Bringing smarts, style (and a speakeasy!) to the 852
Sarissa Rodriguez-Schwartz has brains, beauty and fashion sense, so naturally we wanted to know more about her. Together with her husband, Joshua Schwartz, she launched some of Singapore’s hottest nightlife concepts including Pangaea, Bang Bang, Lulu’s Lounge, and Employees Only, the latter of which they brought to HK a few months ago. We sat down with the woman behind these popular bars and restaurants to find out how she got to where she is and what advice she has for those who want to be like her: fierce and fabulous.
Read more: Employees Only: Not Just For Drinks
What’s it like being a woman in a male-dominated profession?
I honestly don’t view it as such. I think more and more women are being drawn to the industry using their smarts and emotional intelligence to acquire meaningful relationships in both business relationships and with their customers. Although it’s true that there are more men in the business than women, all of the women in F&B that I know are making real impacts and contributing a great deal to the scene.
What advice do you have for women who want to do what you do?
I used to bartend at this place in New York City years ago. I was having a conversation with my bar manager one night and he told me he was working towards owning a bar. The thought of that being possible never crossed my mind and I was actually quite taken aback. I went home, and the next evening I asked him, “If I want to own a bar, what should I do?” He said, “Learn something new every day.” That was the best advice I ever received.
What was your biggest obstacle in getting to where you are now?
Self-doubt when confronted with failure is always something to overcome. Don’t allow circumstance and mistakes drain you of your passion.
If you could do something else, what would that be?
Nightlife is show business in my opinion. Bringing people out of their lives and into your story. I love that and think I’d be drawn to it in one way or another.
Your photos on Instagram look really fun! What do you like to do most in Hong Kong?
Thank you! Eat, of course. The dining and cocktail scene is Hong Kong is amazing with outstanding talent and some of the best hospitality teams in the world. Roaming the streets, appreciating the authenticity and charm of the landscape is another favourite and always reminds me of my home, New York.
Got any favourite shops or restaurants in HK? If so, tell us about them!
Yardbird is a big favourite. I went there years ago for the first time on a girls holiday. They made the night so memorable and fun. Ronin is of course another must. So delicious and the same amazing hospitality you get at Yardbird.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully continuing along the same path with expansion, international growth, and adding value with interesting concepts. A good friend (who is also in the business) told me a few weeks ago that my concept [in Singapore] is, “you are now a part of the fabric of this city.” That was one of the best compliments I had ever received, and I hope to live up to it, both in Singapore and Hong Kong, for years to come.
What do you think the new trends are in restaurants and bars?
Hospitality is now at a point of people craving a complete experience at their destination of choice. They no longer want to go to a restaurant just to eat, but rather for an entire evening out. Today, they don’t just want the delicious food, but they demand the super-cool website when they make a reservation, a charismatic host when they arrive, top-notch service to anticipate their every need, music to dance to with their friends, entertainment to clap to, intriguing design elements to marvel at. All of this is where F&B is at the moment.
Has working with your husband helped you or hurt you?
My husband is one of the most talented people in this industry. He’s a great mentor and teacher to me like he was (and is) to so many others. Definitely helped!
You’ve got brains and beauty. What other attributes does a woman need to be taken seriously in today’s working world?
Confidence and decisiveness. See what I did there? (p.s. thank you.)
If you could tell your younger self some words of advice, what would that be?
I would tell myself to ignore comments on how this is not a real career path. I spent so many sleepless nights (or mornings) wondering what my future looked like because I didn’t see any other way. I envisioned the end result, but was never sure how I would get there and allowed uncertainty to creep in. My advice to myself would be to relax and enjoy the ride.
So… a SG$32,000 cocktail? What was that all about?
We thought it would suit the brand, be on trend, and garner attention which is usually positive. The garnish was a beautiful Mouad flawless diamond, so that’s where the value came in. It worked for that particular time in Singapore, but displays of wealth have since changed. It’s not something I would consider today, but it was quite fun and interesting.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
Both men and women who use their success to positively influence others. Whether that be through mentorship, charity, or running a company that offers a great workplace for their employees, these are all ways of giving back in my opinion.
What’s your fashion style? Who are you favourite designers?
I get asked this a lot and have a tough time describing it. I would say boho-glam. I have a penchant for being comfortable working long hours in different environments. I have many girlfriends that are fabulous designers so I always support them because they are interesting and unique. Lately I have been wearing Nida Shay, a couture designer from Dubai and now based in Singapore, and Kabochon, a local fine and precious jewellery designer. Their pieces are so gorgeous.
What do you always keep in your handbag?
It hasn’t changed since 2002. Headphones, aviator sunglasses, tinted Sugar branded chapstick.