Sandia Chang: Leading with Experience and Passion.

ADMIRED WOMEN

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The word hospitality derives from the Latin “hospitalitas”, which means ‘friendliness to guests’, from the nominative “hospes”, meaning ‘guest; host’. Therefore we know that it’s not just about what you do, but how you do it. People working within hospitality understand that when guests visit a restaurant they expect more than a meal. Customers expect a positive greeting, a friendly, attentive service, and a nicely decorated venue. These things collectively contribute to an overall positive hospitality experience.

People rely on the hospitality industry to fulfill their basic needs of transport, accommodation, food, and entertainment for work and recreational purposes. Given that some people will often visit dozens of hotels a year, good hospitality makes all the difference between a survivable experience and a pleasant, memorable one.

Co-owner and operator of Kitchen Table and Bubbleshop, Sandia Chang understands this phenomenon well. As a leader who strives to align, organize, and make the hospitality industry a more pleasant experience to be part of, Sandia has set the bar very high.

We recently interviewed her to understand about the nature of the hospitality industry and what it takes to make sure your business is successful in such a competitive field. It is a story of strenuous trials, deep commitment and a willingness to strive for excellence. Below are some of the highlights.

Aspioneer (A): Thank you for being with us today, Sandia. Tell us a bit about your background and your businesses. How did the pandemic impact your business and how did you cope with it?

Sandia (S): “My name is Sandia Chang and I am the co-owner of Kitchen Table and Bubbleshop. Kitchen Table is a 2 Michelin starred restaurant and Bubbleshop is a one-stop online shop for Grower Champagnes. Together we have 16 staff members in total.

Kitchen Table is a counter-seat restaurant where the seats are placed directly in and around the kitchen. The menu is a daily changing tasting menu of 20 odd courses highlighting the best ingredient on the day. Our motto and mission is to showcase our passion for food and also the respect for ingredients and the people who provide the ingredients. We also take pride in our style of hospitality where it is relaxed, not formal yet professional, and fun. We also have the best Grower Champagne list in the country.

Sadly we lost one of our businesses, Bubbledogs, during the pandemic. It was our Champagne and hotdog bar. But through the closure, we were able to set up Bubbleshop which in retrospect was what I had always wanted and easier to operate during these times. With Kitchen Table, we resorted to selling and delivering tasting menu home kits where people can replicate a tasting menu at home with pre-prepared ingredients. And now that we have done that, we are more than ready to do so again, if not better, if another wave hits.”

Sandia Chang: Leading with Experience and Passion
Sandia Chang

The pursuit of perfection and the importance of looking after your staff. It is important that I carry on the legacy that he has instilled in me. I believe that if I continue to do what he has taught me and am successful, I will be able to give the people who worked for me the tools they need to be successful as well.

(A): What made you get into the hospitality business? Tell us a bit about your journey?

(S): “My dream job has always been in this field. Back in primary school, when the teacher asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, I always answered, “a waitress.”. During my undergraduate studies, I majored in Hospitality Management. My next step was to enroll in a Culinary School to become a chef. Next I studied wine and traveled the world learning from the best. However, I would say that my time spent working at Per Se with Thomas Keller had the greatest influence on my career. Those lessons, the knowledge, and the friendship I gained there are priceless, and still drive me today.”

(A): You have been in the hospitality industry for many years. What is your take on it? In what ways are you trying to change it?

(S): “There’s no denying that working in the hospitality industry is challenging. The hours are long and the pay rarely reflects the effort we put in. There are many people in this field who find it difficult to balance work and life. This is particularly true of the younger generation. Furthermore, hospitality has never been seen as a sought-after job role and many people regard it as merely a stepping stone after college to earn a supplemental income before they get to where they are most interested. Fortunately, there is a lot of romance surrounding hotel and restaurant experiences. Our strategy is to not replace people, since it is our people that make this industry tick. We have, however, moved away from phone reservations and now everything is booked online. A waitlist is now run purely online where as soon as a seat is available, all guests are informed straight away, versus back in the day, a person would have to call each and every guest one by one. “

(A): What keeps you going in the face of all the obstacles and setbacks? What makes you keep going?

(S): “Our restaurant is one-of-a-kind. My husband and I have always worked in the hospitality industry, with the ultimate goal of owning and operating our own restaurant. We’ve always been ambitious, and achieving the top Michelin rating is one of our goals. Above all, it is our passion for food, drink, people, and all things related that drives us to do what we do. We are always striving to be better. We never see what we are doing now to be the best. We want to get out of bed in the morning and do something better than we did the day before. We are not afraid of change, and we are constantly striving to provide a better experience for our guests.I believe that having an internal drive to improve is far superior to looking for external reasons to drive change.”

(A): Many people look up to you as an inspiration. But where do you find your inspiration?

(S): “Thomas Keller is one of my inspirations. In everything I do, he has taught me the art of finesse. The pursuit of perfection and the importance of looking after your staff. It is important that I carry on the legacy that he has instilled in me. I believe that if I continue to do what he has taught me and am successful, I will be able to give the people who worked for me the tools they need to be successful as well.”

(A): What are your thoughts on women working in this industry? What advice would you give to men and women seeking to achieve a work-life balance?

(S): “Women have definitely broken the glass ceiling in this profession, in my opinion. I believe it is primarily due to the fact that we simply require capable bodies. No one would be crazy enough to pass up a woman who is equally talented, skilled, and experienced. I also believe that women are more detail oriented, calmer, and nurturing, which makes them a perfect fit for what we do in this industry.

When it comes to work life balance, we are in a somewhat tricky situation. This is a difficult question because we, as an industry, have yet to figure out how to allow men and women to find a balance between work and family. I don’t believe this is just for women. Personally, I am still attempting to find psycho-social and emotional support in my career.”

(A): Given that your industry is stressful, how does your organization assist people with their mental health?

(S): “Mental health is a major concern both within and outside of our industry. We have participated in and offer a variety of programmes for our employees to use if they require assistance. I’d like to become more involved in this matter. JKS Restaurant Group, our business partner, is also adamant about having a strong mental health programme within our company. That is encouraging.”

(A): Do you have any unique experiences you’d like to share with us?

(S): “Oh my gosh, there are so many! We once had a guest who stated in his booking notes that he was allergic to bread crumbs. Because we had a bread course on our tasting menu that evening, we had to ask if he was okay eating actual bread because he was allergic to the crumbs. And it turned out, the bread is safe to eat, but not breadcrumbs. Go figure!!”

(A): What is your favorite pastime? What is your main focus going into the future?

(S): “With two small children, I don’t think I’ll ever have time to pursue any hobbies of interest. When the kids are asleep (and I’m not), I like to shut out the world with Netflix for a couple of hours. I do love art and art history though. If I had more free time, you’d probably find me at museums, painting the painting I’ve been wanting to do for over ten years!

My main focus right now, aside from running Kitchen Table on a daily basis, is my online retail shop. Retail is a new field for me, and there is a lot to learn. It’s a whole new ballgame, especially in e-commerce. I’m excited to learn and grow the business over the next few years, and to spread the love and knowledge of Grower Champagne to a wider audience.”

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