In this moment, probably the hardest for F&B sector in Hong Kong, Retail in Asia has been conducting interview with entrepreneurs in the field to learn how they are coping with the situation.
We had the pleasure to interview the founders of Meraki Hospitality Group, Alexis and Laura Offe.
You may know be familiar with the group, but you have definitely tried one of their restaurants: Uma Nota, Bedu, and the latest addition Mamma Always Said in Hong Kong.
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They both grew up in Hong Kong. Alex dreamt from a young age that he would one day open his own restaurant. Through his travels around the world, and studies at the internationally recognised hospitality management school Ecole Hotelière de Lausanne (EHL), he began to develop the idea of opening a Brazilian Japanese restaurant.
São Paulo is home to the largest community of Japanese outside their home country and it was in Liberdade, São Paulo’s “Japan”, that Alex discovered his love for street food.
Having worked at world-renowned hotels, and managed some of Hong Kong’s most popular restaurants, Alex worked his way up in the hospitality and food and beverage industries, before opening Uma Nota in 2017. With so many flavours, ingredients and cuisines on offer in Asia, Alex is passionate about exploring culinary traditions from around the globe and bringing them to life in modern yet approachable ways for Hong Kong diners.
Taking the Meraki offering overseas, Uma Nota Paris opened in 2018, introducing Nipo-
Brasilerio cuisine to the founders’ native country. Back in Hong Kong, BEDU soon followed; a new concept showcasing street food from the Middle East, inspired by Bedouin tribes and their rich culinary customs.
Most recently Meraki Hospitality Group launched Mamma Always Said – the fourth restaurant from the group – a place where recipes from tapas restaurants and bistros are brought together to spice up the new hot spot of Central, Peel Street. This concept creates a harmony with other concepts down the street focusing on the idea of “aperitivo”, Italian way and casual pizza.
Laura brings a wealth of experience from the vast hospitality landscape and fast-
paced food and beverage scene. She has also worked at some of the world’s most iconic hotels spanning from London to Hong Kong; including Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts, Four Seasons Hotels and Ritz-Carlton.
In 2015 Laura founded ‘The Box Partnership’ a boutique Hong Kong-based consulting firm specialising in food and beverage, hospitality and retail. Laura advises clients in the Asia Pacific Region, the Middle East and Europe and has teamed up with her brother Alexis Offe in the Hong Kong hospitality group, Meraki.
Laura aims at bringing new concepts to one of the world’s most celebrated food capitals. Offering the city’s locals and visitors unique street food-inspired experiences from different corners of the world, from São Paulo and Japan to Malaysia and the Middle East. Through an unpretentious, open-minded and lively approach, Meraki’s restaurants offer playful cuisine; exotic flavours, vibrant spaces and a family feel to a community of discerning foodies.
RiA: Alexis and Laura grew up in Hong Kong, how do you think your concepts contribute to the HK F&B scenery and how you have seen it evolving through time?
Alexis and Laura: Having lived in Hong Kong for more than 15 years where street food culture is cherished and widely celebrated, at Meraki Hospitality Group, we are passionate about exploring rich culinary traditions that are representative of everyday life across generations and are intent on bringing them to life in modern yet approachable ways for today’s diners.
We always create concepts that are a little bit different to what you can find existing in Hong Kong, we like to put our own unique touch in them. We also create concepts that will attract the local consumer and not only the expat community while always keeping in mind value for money.
RiA: Peel Street has become a hot spot in Hong Kong and there is a true synergy between all concepts along the street. Is it the new gathering spot?
Alexis and Laura: When we first opened Uma Nota in 2017, Peel street was a very quiet street but ever since the last year, it has seen many new concepts open with the common denominator: quality concepts at affordable prices. This has attracted a new crowd and has brought new energy to the street.
RiA: Which other areas are currently booming?
Alexis and Laura: Soho in general has seen a renewed energy but what we have noticed as well is that consumers are becoming very neighbourhood-y. By that I mean that since Covid-19, they are staying in areas where they live. They are supporting their local hangouts which was less prominent before, so neighbourhoods like Sai Ying Pun have seen an increase in business throughout the week which was not always the case.
RiA: You have recently closed a Malaysia concept to open a tapas-style restaurant, is it part of seizing momentum on trends that have emerged? What other trends do you see?
Alexis and Laura: With the shift of consumers on Peel street, a concept like Jalan (Malaysian), although it had been getting good feedback, no longer fits the street. With Covid-19 also affecting the industry and the spending habits of the local community, we needed to have a concept that fit that, which meant creating a concept that brought comfort to the existing consumers and this is where Mamma Always Said was born.
We think that Hong Kong will seek comfort and familiarity this year and therefore will look for concepts that can bring them those two components.
RiA: In this current crisis, how are you connecting with your customers and how do you engage them?
Alexis and Laura: At Meraki Hospitality Group, we have always made it a priority to be connected to our guests which is why we have always made sure our service style was professional while being casual and genuine. Our team members always try to create a personal connection with anyone who comes through our doors which makes it easier to continue engaging with our guests. We are currently putting in place new systems to bring a new dimension to the way we interact with them but at the end of the day, it is the personal touch that makes the difference.
RiA: Your current three concepts are very different from each other, what are the ones on your wish list that you may or may not open in HK?
Alexis and Laura: We always have a few concepts ready. It all depends on the location and what gap there is in the market at that time. At the moment, we are concentrating on consolidating our current concepts after a difficult 12 months and will look at opportunities towards the end of the year.
RiA: What is your favourite restaurant in HK?
Alexis and Laura: It is really hard to have one specific favorite, it is like choosing your favorite child.
We just opened a new restaurant called Mamma Always Said, so we cannot choose that one yet, although we have both been going there a lot lately.
When you go to a restaurant it depends on the occasion but what we love about BEDU and Uma Nota is that you can go a number of times in a week whether it is for lunch or dinner or just a drink or a snack.
We love BEDU because it is fresh, light and has beautiful lemony flavours. Whilst Uma Nota has these bold flavours and combinations of ingredients which are very unique.
RiA: Travelling is definitely an inspiration as we can see that your concepts have great influence from overseas countries and HK is a great meltin’ pot of food cultures, what is the next big trend? Peruvian, fusion, or what to expect?
Alexis and Laura: After what happened during the last 5 months, we believe consumers will be looking for concepts that provide an experience and where you’re going to be transported somewhere else during your dining experience. On the other end, consumers are also looking for comfort and familiarity so we think there’s going to be a surge of concepts that serve simple food at affordable prices, back to basics type of concepts.