10 Minutes With…Nelson Htoo, Founder of Club Rangoon
An interview with Nelson Htoo, Founder of Club Rangoon
1) Could you tell me about your life and relationship with Hong Kong?
I made the move to Hong Kong three years ago to pursue my Master's Degree, so I haven’t actually been here for very long. I grew up in Singapore, so it was really easy to adapt to life in Hong Kong, especially as both cities are extremely cosmopolitan and lively, and grounded in rich histories. I’d say that many meaningful experiences that I’ve had in Hong Kong have largely revolved around food and dining experiences and the people that I’ve met along the way.
2) Club Rangoon specialises in Burmese food—the first restaurant in Hong Kong to serve this exquisite cuisine. Could you tell us a bit about your background and what it was like growing up in Burma?
I was born in Burma and moved to Singapore when I was about 14 years old. My parents decided on the move after considering the differences in education systems and decided that Singapore was a better choice for my sister and I’s future. Nonetheless, despite the persistent political turmoil and the slow development of infrastructure, Burma possesses at its core, this culture of sharing and community. It’s a very resilient custom especially in its vulnerable socio-economical context; amid hardships for many, a lot of people find happiness in simple pleasures such as communal feasting and food-oriented exchange. This is also similarly the most memorable part about growing up in Burma; we’d have people over at our house all the time, all our relatives and extended family, mostly to come and eat together.
3) What’s something you miss about Burma?
The feeling of community… Even in dire circumstances, people in Burma find some way to live carefree, like the sort of momentary tranquility people find in Burmese tea shops and from the conversations had there; Burmese people treat each other like family and are always ready to help each other out.
Despite the persistent political turmoil and the slow development of infrastructure, Burma possesses at its core, this culture of sharing and community. It’s a very resilient custom especially in its vulnerable socio-economical context; amid hardships for many, a lot of people find happiness in simple pleasures such as communal feasting and food-oriented exchange. —Nelson Htoo, Founder of Club Rangoon
4) What inspired you to open Club Rangoon?
If not for my love of the taste of Burmese food, it’s for the memories associated with it. Moving away at a young age and also while studying abroad, Burmese food was a source of comfort and safety when I was physically far away from home. I’m also always fascinated by new and different culinary experiences, so with each time I dined out, I became increasingly inspired to share the sheer satisfaction of Burmese food that many may not have had a chance to try. I decided that after my studies, the next step would be to put our cuisine on the map.
5) What is one thing you hope your customers will take away from their experience at your restaurant?
The lack of attention on Burmese cuisine is very much reflective of its availability. After spending time at Club Rangoon, I would want diners to see a whole new door opened for them in terms of possible culinary experiences. Burma has long been marginalised even within Southeast Asian histories; we hope with Club Rangoon, it provokes customers to become a little more curious about Burmese culture, wanting to learn more and try more.
Access to such nature is one of the best ways to recuperate from the inevitable stress that comes with living in such a bustling and active city. —Nelson Htoo, Founder of Club Rangoon
7) What’s something you love about Hong Kong?
The people, the food… the diversity of life. The city is a hub in all possible ways. Despite having lived in a similar buzzy metropolis that is Singapore, the one thing it didn’t have was the expansive mountainous terrains that surround the island. Access to such nature is one of the best ways to recuperate from the inevitable stress that comes with living in such a bustling and active city.
8) What are the most challenging parts of being in the F&B industry?
The F&B industry has always been fast-paced, requiring attentiveness towards all culinary aspects, diners, and their experiences, with restaurant survival rates, constantly fluctuating in the novel market of food innovation.
Opening the restaurant in the middle of the pandemic has especially been tough in the ways we had to be flexible with our operational and development timelines both pre-opening and after. With the pandemic, there were many new variables that were out of our control such as safety and social distancing measures. The most challenging but necessary part of handling such a situation would be to find and reclaim control in whatever way you can, adapting to rapidly shifting circumstances and making sure diners can safely and comfortably enjoy their time at Club Rangoon.
9) How have you coped in business, and mentally, during these unprecedented times?
The toughest time would have been the period prior to the opening. We were constantly having to cancel pop-up events, facing disruptions to meetings and shipments, and delaying our opening multiple times. It was frustrating for the entire team to hit a wall at almost every turn. Many hours were spent strategising and we decided that it was time to just open it while the circumstances were somewhat controlled, and that it was time to get the word out, regardless of whether new measures may be imposed to halt dine-ins at restaurants the next day.
Reflected in the opening itself, I have learned to stay resilient in hard times to always make sure the end goal is never lost. In retrospect, these delays and disruptions seemed necessary too; not only did it give us time to polish up everything before opening, but the constant challenges have also trained us to be prepared for a wide range of scenarios. Of course, our tight-knit team also played a major role in supporting each other and helping one another stay motivated.
10) What’s something everyone can look forward to at Club Rangoon?
The warmth and hospitality. The whole team at Club Rangoon is really excited for everyone to try our food and drinks and have a great time. Despite it being such a new cuisine, we want to be able to provide the best service we can as a team and make sure it is an unforgettable meal.