Subtitle: Japan Dreaming part 1
“Don't care how big they are, boys; they can't do anything if you get 'em up off the ground”
Who hasn't dreamed of being in Japan, during the cherry blossom season? Before the pandemic, we had planned a trip to the land of the Rising Sun to fully immerse ourselves in its traditions, colors, scents and customs. Alas, the events, still current, have played against us and after more than two years we still find ourselves dreaming of Japan and being able to experience it only through the stories of those who have been there, its food and, last but not least, his countless drinks.
For these reasons, we came across an interesting concept, Mizunara - The Library and Kuromaru where Massimo, a good friend and part of the cheerful company of the best youth, works. Massimo is the nephew of Gian Franco Razzani, better known as Frank, who has been living and working in F&B for years.
For the occasion, we decide to organize a chat with both of them to talk about their past, family, new projects and why Italy exports all over the world, in addition to food and wines, also high professionals working in the best bars and restaurants around the world.
We have decided to create two episodes of this long interview so today you will find the first part and next week, the second one.
Vincenzo: Why so many Italians, in your opinion?
Frank: And, why do people choose to go West first?
Vincenzo: They move to west for cultural, political, economic affiliation. Do you feel closer to the dollar or the yuen?
Massimo: Probably also for the language.
Vincenzo: Maybe Shōchū lovers come here first, I mean those who are a bit obsessed with Asia, already prepared to live in Asia.
Frank: In my opinion, you don't come to Asia to learn a job like you might do in London for example. If you arrive in HK it is because you are already prepared, the best ones come here in the end. When you go to London or Spain, it's because it is close, let's say the first step.
Vincenzo: You (Frank) who are from another generation, why did you come here?
Frank: I arrived here in 2000 because I was working for a restaurant chain that had opened in Las Vegas. Then, from that point, there was the opportunity of moving East. When you arrive here, you must have a visa, some documents, you never arrive by chance also because they try to preserve the local job market. You come here because one company wants to open an office in Hong Kong and it requests a specific job profile to the immigration.
Hong Kong in 2000
Vincenzo: What about you, Massimo? Did you arrive directly here or did you make other stops before?
Massimo: I went to London first, then I spent some time in Spain and Germany, then Milan and, in the end, Hong Kong. In London I learned the European, London style of the bar; in Spain I worked with many Americans and then I needed the Japanese part. That's why I wanted to come to Asia and, since he [Frank] was already here, he was my tow! Asia was the last part that interested me. At that time, he used to work for Carbone (Black Sheep Group) and they were looking for a bar manager at Buenos Aires Polo Club. I was in Spain and wanted to come to Asia, so it was a simple connection. After two weeks I was already here. Then I found Mizunara which was just what I was looking for.
A: I remember that I met you from Ichu!
Massimo: Yes, after Black Sheep I went to Ichu.
A: What experience has changed you the most? The one that made you understand that you were making the right choices ...
Massimo: Oh my God I still don't know !!! London woke me up a lot. I was 18! I did 3 years of nautical school, then I helped my mother in the bakery and then I started with the bar. London made me understand how the world turns, Spain is much more quite and HK has its own rhythms. When he came to visit me in London, he was always saying that things were slow there and I didn't understand why. London was already fast for me. Then when you come to Asia you understand many things ..
Frank: Asia is the place that brings together the ability to have a lifestyle where you can express your ability and be recognized for it, which does not happen in Europe. In Europe, if you wanted to be a Maitre d'Hotel you had to be 50 years old. This cannot work for me! The problem maybe is that you just had a steady job.
Vincenzo: And how about in the States?
Frank: No, absolutely! In the States today you are there and tomorrow you are no longer there. Here your professionalism is also recognized economically and you have the opportunity to be heard. The luck we have here is this one!
Vincenzo: But, don't you think it's also determined by the fact that, from the point of view of Western-style hospitality, they are relatively beginners? Here also the properties call the expert who has to tell them how to do it ...
Frank: HK doesn't have a true culture of hospitality but has the money to maintain a high level of branding. I also lived in Bangkok which for us is like a paradise. What Italy does not have of Thailand is the pace of life. In Italy you can live well but it is still expensive while in Thailand you live well, spend little and people don't judge you when you go out with shorts. This well-being is not only materialistic but it is psychological. My wife sometimes tells me "maybe we'll go back to Italy one day" and I don't feel like it at all because then when you go back to Italy, people often say "Oh offer me a drink, you've made your money abroad!" or "why are you dressed like this?". There is also this conception that those living and working abroad are on vacation, living the life of the billionaire!
