We have all heard of the saying that success is the well-timed minute when preparation meets opportunity and Colin Chung and Kenny Tai of Hooked Hospitality are a testament to that.
The dynamic duo behind the highly successful Bait in Bangsar are now also the proud owners of 2 new establishments -- Bounty and The Shack at the KL Journal Hotel – and all the above wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t grab the chance when it looked their way.
“Sometimes, the opportunity presents itself. You don’t want to be in the situation where you look back and chastise yourself for not taking it,” reveals Chung, the creative spirit of the two. “Like with Bait, we had an opportunity with this shop lot in Bangsar. We thought it was a fantastic space and we crafted a seafood and oyster bar place out of it.”
The same happened with Bounty and The Shack, which reside in The KL Journal Hotel owned by Tai.
“My family is in property development,” tells Tai, the more grounded half, thanks to his engineering background. “We’ve had this lot for a while that used to be a parking space. I had the idea of launching a hotel here so I did. While developing this and Bait, I really liked the team we had at Bait, so I got them here.”
If their tatler_tatler_stories aren’t the epitome of perfect timing, little else is. Yet, as keen as their eyes and ears are for spotting and owning that fleeting moment’s window of chance, their success story wouldn’t have been written without equal parts patience, grit and old-fashioned hard work.
Filling the gap
The duo believes that to survive in the unforgiving F&B industry, you need to first stand out with an offering that no one else has and then ensure the quality is consistent.
“We never want to do something that is cookie-cutter,” says Chung, who switched into F&B from his banking job out of sheer boredom at being stuck at a desk. A keen observation on the lack of small plates seafood bars in KL resulted in Bait.
Tai is quick to add that novelty alone is never enough to sustain a business. “You need a very strong food angle. It’s very hard to run a F&B outlet without it. You can have drink but without food, you can hardly survive.” (swipe left for next page)
Listening to your gut feeling
Having said that, whether or not an F&B establishment takes off doesn’t boil down to simple statistics like that.
“It comes from a gut feeling, what you feel, what you think will fly,” tells Chung. “We also try to keep our ear to the ground to see what’s hot or what our customer wants and make it happen.”
Inspiration is all around, Tai reveals. “Travelling gives us a lot of inspiration. We’re always out there looking at new stuff and bringing in new concepts. It’s a constant evolution. Especially at this day and age when you have 5-6 new places opening everyday, you have to stay on top. You got to make sure food is right, service is right, and you're always staying with the times.” (swipe left for next page)
It is clear that adaptability is one of the duo’s best strengths.
“Because we’re a small group, we can pivot very quickly,” affirms Chung. “There is little bureaucracy so we can change something anytime if we aren’t happy.”
“You got to continually invest in the business,” echoes Tai “With Bait, we struggled a little at the start. We weren’t losing a lot of money but we weren’t making enough for the amount of effort that we were putting in. We felt that there were things we needed to tweak, so we did. That has been very successful for us.”
“It’s really about looking at the finer details, identifying what’s not working and putting in more investment until the final result is something that we are very happy and confident with.” (swipe left for next page)
Believing in your product
Another key aspect to their success is their relentless belief in their product. Like self-fulfilling prophecies, no one is going to believe in your product if you don’t do so first.
“When we initially came up with the idea, we thought it was great. But what’s more important is that we stuck to it,” says Tai. “It was by no means easy, but we believed in it and we stuck to our guns. When we needed to take bold decisions, we did. It is all purely through hard work for us to get where we are today.”
“There’s no guarantee what would work, but you just have to believe in the concept and that it will work,” elaborates Chung. “It might mean doing some pivoting along the lines, but if you stick to it, people will appreciate it that you are trying to build something authentic.” (swipe left for next page)
Have fun while at it
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but lucky for these two their work and play are intertwined.
“At the end of the day, it’s a fun industry,” says Chung.” That’s why so many are attracted to it. People go out to have fun and you are a big part of that. If it wasn’t fun, I don’t think we would have stuck around for so long.
“We like to eat. We like to eat and drink,” says Tai. “We are lucky to be able to combine the two, step out of our comfort zone and make something great.” (swipe left for next page)
(Photos: Bait and The KL Journal Hotel)
Another Bright Young Thing blazing her way through in the local F&B industry: Lyn Siew of Ruyi & Lyn.