Home-grown restaurant group TungLok is taking on The Big Apple: It is opening a restaurant in New York's tallest building in early 2015.
The restaurant will be located on the 66th floor of One World Trade Center, formerly known as the Freedom Tower. It will be TungLok's first United States restaurant, and is a partnership between the group and China Center New York, owned by China-based real estate investment company Vantone Holdings, whose business also includes property development and fund management.
China Center is a gateway for Chinese companies and individuals entering the US to connect with American entities seeking new opportunities in China, and it has leased six floors of the building, from levels 64 to 69.
TungLok and Vantone Holdings inked the deal on Friday with a signing ceremony in Beijing.
The contemporary Chinese restaurant will offer floor-to-ceiling windows and an expansive view of the city. The food direction will be led by Toronto- based chef-restaurateur Susur Lee, known for introducing modern Chinese cuisine to Singapore in the 1990s, when he was a consultant for TungLok's now-defunct restaurant Club Chinois.
For now, TungLok's executive chairman Andrew Tjioe remains tight-lipped on what else diners can expect of this new restaurant.
The chance to go into partnership with the China-based developer and open a restaurant at one of the world's most iconic buildings was one that he could not pass up.
He tells Life!: "This is an opportunity - whether there is a manpower shortage or a surplus, it does not really matter because we are a business, and eventually you want to fly your brand for the world to see."
Excited by the group's first foray into the American market, he adds: "One World Trade Center is a landmark and it will be the most important landmark of New York for many years to come."
Indeed, the 104-storey building in Lower Manhattan, which stands at 541m, is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and has been constructed at the north-west corner of the 6.5ha World Trade Center site, next to Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers that were struck by terrorist attacks in 2001 once stood.
The building is co-developed by The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and The Durst Organisation, a US-based family-run real estate company, and is slated to be completed next year.
The yet-to-be named restaurant will be housed within China Center. Other than a restaurant, with private dining areas, the six-floor centre will also include offices and conference spaces. The skyscraper's anchor tenant is media group Conde Nast, which is behind popular magazine titles such as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Vogue.
Mr Tjioe says he had visited New York with International Enterprise Singapore before the global financial crisis and had looked into setting up a restaurant there at the time. However, he found that it was complicated and required between 20 and 30 licences.
But any further talk of opening anything in New York petered out when the crisis hit in 2008. He adds: "Of course, we were glad that we didn't do anything back then."
He had met with Vantone Holdings' chairman Feng Lun at the end of last year. The two were supposed to meet through a mutual friend about seven or eight years ago, but that meeting never materialised.
The TungLok group started the now-defunct Charming Garden at the former Novotel Orchid Hotel in 1980, and in 1984, it opened Tung Lok Restaurant at Liang Court. The company, which listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange in 2001, now owns and manages more than 40 restaurants in Singapore, Indonesia, China, Japan and India. Popular ones here include Lao Beijing, TungLok Signatures and Tong Le Private Dining.
Aside from its expansion into New York, the company will also open three restaurants in Sydney and Jakarta. It will open Waitan at the end of this month, together with a Beijing restaurateur, in Sydney's Sussex Street, the main street of Chinatown. The two-storey modern Shanghainese-style restaurant will offer dishes such as wood-fired Peking duck, dim sum, modern Chinese fare and Singaporean favourites such as chicken rice and chilli crab.
Over in Jakarta, the group will also open two restaurants next month: My Humble House, a modern Chinese restaurant and MAD (Modern Asian Diner), an Asian tapas restaurant.
Both will be located at Ciputra World, a new retail, commercial and residential site that includes The Raffles Hotel Jakarta, DBS Bank Tower and a Lotte shopping avenue.
TungLok already runs two other restaurants in Jakarta and opened its first restaurant there, fine-dining Chinese restaurant Taipan, in 1992. The restaurants in Jakarta are wholly owned by TungLok.
On why he has gone into partnership with other companies to open in new markets including New York and Sydney, he says: "When we are not very familiar with the market, I think the best way is to go in with a partner so that you have a chance to study and feel the market, and when you become more comfortable, you may want to do it yourself."
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