Vincenzo: Massimo, did you have other experiences in Asia?
Massimo: No, just here. I would go to Japan even if there is still a fairly old style hierarchical system. You still have the 70-year-old bartender. Endo San's Master [Mizunara's bar manager] is 75 years old and is still behind a bar counter. Now he is opening something small on his own but the super traditionalist owner wanted to keep him there for a lifetime. Endo San told me that up to the age of 60 he couldn't even talk to the Master and have a face-to-face relationship, as if you weren't up to it yet. Too much.
Bar Trench in Tokyo
Mori Bar master
Vincenzo: it's a bit like in Tokyo that you can't go home from work if your boss doesn't go home!
Massimo: Exactly! However, if Mizunara opens in Tokyo I would like to go. I don't see other places for me, like Seoul, Bangkok ... Hong Kong has many things, it has more balance. In Japan, craftmanship has a very high profile, as in Italy.
Frank: Anyway, to get me into the Hong Kong speed speech, you only realize this when you're not there. I mean, when you live it, it is normal; then you go back to Italy also for a while, you notice that everything happens much more slowly than in Hong Kong. I don't know what is best!
Vincenzo: And in these two years have you felt the speed? [laughs]
Frank: I miss the air, I'm not used to it. The pandemic has taught large companies to reduce costs and that you can still earn money without having many employees and many offices.
Vincenzo: So he won't be faster as before? And where does this speed come from? From the people?
Frank: It is the tradition of trading, of the market. Here they sell you everything, there is a high sense of business. Lately the speed has decreased but basically Chinese companies don't sleep at night if they don't earn.
Vincenzo: but what is the connection between hospitality and trading? You sell enjoyable experience ...
Massimo: It is the basic culture, perhaps based on the gain. Many small businesses had to close but their landlords remain and the day after one tenant leaves, they need to rent to another one.
Closed stores in Hong Kong
Frank: you often feel a little slave to the landlords because you are always subject to them. Now they helped us but until when? However, the connection between trading and our industry is that when you have to close a deal for your business, you have to find a place that is good enough and HK has a large concentration of top-notch restaurants and bars. The beauty of having so many high quality clubs is that everyone works. Then, the fact that it is not a place for tourists, allows you to have local customers all year round. Covid has determined that all those tourist countries have collapsed while HK survived this period also for this reason.
Vincenzo: what is the creative part of your work that has brought you advantages here in HK? What has enriched you?
Massimo: If you mean products creativity, here there is an incredible choice. On the Japanese technique, I'm still studying ... Creativity, in my opinion, is also the ability to know how to manage and solve many problems. Many of the staff do not have a real experience in hospitality and therefore you have to try to manage these situations and become "creative" in this sense too! In Hong Kong, if you need a product from another country, you can get it the next day. In short, in the end, I must say that the most negative part was managing the staff: it is difficult to communicate and keep your staff because many leave for 1000 dollars difference and you have to find somebody else..
Vincenzo: And what was it like in 2000?
Frank: When I arrived, there were many Chinese. At first there were three times the people to do half the work, then the Chinese left and the Nepalese arrived with whom I personally work very well. Then it must be said that many people think that working in this sector is like working in the office, from Monday to Friday. It is not like this! The problem is that, complying with such a request, it increases costs. On average today we have 6 days off each month. It is difficult to find staff because there are few people and I also agree that the staff is the most critical part; the difficulty is that you have to teach them a job and when someone leaves, you have to start over. It is a bit frustrating.
Meanwhile Massimo orders us a drink asking us “what do you like? I'll do it"!
Frank: Hong Kong gives you energy because you can get everything you need. It is not like in Italy that you take the car to go to the mountains or to the sea. This is about lifestyle. If we talk about business, on the other hand, is different. When there was the economic crisis, we recovered after 6 months here.
Vincenzo: do you think you have lived faster?
Frank: Yes absolutely. If I need feedback, I don't have to wait for the carrier pigeon! I don't know if this is right but it is another approach!
For now, sipping our cocktail, we get at the end of the first part of this long chat leaving you with some reflections. See you next week! Enjoy your weekend!