It's extremely rare to meet people who leave eternal impression in your life, especially restaurant operators. Long ago when I started our first restaurant and as we became successful, veterans from the restaurant sector used to visit us—Rose Gray, Antonio Carluccio, Terence Conran, et al. They used to share their passion and stories; it doesn’t happen anymore. Years went by and everyone had their ups and downs, some left this business, nonetheless the industry misses those friendships.
In the hospitality business, we lack icons today, who would motivate young entrepreneurs. I met Alan Yau, a Hong Kong-born businessman, an amazing talent with a proven record and incredible success in the restaurant business in London. You will be amazed at his serene presence, yet he will surprise you with the speed of his thoughts on creativity and how wonderfully he pushes himself hard at his projects.
“Food is like politics, it has to be democratic and involve the whole world.” In a few words, he said so much and demonstrated the rest in the steaming emotions of passion. His success began with Wagamama, a canteen-style restaurant—a reasonably-priced Japanese food and noodle bar. Whilst creating a winning brand, Alan fashioned a new trend in the restaurant business, and many people followed suit in the 90s. Pressing the boundaries of a jaded industry, Alan rejuvenated it and made it attractive for big investors. Today, Wagamama has 140 restaurants all over the world.
Alan sold brand Wagamama after opening the second outlet and proceeded to innovate Chinese Michelin-star restaurants like Hakkasan and Yauatcha. Hakkasan is an established chain across the world. Alan has new ideas to bring more excitement to restaurant market in the coming years. Every project is like a new baby to him. He works much harder than most people in this business, and his hands-on involvement will motivate anyone who aspires to enter this market.
All this represents only one half of Alan’s personality and life. He has been practicing yoga for 15 years under the guidance of an Indian master, Surarj K, and sporadically immerses himself into a spiritual voyage through meditation. Listening to his soulful discourse on Karma and watching his Buddha-like calmness, he could have been a monk, if not a restaurateur. It’s very hard to find people with equal expanse of awareness on both the material and spiritual path, although Alan’s seeking seems to continue equally in two directions.
Dreams fascinate me as I interact with individuals such as Alan. It seems he is fixing a hybrid self in the middle of his mammoth task in a journey he set out with no preconceptions, and never realising the height he reached and continue to stay unchallenged. At the same time his desires are high on using technology to conquer the impossible for this industry. It doesn’t matter where his route guides him, Alan remains one of the ultimate and priceless gifts of restaurant industry, which I am blessed to be part of.
The author is a London-based restaurateur,who owns the Rasa chain of restaurants