Catching up on family time – at work

PHOTO: Catching up on family time – at work

SPENDING quality time together is important in order to bond with your children. Counter-intuitively, perhaps, one way of doing that is to involve your children in your business. That is precisely what Patrick Ng, the owner of Hanayoshi Restaurant, chose to do.

"Opening the restaurant offered me an opportunity to get close to my children," he said. "We now have a common topic to talk about."

Lorraine Ng, his oldest daughter who graduated relatively recently, runs the restaurant. His two younger daughters, who are still studying, help out at the restaurant during their vacation breaks.

Nowadays, he jokes, car rides are dominated by conversation about the running of the restaurant. "I've gotten an intangible ROI from the very start," he quipped.

Mr Ng described Hanayoshi as being "conceptualised as an authentic Japanese dining restaurant" that sets out to serve "classic dishes that maintain a high level of authenticity while pleasing local palates".

This is achieved, in great part, through the expertise of Chef Mitsuo Ishii, who has previously served as the personal chef of two Japanese ambassadors to Singapore.

The authenticity of the restaurant is buttressed by its décor, which Mr Ng said "replicates the quiet elegance of rustic Japanese architecture".

Patrons may choose to sit at the sushi bar on the first floor, where they can catch a glimpse of Chef Ishii. Another traditional option is to dine in one of two private rooms that are designed in tatami style. Alternatively, patrons may choose to dine in an open dining area or a private room done up in contemporary style.

The fine dining restaurant attempts to meet customer requirements as far as possible. To illustrate, omakase set menus - essentially where patrons allow the chef to select the dishes to be served - are ordinarily available for $150++ and $180++.

However, such sets may be customised to suit diners' budgets. Thus, said Mr Ng, "if you want an omakase set for $100, we'll try to customise an option that will fit that budget".

A family (business) affair

Mr Ng confessed that he did not have prior experience in the food and beverage (F&B) industry. Nevertheless, he was arguably confident about venturing into the industry because his father had introduced him to the world of business and thereby allowed him to accumulate a wealth of commercial experience.

He currently serves as deputy chairman of Pan-United Corporation Ltd, an integrated logistics and resource development company that began as a "small hardware stall" started by his father. Over time, it grew and was listed on the Singapore Exchange in 1993. Its growth continued over the years, and it was profitable for the 2012 financial year.

Starting work at Pan-United involved a great deal of pressure because Mr Ng's father threw him into the deep end upon graduation. But he learnt the ropes fast. "As part of the family, there is no option to fail," he said.

"There is a lot of pressure behind it, but you hone the art of turning that pressure into a force to propel you forward."

His father did not prevent him from making mistakes in business, and did not always tell him what the 'right decision' in the circumstances was. However, he was always there to encourage Mr Ng and the other family members involved in the business. "No matter what, my father would not let us die," he said.

This is precisely the approach that he hopes to adopt in relation to his daughters and their involvement in Hanayoshi. Being new to the F&B industry, he acknowledges that he does not always know the right solutions to challenges that confront the restaurant.

In a sense, both he and his daughters "start from the same starting point", he said. "This means that sometimes, I cannot prevent Lorraine from falling into pitfalls even if I wanted to, because I don't know the right answer."

Nevertheless, being involved in the restaurant gives his children an opportunity to learn how to run a business. In fact, one of his friends remarked that he had created a real-life classroom for his daughters.

Why Japanese food?

Mr Ng decided to venture into F&B because he had always dreamt of opening a restaurant. Doing so earlier was not an option because he had to fulfil his father's wishes and join the family business. But in 2010, he decided that he had to start the restaurant.

"I thought to myself that, at my age, I had to do something about my dream," he said. He decided to open a Japanese restaurant because of a few reasons.

First, Japanese cuisine appealed to him because it emphasised simplicity and freshness of ingredients, as well as unique presentation of the dishes.

In addition, his passion for the cuisine had been cemented by frequenting Japan on food trails over the past 25 years.

Second, and perhaps decisively, opening a Japanese restaurant made commercial sense because many Singaporeans too shared a passion for Japanese food.

Setting up the restaurant

Upon deciding that he wanted to open a Japanese restaurant, he had to find a suitable location. After a bit of searching, he chanced upon a shophouse in the Duxton Road area.

It had previously been an office, but its potential as a quaint dining venue was obvious. In addition, its location made it attractive to the working crowd who worked in the Central Business District, during both lunch and dinner.

"I bought the property within half an hour," he said.

Subsequently, he engaged a Japanese consultant based in Singapore to conceptualise the "broad picture" of the restaurant's décor. However, he wanted to retain control over the finer details of the interior.

For example, he spent close to three days in the washroom thinking about how best to renovate it. "I asked myself, where would a user put her bag, those kind of questions," he explained.

Strengths and challenges

Mr Ng feels that the company has a number of strengths that it can leverage on, but also has a few challenges that it needs to surmount.

The company's strength lies in delivering "good service and good food at good value", he said. The company's fifteen staff are attentive to diners' needs, and try to make their dining experience as comfortable as possible.

In addition, the restaurant strives to deliver food of a high quality. The end result, he said, was that there was good value for the customer. By this he means that even if the cost of the meal is high, customers feel that they have gotten more than they had expected to receive.

In short, he said, "we try to put a smile on everyone's face".

The challenge, as he sees it, is really about creating awareness about the restaurant's offerings. To this end, media tastings and other events have been conducted in the hope that more diners will know of Hanayoshi.

If all goes well, the restaurant will soon become an established fixture in the fine dining market.

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