Where did your interest in the restaurant trade come from?
My dad had two restaurants, so I grew up with the business around me. We used to eat out every week religiously, and my parents would always analyse where we went. I grew up understanding why restaurants work and why they don’t. Seeing them all come and go, I got a feel for what works.
You used to work at Goldman Sachs. How did you go from there to where you are now?
While working for Goldman Sachs I was in New York a lot on business. Chipotle was taking off out there, and I saw how busy the restaurants were. I thought ‘London could do with this’. So I quit my job in 2009, and opened a burrito company. I learned a lot of lessons and made a lot of mistakes. Eventually I found myself not enjoying it as much as I should, so I quit. Then three years ago I opened Miss Tapas with my now wife Blanca Rowe, in Peckham, and then Mr Bao also in Peckham, and now we’re opening Daddy Bao in Tooting.
Did your father influence how you run the businesses?
He ran The Jade in Salisbury. He’s super old school, because he’s a third generation immigrant from Hong Kong, and he likes everything reliant on him so he couldn’t really delegate. I’m the opposite. I like having people around me that are better at their jobs than I am.
Will the dishes at Daddy Bao be traditional, or have you changed them for the English palate?
They are adaptations of traditional dishes. When I was a child I’d often open the fridge and there would be a whole live crab in there - obviously Brits do eat crab, but there have been a lot of translations on the menu to make it more approachable. We want it to be something you can eat every day that’s not too heavy, with ingredients that are more approachable than chickens’ feet.
Is your father involved in the business?
He retired last year but he will be helping out at the opening in Tooting. He’s a big part of the restaurant, and the recipe development behind the scenes as well. He’s 60 so he’s still quite young, but he started working when he was eight years old so after four months of retirement he got really bored. The customers love it when he’s around. They think he’s quite a character.
Will Brexit have an impact?
It already is affecting us, as all the suppliers have put their prices up. The staffing is the biggest potential issue for us. At Miss Tapas, 16 of our staff are Spanish, and a lot of them feel now like they aren’t really wanted here. They all pay their tax, and their national insurance. They’re contributing to the economy and it’s sad that the message we’ve given them makes them feel like that. The pool of people will reduce, and it will be harder to find staff.
How are you trying to combat the problem?
We’re trying to build a really good reputation for looking after staff. A lot of places pay minimum wage, whereas we pay above that, and you get to keep all your tips. Some of the kids working are 18, and they’re earning double what their mates do. We’re really proud of that and want to get that message out so more people will apply to us.
What do you think about the bao scene here?
It’s a mixed bag. Bao in Soho is great, and they have done really good things to raise the profile of baos, both in Soho and in Fitzrovia. Their other restaurant, XU, is great too. Apart from that, I haven’t seen many amazing baos in the UK yet.
What other Asian food trends might take off?
Dumplings will become more prominent. We’ve had a few dumplings specials, where we add different fillings and different skins, and we got really good feedback.
What is the best piece of advice your father has given you?
He’s always said ‘don’t be a young man in a hurry’. It means that when you’re young you always want everything tomorrow, but life is long enough to do everything you want to do.