This February, our Man of the Month is none other than the brains behind one of our favourite burrito-joints Little Burro – Roger De Leon! This is the man responsible for bringing delicious Mexican-fare to the streets of Hong Kong, with super cool store locations now in Causeway Bay, Sheung Wan and Soho. Find out how Roger got started in the F&B industry, what his favourite HK hangout spots are and his secret to happiness (it may or may not involve pork carnitas)!
How did you get started in the F&B industry?
My background is product design and graphics. I have been doing branding for small business and hospitality clients for as long as I’ve been in HK, so a lot of my good friends are in the industry. I came up with the concept for Little Burro as a side project 2 years ago, and felt it was a necessary addition to the HK food scene. I linked up with the very talented Chef Lori Granito and launched the first LB as a pop-up shop in Causeway Bay last year.
Do you have a daily routine? What do you do on a day-to-day basis in your job?
Every single day is different. But each day usually starts waking up with our toddler son around 6am, while my wife prepares to go to work. I make sure to hang out with him for a bit before jumping into my morning ristretto and the to-do list of the day. I’m big on lists for this very reason. If not, it would be too difficult to keep up with what needs to get done. I try to get through as many emails as possible before checking in with managers and see what’s going on at each restaurant.
In the early days of the first pop-up, I spent all day from open to close at the restaurant making sure things were running smoothly. Now, I’m very fortunate to have an exceptional management team that is on top of everything going on at each outlet. I try to get to at least one of the outlets per day, but it depends if I need to deal with licensing, or payroll or the multitude of other things that are involved in operating a living breathing restaurant chain. Then, if it’s a Thursday through Saturday, there’s a good chance that I’ll be DJing that night at one of the night spots around Central.
What are your top tips for budding entrepreneurs?
First thing, and usually the most important part of starting your business, is how you deal with finances. If you have limited financial resources, either invest in someone else’s new business, or start your own company with someone else’s investment. Don’t invest all your money in your own new business. You will have a long road of ahead of finding the time to grow your dream, and the need to make enough money to survive.
What is your favourite burrito/bowl/taco from Little Burro? Why do you think people love Mexican food so much?
I love our pork carnitas. They are unmatched by any other restaurant in HK and I can say that with confidence. We marinate the meats for 24 hours, then slow cook them for 8 hours, until they completely fall off the bone. I think that’s the reason people love our food. It’s real. No shortcuts. All of our sauces and salsas are made in house, every couple of hours, with the freshest ingredients we can find. That’s what Mexican (and Latino) food is all about.
Is it tough to stay healthy and fit when you work in the food biz and where do you go to workout?
It’s definitely something you need to be conscious of, but it’s a matter of self control no matter what industry you’re in. It is a bit difficult when you’re constantly surrounded by food, but I suppose I’m fortunate that it’s easy to eat healthy from our menu. I work out mostly at home, or at the nearby park, with simple exercises, focusing on short intervals of circuit training, and cardio. Or weekend hikes. No gym memberships for me. Or running. I hate running.
What’s your ideal weekend in Hong Kong?
I spend a lot of my weekends DJing in nightclubs around town, which I still obviously enjoy, but I really prefer to spend time at home with my family and close friends. If it involves a grill and some outdoor space, I’m set. I also never get enough of being on a boat in HK. Junk culture is one of these phenomena that we seem to take for granted each year, but sometimes there really is nothing better.
What are your favourite local hangout spots?
Funnily enough, being in the restaurant and nightlife scene, I’m usually working and not hanging out or partying (too) much. That being said, I’m a huge fan of what Vinnie and Todd at IHM are doing with Stone Nullah Tavern and Posto Pubblico, as well as Chris Mark and the guys at Black Sheep. Especially if I need the perfect slice at Motorino, or the perfect date at Carbone. I’d probably stay in the same building and hit up Lily & Bloom for a Yamazaki or Snickers Old Fashion, before hanging out with the crew at Fly or Drop. On a more day to day routine, I can probably be found at one of the many little coffee shops that have popped up around Sheung Wan, or at a much more low key cha chaan teng, chowing down on some char siu chow dan fan and a dong lang cha!
Tell us about your first crush and first kiss?
My first crush must’ve been around 1st or 2nd grade. I remember her specifically because we eventually ended up at the same high school and joked about it many years later. As for first kiss, it must’ve been around 4th or 5th grade. She was also a good friend growing up, and we were just practicing to make sure we both weren’t surprised when we had to really kiss someone.
What’s your biggest dating disaster?
I have been extremely lucky and haven’t had any dates that have ended in psychological damage. I can say though, I’m sure there are one or two girls out there that didn’t get the call for a second date. Theres’s nothing worse than a date that only talks about themselves, or what they expect from a partner. The second that happens, it’s game over.
What do you think makes a girl Sassy?
I’d say confidence is a big factor in a Sassy girl. Someone that can be thrown into any situation and still feel in control. I suppose that’s what I always aspire towards myself, and hope to find that in others. I tend to be a bit impulsive, so someone that can roll with whatever life throws at them is alright in my book.
What’s the best date you’ve ever been on?
I must admit, the best date I’ve been on was definitely the first date with my wife. We got a small table tucked away in a secluded corner of La Caberna in the LES in New York. The entire meal was spent surrounded by candles, learning about each other, and guessing the relationships of the people around us. We then went to a hip hop lounge with a terrace out back, and the rest is history.
Where in Hong Kong do you go for grooming?
I used to go to Gentlemen’s Tonic with the talented Kem Valentino. Unfortunately, he went back to the UK last year, but I was lucky enough to find Sammy at Zucoma International – I felt completely out of the loop, since every brother in HK seems to go there.
What are your favourite local boutiques and stores in Hong Kong?
I used to love shopping at Rat’s Cave on Tai Ping Shan, as they’re a dope local brand with some great street-wear. On the more custom side, I’m a sucker for suits, probably since I don’t get to wear them that often. The guys at HOLA in Causeway Bay keep me fresh for all of my tailoring needs.
What are you future plans for Little Burro and where do you hope to be in 5 years time?
There are already plans to expand LB to a few more strategic locations, and hopefully, a couple of those will roll out this year. We believe in a steady growth, but in no means feel the need to open on every street corner. You end up saturating the market and diluting your product, which is the opposite of our business model. I set up Little Burro to be part of the neighbourhood, tapping into the community as an outlet for people in the area to hang out and enjoy quality food at a reasonable price. That’s where I see value in our brand. Over the next 4-5 years, I hope to see Little Burro become more accessible throughout the city, without losing its core character.
What’s your favourite thing to do in your spare time?
As people probably know already I’m constantly listening to music. Any spare moment I get is filled with some streaming site or album download. That being said, I’m also a huge fan of film. I try to watch movies as much as possible as I love a good story with great production, that’s well put together. Other than that – good food with great friends is definitely the secret to happiness.
All photos in the article above were taken by the extremely talented Nicola Lemmon, who’s recently moved back to sunny Australia!