HER grandparents started the Tai Thong Group while her parents founded the Oriental Group. Eager to chart her own course, Lyn Siew went overseas and worked in a totally unrelated field: Broadcasting.
After 10 years abroad, she returned home and, as fate would have it, got drawn into the food business.
Lyn talks to SAVVY about what it’s like running her own restaurant, the pros and cons of coming from a restaurant family and her ambitious plans for the future.
Given your background, was working in the f&b industry inevitable?
I didn’t originally plan to go into the family business or even be in the food industry at all. In fact, I went abroad just to avoid it! But I guess food was part of my destiny.
Where did you go and what did you do?
I was primarily based in Munich but I lived sporadically in Berlin, Amsterdam, Geneva and Singapore for work reasons. My job involved content licensing for TV channels. I brokered broadcast deals for TV programmes to be aired internationally.
My last stint was as head of global content sales for a start-up company called earthTV in Germany where I licensed live weather shows and camera feeds to television channels around the world.
What made you decide to return to Malaysia?
After reaching a certain pinnacle in my broadcasting career, I decided to come home to be with my family. I still didn’t think of going into the F&B business at first but I guess it was just a very natural thing to do once I was back.
When you conceptualised Ruyi & Lyn, what was the big picture idea?
Ruyi is the epitome of courage and dreams. There’s nothing conventional about this Chinese restaurant — from our 2,044 square metres of space which is about the size of six standard Chinese restaurants, and our epic red carpet entry, to our highly “Instagrammable” dishes and modern nightspot vibe.
I dare say there’s no other Chinese restaurant like it. There’s nothing safe about what we do because I really want it to be different. By the way, it’s pork-free because we want all Malaysians to be able to enjoy the food we serve.
Who is Ruyi?
It’s not a person! In Chinese Ruyi means “as desired or as you wish”.
How much support did your family give when you were first building it up?
The concept was mine but I have to admit that my parents’ restaurant business, the Oriental Group, provided crucial assistance when I was setting up Ruyi & Lyn. My father, who was delighted that I was going into the food business, provided me with the platform, encouragement and investment to make it happen.
Any disadvantages coming from a family of successful restaurateurs?
I guess it’s the pressure of societal expectations to emulate your family’s success. I didn’t want to be known as a third generation restaurateur but a first generation entrepreneur doing my own thing.
Will you be opening more Ruyi & Lyn branches?
Certainly! I designed all my projects to be scalable. I’ll be launching a rebellious sister concept in The Gardens, Kuala Lumpur in the third quarter and a real game changer in London in the fourth quarter. So, 2018 will be a very busy year.
What about non-Ruyi & Lyn outlets?
I recently launched a fried chicken pop-up shop called Skinny Dip. This was done in collaboration with a group of students from Taylor’s School of Hospitality. I was part of a mentoring programme at Taylor’s last semester and I got to know a bunch of really talented students so I decided to invest in them.
We brainstormed and came up with a concept of pop-up fried chicken nuggets with premium dipping sauces. It’s great being able to provide a career platform for young people who are so passionate about the food industry. I’m always searching for talent to invest in.
Other areas of business you’re interested in?
I have a vast array of interests: Films, travel, fashion and astronomy. But for business I’d rather stay focused on the food industry. That said, I’m working on something that’s food related but not restaurant-based. I’m working with an eccentric bunch of developers and creative types from Germany to come up with a social media platform for foodies. It’ll be called FoodKult and we hope to launch it sometime later this year.
You’re so involved with food but are you actually a foodie yourself?
Most definitely! Anybody who knows me knows that I’m a foodie. I eat, live and breathe food.
What’s your favourite food?
Anything that’s deep fried. Terrible, isn’t it?
Being a foodie who likes fried food, what’s your secret to staying slim?
For a proper balance, I go vegetarian several times a month and for exercise, I head out to the skating rink. I used to train as a figure skater as a child.
Do you cook?
I can cook up some avant-garde pasta if you’d like to try some! But I’m no chef. I have great chefs working for me though. I’ve had supreme luck in getting the best ones.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I start my day around 7am working on emails from home, and then I head out first to the office and later to the restaurant. I end my day around 2am, so I have pretty long days and not enough sleep.
What’s the most fulfilling thing about your work?
Seeing diners having a good time is very fulfilling. As tough as the business can be, it makes me emotionally stronger whenever I see my customers happy. In a way, it brings me closer to my goal of somehow contributing something good to society.