Last week's announcement that German chef Uwe Opocensky had closed his eponymous restaurant and would leave the group behind the Beef & Liberty restaurants to return to the hotel industry surprised the Hong Kong hospitality industry.
So which hotel was he going to work for? We had to find out.
Reached on Monday, Opocensky was playfully evasive.
"I got an amazing offer. Six or seven months ago different players came to me and I saw the possibility to grow further. It has nothing to do with my restaurants' performance," he says, referring to Restaurant Uwe in Sheung Wan and the upmarket burger chain's restaurants.
The German, previously executive chef with the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, says he told his current employers about the proposition four months ago, but only informed staff late last week.
"I absolutely loved what I did with the group, and I realised my dream to open my own restaurant. But someone offered me a bigger slice of the cake and I had to evaluate it. You have to try everything in life," he says.
Opocensky admits that, during his time with The Greater China Restaurant Company group, he realised he was not suited to being an entrepreneur. There were plans to open 10 more Beef & Liberty outlets, but the difficulty in dealing with landlords resulted in slow growth for the company, though the number of burger outlets expanded from three to eight in his three years there.
At the same time Opocensky missed working in hotels and banqueting. In his new role, "I will have a place to cook my food and do what I want to do", he adds. "I have a loyal following, and I'll be able to do the same thing but in a larger setting and still remain true to myself."
He explains the hotel is taking him on because of his experience with The Greater China Restaurant Company. Most of his team will follow him to the hotel, and the restaurant group will use the space formerly occupied by Restaurant Uwe for another food concept.
The second generation hotel owners are coming into life, like Rosewood, Shangri-La, and Fullerton. They are much more their own customer. They see a need for changeGerman chef Uwe Opocensky
"I'm not happy to leave Restaurant Uwe, it's a bittersweet moment. I am lucky they helped me fulfil my dream, but my dream got bigger," Opocensky says. "I have no regrets, I only have gains."
He says these days hotels have to change because of so much competition from outside restaurants. Hotels cannot just offer rooms, restaurants and bars for guests, but need to evolve to be a lifestyle and brand choice.
"The second generation hotel owners are coming into life, like Rosewood, Shangri-La, and Fullerton (in Singapore). They are much more their own customer. They see a need for change," he says.
With his extensive hotel experience, and having worked for a restaurant group, Opocensky sees himself being in a good position to help influence change in the hotel he will be working for.
"Fine dining isn't popular any more, it's more casual restaurants. And all hotels have buffets, but they don't work. So what is the future? There has to be a way to keep it fresh and alive. That's what I'm super interested in."
He isn't going to Rosewood, but somewhere on Hong Kong Island.
Maybe you can narrow it down from there … a formal announcement is to be made in the next week or so.
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