Eddie Oei isn’t new to the restaurant scene. So when he joined forces with Dust, tattoo artist and owner of Galaxy Tattoo, they created Holy Eats – an edgy tribute to fusion food and good times. However, in the time of the pandemic, restaurants and bars have been hit hard, along with many other small businesses. We sat down with Oei for a Q&A about how he’s kept his head up during this time and what the future is looking like for Holy Eats and the F&B industry in Hong Kong.
How did you get started in F&B?
I started like 17 years ago, started from working as a barback water boy just to get extra pocket money. After I graduated, I decided to work in the industry. 17 years later, here I am owning two restaurants. Working in different countries and different restaurants has helped a lot to learn what goes on behind the scenes, and that’s what got me hooked. Having a love for the nightlife industry helps a lot, too. You spend most of your time at your bar or restaurant, so you don’t get to see your friends. But, it is really rewarding at the end of the day.
What have been the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Hong Kong’s restaurant industry this year?
A lot of people like to go out to eat, to drink, given that we have smaller apartments compared to overseas. People in Hong Kong, we don’t like to stay in a lot. They like to go out from Monday to Sunday. People are slowly adapting. For me – as an industry, we just have to learn how to live around COVID.
Changes in how we run the restaurants and in operations – definitely a lot of changes. Take-away is something we don’t normally have to do. Not just myself … a lot of other restaurants and bars you know have to adapt from having just food delivered to your doorstep to having a bottle [or] cocktail delivered to your doorstep. People in the industry are slowly adapting [to] COVID, and I think we’re doing fine … but it is tough having the restrictions around. We are not allowed to go out because of social distancing, so it is hard for people to come together to have a party to get together for dinner or drinks. For the next 6-8 months (or maybe a year), the F&B industry in Hong Kong is slowly adapting to COVID. We’re not running away from it. We just have to work and learn to work around it.
As an entrepreneur, how have you adapted your business operations for the pandemic?
From the first wave to the second wave is only talking about a month or two. It hit us straightaway, and the impact that we had – there is no time to react. And we were sort of forced to join a platform like Deliveroo, Foodpanda, UberEats because it is a well-built food delivery platform. People go online and in a few clicks, see a restaurant, order food and they send it [to] their doorstep. Personally, through social media, through Facebook, Instagram, it has actually helped – when we put out the message that we do our own delivery, pickup. It is definitely easier than before. And, like I say, people learn to adapt.
We have a bunch of loyal customers. They will call us and tell us this address and that address, and of course we try our best to send it everywhere. We have to hire extra staff to do the delivery or even an extra vehicle [so] that we don’t have to hire a vehicle. Those are the small changes that we have to make to survive through it, and I think right now we [are] OK. Unfortunately, a lot of restaurants closed down, especially on the streets.
What is the magic that will keep your restaurant, Holy Eats, surviving?
Over the years in Hong Kong F&B, there have been a lot of high-end restaurants, and Hong Kong is one of the major cities to have a lot of Asian restaurants in the world. But, I think people are taking a little break in to go to places that they just want to hang out, chill out, with no agenda, you know? They just want to come in … and have fun. We mostly play hip-hop music because I think it creates a chill theme. This is what we want we want to create over here – nothing too serious. And I think that’s the idea we have for Holy Eats, which is bringing people together. Our menu is based on small plates and shared bites, so you and your friends can order dishes and share amongst yourselves, which is different than having an entree to yourself and calling it a night. We have a lot of people returning, so I think it’s really rewarding as well. It’s a really bold concept with tattoo artwork hanging on the wall. A lot of restaurants have paintings on the wall, but not tattoo-themed restaurants. Art and music has been hand-in-hand for many years. It is just how people come together.
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