Lindsay Jang

Between three restaurants, frequent yoga, and two children, Lindsay Jang definitely keeps busy.

Date: June 14, 2016
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Clouds filled the sky as I walked through Hong Kong’s Central district to a small, nondescript cafe in the basement of the area’s well-known Landmark building. Like most cafes in this sky-high metropolis, this one featured small, tightly packed tables that were either at capacity or about to be at capacity and full of conversational life. Some would call it eavesdropping heaven.

I was there to meet Lindsay Jang, serial entrepreneur and mother of two, who had just touched down from a trip to Tokyo for “food and alcohol stuff” less than 48 hours prior. Jang, a Canadian whose family has roots in Hong Kong, arrived full of energy and questions herself. One thing became eminently clear to me right from the start: this is a woman with a burning passion for what she does.

Jang began her career in hospitality at her family’s restaurant at the ripe age of eleven. Ten years later, despite trying out art school, working as a ski bum, and doing a small gig on television, she was back in the industry, and not much further along than when she was an adolescent, she admits. But that all changed when she was hired by Nobu, one of New York City’s most prestigious Japanese eateries. “Nobu taught me that hospitality is an art form,” she says. Clearly, the lesson is one that stuck with her.

At Nobu, Jang straddled roles to learn the full scope of what it takes to run a successful restaurant, an opportunity she’s forever grateful for. Yet when Jang decided it was time for her to move on from New York, she made a commitment to herself: she’d never work in another restaurant again unless it was her own.

So when she arrived in Hong Kong after some months of international travel, Jang immersed herself in practicing and teaching yoga and largely allowed her love of hospitality to lay dormant. But she never completely forgot about it, and a few years into her new life in Hong Kong, she was ready to take the leap. Yardbird was born.

Between three restaurants, frequent yoga, and two children, Lindsay Jang definitely keeps busy.
Between three restaurants, frequent yoga, and two children, Lindsay Jang definitely keeps busy. Photo: Lindsay Jang

Fast forward a few years and Jang speaks volumes about why being based in Hong Kong, a jurisdiction known to be an entrepreneurial hotspot, has helped her to reach success: low entry barriers for new companies, low corporate taxes, and affordable childcare spring to mind. But still, many of her wins are attributable not to Hong Kong, but to her experiences in New York and beyond. In a lot of ways, Jang runs her restaurants in the totally opposite manner to how most places here do.

She describes Yardbird’s first day as one of careful preparation, an anomaly amongst the too-rushed-to-plan attitude that’s typical of Hong Kong’s restaurants, and despite a fairly modest opening day, the place was regularly reaching capacity within just a few weeks. And while most places in Hong Kong rely on a strategic physical location combined with the city’s sky-high population density to bring in a constant flow of new patrons, Jang has instead gone online and chosen to engage new and repeat diners alike through social media. It’s not surprising that she has no shortage of stories of travelers coming stopping into Hong Kong because they “had to try Yardbird”.

Since Yardbird opened its doors in Sheung Wan five years ago, Jang has launched two more restaurants, the sandwich shop, Sunday’s Grocery, and another Japanese eatery, RONIN. And despite her entrepreneurial prowess, she still touts the importance of being an employee first. Unlike Luke Grana, who started his first enterprise before finishing his university studies, Jang spent years working on the floor of restaurants, exploring different roles behind the scenes, and learning the business of hospitality on both a micro and a macro scale, and she credits those experiences with allowing her such accelerative growth today. “If you stop learning, you stop growing,” she says matter-of-factly. And she’s right.

Here in Hong Kong, where there seem to be more restaurants than one person could try in a lifetime, Jang has discovered her secret: communities breed loyal customers. Whether that’s through her restaurants’ impressive social media followings, her editorial platform MISSBISH, or her soon-to-be-international hospitality endeavors, she’s created strong communities around all of them, the main component of what makes her so inherently powerful in everything that she does. She’s always been a connector first and a restaurateur second, and as the world fills up with progressively more noise, she’s not fazed in the least. With a spring in her step as we say our good-byes, she lays it out as plainly as can be: “There will always be space in this world for something of quality.”

All things considered, she’s certainly on the right track.

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