Trade Talk: Paul Hsu of Elite Concepts

The Founder and Executive Director of the Hong Kong–based dining and entertainment brand reflects on the past 30 years and shares a few hints of where it’s headed next.

All photos courtesy of Elite Concepts

You first established Elite Concepts back in 1991. Will there be any special events in the coming months to celebrate its 30th anniversary?

Yes, we are planning for it next year, the Chinese always celebrate this way — 31st, 41st, 51st, the first year on from the anniversary or birthday. We held big celebrations for our 25th anniversary, so let’s see what we can cook up. We also like to try and say a thank you to our loyal guests, some of whom have been “eating Elite” since we began.

 

Looking back on it all, what were a few key developments in the evolution of the company and its portfolio?

Our evolution has always sought to stay ahead of the game. Always innovating, bringing new ideas to fine dining and entertainment in Asia. Over the years I would say that One Fifth was pretty ahead of its time as a bar, with its New York–loft style it was virtually unrivaled in Hong Kong. And obviously the launch of yè shanghai was important to us, which is still going strong today across four venues in three cities. Every Elite Concepts venue is creative by design — we’re not following anyone.

Sweet and sour spare ribs at yè shanghai.

The F&B industry is fiercely competitive, especially in a place like Hong Kong. In your experience, what are the keys to achieving continued growth and success?

You have to never stop creating and trying, as guests are spoiled for choice … we need to constantly stay relevant. It’s important not to just rest on our laurels, doing the same things year in, year out. We’ve seen establishments fade away over the years because they did not move with the times. So, thinking ahead, never being complacent, these are key.

 

When it comes to creating new concepts, why do you think it is so important to incorporate the local history and culture into a restaurant’s identity?

Tastes and palates are different, from north to south and from east to west. History and culture are not so important as the food itself. We bring different food cultures to different cities. So, we don’t overtly try to reflect exactly the city we are in. Naturally, yè shanghai is designed to reflect the history and culture of the city, because that’s the concept. But not every venue needs to follow those rules. If you look at Deng G, which specializes in traditional, authentic Sichuan cuisine, it’s the food that is center stage, not the décor or theme.

The interior at Nhau, a modern Vietnamese eatery in Central, Hong Kong.

Elite Concepts’ current lineup spans entertainment venues, bars, and restaurants specializing in all kinds of regional Chinese cuisines and modern Vietnamese fare. What new brands do you have in the pipeline?

Well, we are evolving Deng G, and we have a new Sichuan restaurant coming. Apart from that, we are always exploring new ideas. We’ve just taken over an older Hong Kong restaurant, La Taverna in Tsim Sha Tsui, so it’s going to be interesting to see where we can take it without undermining the foundations of what it has been all these years as it’s a great restaurant serving down-to-earth, homey Italian cuisine.

 

Are there plans to expand the company’s footprint beyond Greater China in the near future?

Vietnam is in our next destination … we’re planning something new and exciting there. Watch this space. We are always looking ahead and over the horizon, so I would say that definitely there will be more in the pipeline.

Mouth-watering chicken, a specialty at Hong Kong restaurant Deng G.

Where do you hope to see Elite Concepts in another five years’ time?

To be everywhere we can be, where our brand is appreciated and has relevance. We hope to keep expanding our unique culture of innovation to bring new experiences to hungry guests in other markets. As long as we can continue to shake things up a bit and create new offerings, we will; people don’t want to be bored with the same old thing.

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