team that both of the following things can be true at the same time: things can be impossibly difficult right now and we can still have an incredibly bright future. Both are true even if one of them feels far away right now. But we have to prepare. We need to make improvements and we need to stay inspired. Hope needs to stay alive. Hong Kong has been counted out time and time again in the past and there is something magical about this place because it keeps getting back up. 

When I lie awake counting sheep, there are nearly a thousand of them. They are all incredibly soulful with so much heart. And they are all running on fumes to keep the fires burning in our restaurants. The thought of letting them down is almost too much to bear. —Asim

 

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