Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. Each week in 27 Questions, we get up close and personal with the city’s notable personalities, learning about their whims, aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all in roughly the same duration it takes to sit through a two-minute speed date.
Following the much-anticipated revamp of Wan Chai hotspot 22 Ships, this weekend we have the pleasure to sit down with Yenn Wong — CEO and founder of Hong Kong F&B powerhouse Jia Group. Originally set up as a luxury hotel operator some 16 years ago (with properties in Hong Kong and Shanghai), the group subsequently retooled as a dining hospitality firm in 2010, when Wong opened her first — and till this day, eminently popular — bar and restaurant, 208 Duecento Otto.
In its earliest days, the Sheung Wan mainstay’s inimitable mixture of visible panache and solid Neapolitan flavours set the tone for what would seemingly become the signature Jia group formula: Consisting of equal parts thoughtful food and considered design, always with a dash of global perspective.
In the decade that has followed, Wong has adapted her company’s credo to over a dozen different culinary concepts. To name but a smattering: a social hub linking fine art together with even finer Cantonese cookery; an urban extension of popular Balinese beach club Potato Head; and, most recently, a genre-bending fine diner, to be opened in concert with chef Agustin Balbi (formerly of Haku) later this month.
We catch the prolific restauranteur during a brief moment of pre-weekend calm and find out how she’s been keeping. Below, Wong answers our signature multi-point questionnaire: Explaining her obsession with croissants, why Mexico City is a slept-on holiday destination and what brand reigns supreme in her massive shoe cupboard.
Name: Yenn Wong
Occupation: Founder & CEO, Jia Group
1. What is your life motto?
“Never stop learning.”
2. Who is your role model?
My father: He’s a humble businessman who’s entirely self-made. Growing up, I always wanted to be like him.
3. What was your first job?
I was an auditor trainee at KPMG.
4. What is your drink of choice?
Coconut water — it’s refreshing and healthy! Relatively speaking.
5. What is the best thing in or about your apartment?
My bed — always guarantees a good night’s sleep.
6. Are you a morning person or night owl?
Like many F&B people, I’d say I’m a night owl.
7. What’s one mobile app you use which you think more people should know about?
StepsApp — it’s a cool step counter which you can use to track daily movements like your number of steps, distance, time and active calories.
8. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Croissants. I love the smell of freshly-baked bread, so it’s not surprising that I’m addicted to this sort of classic, buttery pastry.
9. What do you hate most about living in Hong Kong?
10. What is the top destination on your bucket list?
Mexico City. Good food, a vibrant culture, lovely museums — it ticks all of my boxes.
11. How often do you prepare your own meals?
Once a month. I’m not a terribly good cook to be honest.
12. What is your biggest guilty pleasure?
Sneakily catching the terrified expressions of other people whilst we’re all watching a horror film.
13. What is one movie everyone should see?
The Shawshank Redemption. It’s my all-time fave.
14. What is your typical Sunday like?
Dim sum with the family; swimming or walking the dog; cooking for the kids; grocery shopping. Basically, anything relaxing which I can do with my loved ones.
15. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
Singapore — that’s where I trace my roots. Besides, from time to time, I really crave good, authentic Singaporean food and it’s a pretty convenient place to visit.
16. If you could invite any five people in the world to your dream dinner party, who would they be?
Coco Chanel, Julia Child, Michelle Obama, Ray Eames and Rosa Parks: all strong, visionary, inspiring women across a variety of sectors.
17. If you could banish someone from Hong Kong forever, who would it be?
That’s a tough question. Maybe, people who don’t appreciate others?
18. Where do you go when you want to be alone?
The spa. It’s private and usually, I’m without my phone — a very personal time is assured.
19. If you had to describe Hong Kong in one word, what would it be?
20. What’s your favourite childhood memory?
Hanging out in the kitchen and watching my mother cook.
21. Are you a good cook? What is your best dish?
Not really — but I do a pretty good claypot crab bee hoon.
22. Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had, what is one important lesson that they taught you?
Again, my father. He’s the one who taught me how important the concept of responsibility is.
23. What is your unique party trick?
Bringing [my husband] Alan in and letting his laughter fill the room. Does that count?
24. How many pairs of shoes do you currently own? Which do you wear the most often?
I have around 200 pairs. My Nike Air VaporMax Flyknits — they’re ridiculously comfy.
25. When did you last ride the Star Ferry? What were you doing/where did you go?
Around three months ago: I was on my way to Tsim Sha Tsui for an event in Harbour City.
26. Do you have any favourite tattoos or special birthmarks? What is it?
I have a red mole on my stomach.
27. Would you rather never be alone for a single moment, or be alone for the rest of your life? Why?
I’d prefer never being alone — I enjoy company.