An Interview with Yardbird Hong Kong
With the recent addition of Chicken and Charcoal to our #AGLXYReads Collection, we thought it would be cool to have a chat with Lindsay Jang, the other half of the dynamic duo that runs Yardbird Hong Kong, the restaurant that inspired the creation of Chicken and Charcoal.
Yardbird Hong Kong has been lead by Lindsay Jang and Head Chef Matt Abergel since its opening in 2011. Matt had worked in Japanese kitchens throughout Canada before moving to New York City to work under Masayoshi Takayama of Masa. Lindsay has worked in hospitality her whole life (her parents ran a Cantonese-Canadian restaurant for 33 years!). She only truly fell in love with the industry during her time working at Nobu in New York City.
So what’s the story behind Yardbird HK? Can you tell us how you started out and why you decided to make an Izakaya specializing in Yakitori?
We were living in New York, working in fine dining Japanese restaurants, eating yakitori every Sunday on our day off. We love the relaxed, fun environment of an izakaya, and we love how simple really good yakitori is.
What makes you different from the typical Japanese Izakaya?
Neither one of us is Japanese, so Yardbird Hong Kong is our take on this style of dining. We’ve taken our extensive experience in Japanese cuisine and love of their culture and made it our own.
What pushed you into putting Yardbird HK into a book?
Matt (Abergel) has always wanted to write a book. After ~6 years of Yardbird Hong Kong being open, we felt we had a very complete story to tell.
What was the inspiration behind the book’s visual aesthetic?
Matt didn’t want it to read like a traditional cookbook. One of our closest friends that we grew up with when we were in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, designed it for us. We all worked in the same skate and snow shop (The Source) when we were teenagers and that culture, aesthetic, and approach to life are what we’ve built all of our brands on.
Anything you would like to highlight in the book that you want the audience to know about?
I think it’s safe to say, we love it all.
We noticed that during this crisis a lot of people have now been cooking at home. Since Chicken and Charcoal has a lot of amazing recipes, what would you recommend readers to try out?
If you have the time and patience, butchering and skewering the entire chicken is a challenge worth taking.
Can you tell us about the current situation in Hong Kong? How has the city been dealing with the pandemic so far?
Hong Kong, thus far, has handled it well. The city was never on lockdown, certain categories of business were closed temporarily, but not restaurants. I believe that SARS prepared this city, people know how to behave, they’re used to wearing masks, etc.
How has the business been so far with the pandemic?
It hasn’t been easy, but we are fortunate. We closed the restaurants for 2 weeks when someone in the F&B community tested positive. We wanted to make sure that none of our team was exposed (luckily they were not). We used this time to set up the operational structure for delivery and takeout, things we have never done in the past. It saved our business, and even though we’re still not in a great place revenue-wise, it’s sustainable for the time being.
What challenges have you faced so far with this new situation (quarantine, social distancing, etc.)?
Matt and I went through 14 days of quarantine when we came back from Canada, it wasn’t that bad. All of the new regulations are put in place so that we can have a functioning society, so even though it can be challenging at times, we’re happy to comply to keep everyone safe and healthy.
Do you think you’ll keep applying these new changes once the situation clears up or would you go back to your previous mode of operation?
We will continue to adapt and work within the regulations set forward by the government. Being socially responsible is extremely important to us and until there is virtually no risk, we will make any changes necessary.
What advice do you have for businesses like yours that are also struggling during the pandemic?
Every business is different. Every country/region is different. At the end of the day, you have to look at your numbers and see what’s feasible and make a plan that can work short term and have a vision for your long term goals. These might be two very different things. I am a firm believer in abiding by the rules and it’s hard to wrap your head around being strict when we’ve always been in the business of being hospitable and accommodating. Now is the time to be black and white, and do everything we can to protect our staff, our customers, and our families.
What is the one thing you miss back when things were normal?
We’re not really focussing on what we miss, we’re focussing on what the future holds, how to keep our team happy, busy, and safe. We are embracing this change and hoping for the best.