Kit Leung is the co-founder of Minden Concepts, the group behind Brick Lane and several other establishments mostly clustered around Tsim Sha Tsui. She tells us what she’d do differently if she could turn back time, and about her dream of getting the company listed.
A little background
Kit Leung and her two friends were drinking at a bar on Minden Avenue five years ago when they noticed an empty shop across the street. The women — who had all gone to university in London together and moved on to careers in finance — talked about opening up a place of their own. Before they knew it, British all-day diner Brick Lane was born, named after the popular East London street of the same name.
It has been five years, and the group now runs three Brick Lane branches, Spanish restaurant One Minden Tapas Kitchen, Japanese joint Takagi Yakatori and an about-to-open Taiwanese venue in Causeway Bay.
So you obviously didn’t plan on being a restaurateur, having studied economics before working at big banks. Same with your friends. What was your biggest challenge opening up a restaurant?
I think it was the operations bit. Because none of us had any experience in running a restaurant at the time. None of us even knew how to make coffee! We had to do everything ourselves. It was very difficult to find chefs at the time as well. We were even prepared to cook if we had to. We had no experience in procurement, no connection with suppliers. We started from scratch basically.
What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently?
I think consultation is very important. In hindsight, when I look back, if we had a good consultant it would’ve been easier for us. We wouldn’t have had to go through all these ordeals for one whole year. A consultant has a lot of knowledge on getting all the licenses, on how the kitchen has to be designed in order to meet all the requirements, as well as be efficient.
With our first Bricklane, the design wasn’t as good as it should have been, and we had a hard time finding chefs. As soon as the chefs came in and looked at the equipment, they would turn us down.
Now that you’re firmly in the F&B business, have you picked up any related habits?
I like to cook. It’s a way for me to calm myself down. It’s a way for me to get into my own world. I can be submerged in my own thinking. I’m actually quite religious, spiritual. Cooking is a way for me to isolate myself from the rest of the world.
What’s your go-to dish?
Hainan chicken rice. It’s not that hard, actually. Getting a good chicken first of all is very important. I don’t get live chicken, I get frozen chicken. But I found that frozen French chicken can taste even better than the live ones.
I submerge the chicken in boiled water, slow-cook it. I buy chicken fat from the market, they always have it on sale because it’s like garbage to them. Not a lot of people use the fat. But you need the fat from the chicken to fry the rice.
What’s your ultimate goal for the company?
To tell you the truth, we didn’t have any vision at the beginning. Brick Lane was just a place to hang out with friends. It was only after we opened our third Brick Lane that we developed a real vision for the group. Right now we have a vivid vision of where we want to be. We’re still some ways away, but eventually we want to be listed.
But we hear that restaurant groups have a notoriously difficult time getting listed?
We’re learning every day and certainly there are things we can pick up from other restaurant groups as well. We’re small compared to them. We’re keeping an eye on them and seeing what obstacles they’re facing. Hopefully when it comes to our turn, we can deal with it.
Read more from our Dishin’ the Dirt series.