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Roaming around SoHo is every Hong Kongers favorite way to spend a wild Saturday night, with its intertwining streets lined with bar after bar. Recently, a new addition to Hong Kong’s nightlife, The Daily Tot, changed up the scene with authentic Caribbean rum at the corner of Hollywood Road and Peel Street. We spoke with The Daily Tot’s co-founder, Tiana Ludhani, to learn more about her journey to launching her Cuban-inspired bar in Hong Kong.
Going back to her roots
Before finding her way to Hong Kong, Tiana Ludhani had experienced multiculturalism living in a number of different cities. Although both of her parents are originally from Barbados, Ludhani was born and raised in Taiwan until the age of 15. Despite this, her connection to Barbados remained strong, as she spent many of her summers there. When I ask her about her time in Barbados, she immediately responds with the memory of her grandmother.
“She had mango trees and coconut trees growing in her backyard," Ludhani recalls. She also remembers her grandmother climbing these trees and picking the ripe fruits. Ludhani is grateful for these experiences, as it gave her an alternative perspective that she believes is “really different from a place like Taiwan or Hong Kong, where you’re living in the city." Spending so much time in Barbados gave Ludhani her first look at working with fresh ingredients, which would ultimately be a big inspiration for her bar.
Ludhani was forced to grow up early when she moved to Australia on her own to finish her last two years of high school. However, she doesn’t remember this negatively. Instead, she considers it an interesting experience which helped her to build her own life. This decision proved to pay off, as it gave her a chance to study marketing at an Australian university, which ultimately led to a successful career working for the government’s Public Relations team.
Finding her way to Hong Kong
Eventually, Ludhandi moved to Hong Kong with her husband, who is a native Hong Konger. Ludhani was particularly surprised by Hong Kong’s expat culture and the way it blends in with the local culture. She sees this as one of the reasons Hong Kong is such a diverse, multinational city.
Ludhani saw this as an advantage in opening The Daily Tot. She compares the traditional landmarks of Sheung Wan with the bar culture on Hollywood Road and describes this as “the whole world versus the new world." According to Ludhani, one of the best things about the city is that escaping to nature couldn’t be easier. “Everything is in such close distance and is accessible," she points out.
Ludhani’s experience working in the PR and marketing industry proved to be beneficial in opening The Daily Tot. “We just had to come up with different ideas and different campaigns and initiatives to get the locals as well as tourists to interact with the brand," she explains. “It’s been a bit of a challenge, but it’s also been really interesting because you’re learning something new every day.”
Ludhani’s experience in working in PR for places such as Beef & Liberty and Foxglove gave her an understanding of the industry, which helped her turn The Daily Tot into a successful venture. “You have to provide influencers with an experience," she explains. “Just giving them food and drinks is not going to cut it." Especially in Hong Kong, where the consumer demographic is so vastly multicultural, Ludhani had to learn how to cater her message to these different groups in an engaging manner.
When the pandemic hit
I ask Ludhani if she’s tried anything new since the pandemic hit. “Only new thing I’ve tried is opening my bar," she laughs. “Since then, I haven’t had time to do anything else." Ludhani couldn’t have picked a more difficult time to open The Daily Tot with the COVID-19 pandemic at a peak. However, this didn’t stop her from maximizing its potential.
She admits to having done a lot of studying on rum during this time, and she also worked closely with people in the F&B industry. “We’ve been helping each other and bringing each other up … most people have rallied together, rather than be competitive," she explains. Undoubtedly, the pandemic has been particularly rough for the F&B industry, and so the fact that they have joined forces is something of which Ludhani is especially proud.
Despite the pandemic, Ludhani and her team pushed to open The Daily Tot, jumping in with their “eyes closed." She asserts, “if you’re not going to do it, when are you going to do it?" When The Daily Tot opened their doors, they did not know what to expect.
9″When we decided to open, we really didn’t know how we would be perceived because the third wave had started," she remembers. After two weeks, The Daily Tot had to close for a month due to pandemic-related restrictions, giving them an especially rough start on the scene. However, Ludhani remembers the reopening going quite well. “The amount of support that we got from the media and from the industry as well as from the public, was very surprising," she says.
Authentic rum is a unique concept to come by, especially in Hong Kong. The concept hadn’t been done before, and people were exceptionally fascinated and ready to come back. “We’ve got recurring customers," Ludhani says. “I’m really honored at the fact that people do like coming to see us."
The rum journey
There is no shortage of enthusiasm in Ludhani’s voice when she talks about her interest in rum. It all stems back to her roots in Barbados. Growing up, she spent time visiting different rum distilleries and plantations. Over time, she became more knowledgeable about rum, and it soon became her passion.
Ludhani knew that starting a rum-based bar would be ideal, as she wanted to showcase the spirit as a Caribbean concept. According to Ludhani, the few bars that have introduced rum as their core spirit have not done it the right way. “They’ve been put out as a tiki-tiki concept, which is actually from America … it does not come directly from the Caribbean," she remarks. Ludhani sees this as misleading. “As a fellow Caribbean, that was a bit frustrating."
These rums have been loaded with sugary syrup. “You end up getting the worst hangover the next day," she says. She’s not impressed with rums decorated with “funny umbrellas and what not." This was not how rum was initially intended to be enjoyed. Instead, Ludhani describes rum as an interesting and versatile spirit – and she intends to tell its story of being embedded in the Caribbean culture since the time of colonization.
The Daily Tot serves their carefully selected rums with syrups made in-house and fresh fruit. Unlike typical sugary cocktails, they instead focus on the fruity, spicy, bitter, sour and smoky palettes. “If you’re going to open up something, you’ve got to open up something that you know that people in Hong Kong want to learn about," she explains. “They want something new."
I visited The Daily Tot on a Saturday night, which is undoubtedly the busiest time for most bars. Despite being relatively early in the evening, there was no shortage of people enjoying their night out in this gorgeously decorated Cuban-inspired space.
Customers are greeted by a long bar where they can closely observe the talented bartenders working on refreshing drinks. Vibrant plants and colorful seats add a pop of life to the wooden, industrial style of the bar. Dimmed lights mean you are able to focus your senses as you taste their signature cocktails (and the legendary Black Tot Rum). “It’s my personal favorite," Ludhani remarks – as The Daily Tot is the only bar that serves this particular rum. Fittingly, the name of the bar pays an ode to a 300-year-old tradition where sailors took shots of rum they called the tot.
With their signature cocktail menu changing every three months, The Daily Tot intends to keep bringing something new to their patrons. “We’re not trying to be the biggest collector of rum; that’s not our goal," she explains. “We are trying to bring in the most unique rums."
The Daily Tot’s future is bright. Ludhani excitedly announces plans to introduce rum master classes that aim to educate people in Hong Kong about the spirit. “We wanted to bring the Caribbean drinking experience to Hong Kong,” Ludhani states. “We still have a while to go before we get there."
Despite being a new addition to Hong Kong’s vibrant bar scene, there is no doubt that The Daily Tot is changing the perception of rum for Hong Kongers. Ludhani understands the importance of culture in her goals. “The main reason why we opened the bar is to tell stories about rum and tell them as true as we can."
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