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Spotlight: The Chowdown on Matt Reid

8.01.2014


"A good restaurant unfolds itself to you over time - there's a journey to getting to know a place."

This is how Matt Reid details the philosophy behind the creation of new F&B concepts as part of his role as Creative Director at Maximal Concepts, but he could just as well be talking about his circuitous route to becoming a restaurateur with one of Hong Kong's most successful boutique restaurant groups. While there is no standard formula for how restauranteurs get to where they are, few will have gone on a journey comparable to Reid's, spanning events, hospitality, consultancy, real estate and product management across three continents before landing in restaurants. 

Over a glass of wine tucked away in a quiet corner of Stockton, Reid shares his personal journey from party boy to restaurant group co-owner, the creative process behind the birth of a Maximal Concept, and dishes his thoughts on the Hong Kong food scene.


Reid got his first taste of running a business during his time as an undergrad at Bristol University, where he and his fellow dorm mates used to host lavish events for a discerning student population. "I was known as Van Wilder on campus", recalls Reid, "and I found that even then, I took pleasure in creating ideas and delivering experiences that people would remember". He continued his exploits in events in London while gaining a masters in marketing before "growing up" and making the switch to management consultancy with Reed Elsevier. Little did he know that he would eventually return to the hospitality sphere and become business partners with one of his college buddies.

After a short-lived stint in consultancy, Reid was soon after a new challenge, setting off for China with a view to exploring the difficult but exciting business environment that was the Mainland in the early noughties. "I fell in love with Asia as I went about learning Mandarin and working odd jobs in law and real estate", Reid explains as he recounts his years in the Mainland. It was during this period that Reid first got involved with the world of F&B, through the brand and product management of a premium Polish vodka with Nigerian entrepreneur Ladi Delano. Among other projects, Delano and Reid went on to launch The Collection in 2007, an ambitious entertainment and dining establishment encompassing multiple food, drink and club concepts, in Shanghai's trendy Xintiandi district. Upon reflection, Reid concedes that the venture was "too avant garde for its time", and the economic downturn of 2008 did not help matters for the operation and his other investments. After the worst of the financial crisis, he packed his bags and left for sunny Los Angeles.

By sheer serendipity, Asia came calling again in the form of an ex-university dorm mate - one Malcolm Wood. Wood and business partner Xuan Mu had spotted a gap in the Hong Kong market in the early 2010s for more original, quality lifestyle concepts, and were in the process of opening up a new nightclub called Play. Wood wanted to bring Reid on board for his creative eye and marketing nous; Reid declined at first, but came on board in 2012 after the club and subsequent launches of Maximal's first two restaurants, Blue Butcher and Brickhouse. Since his joining, Reid has helped develop and open three other F&B operations (Fish & Meat, Stockton and Mott32), and fondly refers to his team at Maximal as "family".



When asked about the process behind creating a "Maximal Concept", Reid refers to Wood and their complementary roles within the company. Says Reid, "when we walk into a new space, [Malcolm] and I see it from totally different perspectives" - Reid acts the 'right' brain who visualises the look and feel of each concept, whilst Wood is the 'left' brain that breaks down a potential restaurant space into floor plans and service flows in addition to being the group Culinary Director. "We pick holes in each others' viewpoints, then try and see things from the other person's perspective. In that way, we cover each others' weaknesses and create interesting concepts that will last [in Hong Kong's competitive market]".

A good concept in Reid's opinion must have "depth, detail and dialogue". With Stockton, the concept was designed to transport the visitor back to a London social club in the 1890s - a period of decadence not only in terms of the food and drink, but also of time. The bar-restaurant space is full of hidden nooks and corners that are perfect for wiling the hours away with classic cocktails and bites; a  good conversation plus the whisky sour and egg soldiers (re-invented with duck egg and accompanied by sea urchin) can happily see you through a few hours, or well into the night. The sense of inertia when at Stockton is heightened by its dark interior and the details that are dotted around the place, from the guide to colloquialisms of the 1800s in the menu to the stylised silverware cutlery that accompanies your food. 

The dialogue component mentioned by Reid is particularly prominent at Stockton, as one is challenged to actively engage with the concept to understand it. Accessing the venue involves following a lightbulb down a corridor and up some dark but innocuous stairs, paralleling the secretive nature of the clubs of Victorian London, and the restaurant concept is inspired by a writer whose name is hidden in the Stockton logo but not openly revealed. In a market that is saturated with fast casual dining chains and one-note restaurants and bars, the intricacies behind the Stockton concept and location are a welcome change. 


Reid notes with pleasure that Hong Kong food scene and a decent proportion of its diners are developing a greater demand for "artisanal products, niche concepts, focused cooking and authenticity". Creating homegrown restaurant concepts that are run by "real people with a healthy respect for their ingredients" is therefore the onward focus of Maximal's F&B portfolio; we have much to look forward to, by the sounds of it.

Stockton 1/F, 32 Wyndham Street / 2565 5268 / www.stockton.com.hk

All images courtesy of Maximal Concepts.

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