The new Big Cat on the restaurant scene Chief Exec, William Lyon talks about how he and his team launched Jamie’s Italian
in Hong Kong. With people queuing round the block on opening of the restaurant in Causeway Bay, William shares his recipe for success…
Please give a brief overview of Big Cat Group , the number of staff, and where your office is based…
Big Cat Group is a Hong Kong based restaurant operator that has the exclusive rights to develop Jamie Oliver's Italian restaurant, 'Jamie's Italian' across Hong Kong, with the option of further development into Mainland China. Our office is based in the same building as the new Jamie’s Italian restaurant in Soundwill Plaza II – Midtown, 1 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay. The management team includes me, Ivan Fernie, Operations and Development Director, Jason Wong, Finance Director, and Lord Evan Mervyn Davies, Non-Exec Chairman
We recruited near 100 restaurant staff for the launch, which took place on the 29th July.
Please tell us a bit about your personal background and how you came to be in Hong Kong
Prior to establishing Big Cat Group in 2013, I was with Jardine Matheson & Co. Ltd for more than 11 years. My most recent roles include General Manager of IKEA - Hong Kong (a subsidiary of Jardine and operating as a franchisee) and COO of a restaurant chain with more than 130 stores in Taiwan. I speak Mandarin and have made Greater China home for the past 12 years.
What made you decide to launch your own business here?
Hong Kong is the home of entrepreneurs and I have always had a hankering to start a business. One of the hardest parts of starting a business was having a good idea of what to do. I had always loved the idea of bringing a top international brand to bring to HK so my interest was immediately piqued upon hearing the concept - Jamie’s Italian was first mentioned to me by a guy I met on a flight whilst traveling back to London for Christmas – so much so that when I landed I went straight to a restaurant in London, and after that first visit I was hooked.
My experience working at for a scalable restaurant franchises taught me that if you wanted a scalable business, you needed a well-known brand. Jamie Oliver and Jamie’s Italian seemed like the perfect fit for Asia.
Thinking about office space: how did you go about identifying a suitable property and what made you choose this district for your office?
We are excited to be located in the new Soundwill Plaza II-Midtown, on bustling foodie street, Tang Lung Street in Causeway Bay. We wanted an office space that was close to the first restaurant, well located and convenient.
What are the key factors to a stimulating workspace?
I think an open plan office is very important to facilitating great communication, essential for every business.
What is the key to finding great staff and keeping your team motivated?
When you start a business from scratch the first few people you bring on board are absolutely key. I have been incredibly lucky in having the unstinting support of our Non-Exec Chairman, Mervyn Davies, who has been invaluable as we have put the foundations of the business in place. In Ivan Fernie and Jason Wong, I have two fantastic partners. Since then the team has grown considerably and everyone we have brought on board has added their own unique skills and experience to the mix. We have surrounded ourselves with people who are motivated and inspired by the same things as us and I look forward to growing the business together with the team.
What are some of the general challenges that Hong Kong small-to-medium enterprises face?
Hong Kong is a remarkably open market for new business, and from that perspective I think it is very supportive of small to medium businesses.
And some specific challenges that you have faced at Big Cat Group?
Space is a luxury in Hong Kong and with all Jamie’s Italian restaurants being over 200 seats finding a site large enough is a challenge. We have been very lucky to secure an amazing 12,100sq feet space on the second floor. Soundwill Plaza 2 – Midtown, 1 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay. The restaurant will have a large open kitchen with a 7-8 meter pass and will seat 200 people.
What is the best advice you received on starting your business?
Surround yourself with a great team of people.
What advice would you give to people looking to launch in Hong Kong?
Don’t take no for an answer, if you believe in something put all your effort into it and make it happen.
Describe your average working day
Would love to be able to describe my typical day, but ever since we set up Big Cat Group to bring Jamie’s Italian to Hong Kong, every day has been different. It’s both exciting and challenging, not knowing what the day will bring! Fortunately I have a great team around me so whatever the day brings, I am confident we will handle it.
How do you unwind at the end of a long day?
I like to take my two dogs for a walk, or if time permits a hike over Violet hill to Stanley. Its great exercise for the dogs (and me!) and gives me an opportunity to unwind and relax.
How do you maintain the work-life balance?
I try to achieve balance through making the most of the time outside the office such as seeing friends and hiking.
What do you do/where do you go to get inspired?
I feel very lucky to live here in Hong Kong; I find its energy and the way it is always changing, married with the people that live here, very inspiring.
What are your favourite bars and restaurants in Hong Kong?
Yardbird, Din Tai Fung and Café Grey
Best lunch spots near your office?
The new Jamie’s Italian at Soundwill Plaza II – Midtown in Causeway Bay!
What are your favourite Hong Kong places for entertaining clients/out-of-towners?
I like taking out of town guests on a junk to Po Toi Island. There is an amazing local restaurant which serves the best salt & pepper squid in HK! The journey over on the junk is also an excellent way to see parts of HK Southside.
On the island, I like The China Club. The décor inside is eye catching and the food is excellent. Of course now that the new Jamie’s Italian is open I have a new favourite destination to take out of towners!
What are your Hong Kong secret spots?
They wouldn’t be secret anymore if I told you, would they?
At the very top of the Peak there are a few hidden gardens/lawns where I take my dogs – very few people seem to know about it, so I usually have the place to myself, also a couple of waterfalls and rock pools on the Southside of the island.
This article written by Laura Derry Southwood was originally posted on Turf, Hong Kong's new office lifestyle blog.
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