This week’s That Girl is the extremely awesome Lindsay Jang, one half of the duo behind Yardbird, Hong Kong’s coolest restaurant… possibly ever! Along with just about everyone else in HK, we love the place (see our review here) so we jumped at the chance to get to know the brains behind the buzz!
We chat to Lindsay about how she ended up in HK, how Yardbird got to be so cool, what’s next for the Yardbird team and why she’s definitely not a robot.
Fill us in on your background and where you grew up. How did you end up in Hong Kong?
I grew up in Canada, Edmonton and Calgary to be exact. At the age of 20, I moved to New York to pursue acting. I went to theatre school and did the cliché audition circuit for a few years before I decided to take Food & Beverage seriously. Growing up, my family ran a restaurant and I had always been a server or bartender while I was in school or chasing other dreams. Everything changed when I started working for Nobu in New York. I fell in love with hospitality and the movement of food as a social activity and a complete experience. At that time, my business partner, Matt Abergel, was also working in an amazing NY restaurant. We collectively decided to leave NY, travel with our new baby girl and see where life took us. After almost a year of travel, we obviously needed to find employment, which is when Matt took the Executive Chef position at Zuma in Hong Kong… And voila! We’ve been here for over three years now.
Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I live in Wan Chai. For the last 12 years I have been moving around, living in small apartments, buying crap furniture because I had no sense of permanence, so now I have slowly replaced my IKEA furniture with quality pieces that I plan on having for years to come. Art has started to collect on my walls and I feel like this is my home, this is my personal investment.
How would you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
I definitely go for things that you don’t have to dry clean! I love comfortable pieces that can be dressed up or down and that have sex appeal without being overly girlie. It’s important to me to always feel like I’m being true to myself when I get dressed. I tend to be redundant when I shop so it’s nice to have some of my more fashion-forward girlfriends pick out pieces I wouldn’t normally buy, to accent my personal style.
Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
I’m a huge fan of online shopping. Shopbop and Net-a-porter are constant go-tos. I’m an easy shopper. I don’t like to try things on and when I know a brand fits well I am a very loyal customer. Lane Crawford is also somewhere I can rely on to find great items when I don’t want to wait for my online order!! Secret finds??… I like the Apple Mall next to Lei Gardens in Causeway Bay and when a local friend will be my guide, I love to shop in more local spots for things you’d never find in mainstream Central shops.
What are your must-have beauty products? Where do you go for hair/nails/maintenance?
I use SkinMedica and Obaji face products with organic Argan Oil. I love Laura Mercier foundation and Bobbi Brown eyeliner and I absolutely can’t live without L’Oreal Voluminous mascara – the Original. You can’t buy it here so when I go back to Canada or the US, I buy tons of it. It’s so cheap and it’s hands down the best mascara I’ve ever tried. My girlfriend showed me her nail spot in CWB that’s super affordable, fast and they offer bootleg DVDs to watch while you get pampered. I’ve been going to Tommy Hair on Lyndhurst Terrace (2543 6985/2544 1436) since I moved here. It’s $150 for a haircut and the guy I go to is talented. Ask for Edmond. He cuts my children’s hair too.
What is your favourite thing to do at the weekend?
I work all week up to Saturday, so Sunday is special. My family usually does a nice leisurely brunch with friends and we try not to make too many plans. It’s nice to just let the day unfold.
What’s your favourite place in Hong Kong?
Poolside at the Grand Hyatt. Lunch, swim, relax, sauna… What’s not to love?
What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong (other than Yardbird of course)?
I find myself at Linguini Fini all the time (I can’t live without their Gold Bars and Caprese salad). Lily & Bloom, Fly, Volar – basically any Buzz Concepts spot is always a guaranteed good time.
What inspired you and Matt to start Yardbird? Did you intentionally set out to make it a ‘cool’ it-spot or did it just happen?
We have had this business plan for over six years. We have always loved food, especially Japanese food, and the idea of creating a place to host our friends – a place created from the heart. Yardbird was never modelled to be a “cool” place. We just built and executed from our experience and we never let our vision waiver in terms of quality or focus.
Which is your favourite dish at Yardbird? Which is the most popular?
My favourite dish is the Maitake Mushroom Tempura. Matt used to make it at Masa in NY and we had maitake mushrooms at Yardbird so I asked him to fry them… Now it’s on the menu! I’m a sucker for anything fried actually. The most popular dish is Sweet Corn Tempura. Who knew corn balls would be such a hit?
Can you give us the day-to-day lowdown on running a successful restaurant? Matt’s in charge of the cooking… but what elements at Yardbird are you the key driving force for?
My job is Front Of House and operations. Basically, my background is service training and special event coordination. The style of service we provide at Yardbird is friendly, smart, welcoming and unpretentious. Our floor staff are educated on our product and not afraid to suggest what to eat and drink. I think people appreciate a strong server who can give you a complete dining experience that is so much more than just sitting you down, offering a menu and taking an order. A robot can do that. Hospitality is the whole package from the moment you step in the door until you leave.
How would you compare the dining scene in HK to that Stateside? What do you think HK does well that Canada/US doesn’t and vice versa?
HK and Stateside dining are very different. HK has an incredible local dining culture that’s full of history whilst dining in the West is much more trend-focused – people are always trying to create new concepts, new food combinations, reinventing old classics, etc. I love both equally and I love that HK is embracing new ideas while holding onto their past simultaneously.
What’s your view on all the food blogs here? Is everyone here a foodie?!
I think it’s wonderful that so many people are interested in food. The Internet has made the world seem so small and the level and speed of communication we all have now is insane. I definitely appreciate peoples’ opinions and trust the blogs that have longstanding reputations of honest reporting.
Can you tell us more about the Hecho pop-up and what inspired that? Any plans to do another one?
We love Mexican food and miss authentic Mexican food. Matt and I decided that we wanted to do a pop-up Mexican restaurant and our Chef May [Chow] had the connection with Shake ‘em Buns so we did it there! Hecho is a name we’ve had for a potential Mexican spot but we honestly have no plans on doing it again or of opening a permanent place. But never say never…
You and Chef May were involved with The Library Café revamp at Lane Crawford under your consulting company Naked Tables. How was that a different experience to running Yardbird?
A friend of mine was head of special projects for Pedder Group and he hired us to come in and change the café concept because it was a little stuck. It has been a great learning experience because it involved combining retail and food & beverage in a department store – couldn’t be further away from what Yardbird is!
You’re also a mum-of-two – how do you balance motherhood with owning your own business? Do the littlies chow down on Yardbird’s KFC too?!
Time management is essential. We are fortunate enough to have flexible schedules so we can hang out with our kids during the day and I make sure I put them to bed every night before I go into work. They love chicken. Well, they love food in general. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that their favourite meal is dim sum, not Yardbird. Ha ha.
What’s next in the pipeline?
Can’t tell… wink wink.
Finally, any advice for anyone wanting to start their own business or restaurant?
Stay focused – do one thing and do it well. Don’t try to please everyone. Understand that it is a huge amount of work to start your own business and that at the end of the day, no one else will care as much as you do unless you make an effort to build a team that you treat like family. Go for it! Don’t be scared
Check out the rest of our That Girls here!
All photos in the That Girl article above were taken by the hugely talented Sabrina Sikora of Sabrina Sikora Photography – get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.