Giving back to the community has been at an all-time high this year. Whether it’s the increase in gift packs, takeaway or the creation of homemade goodies to show you care – being able to spread some love is a great way of appreciating someone from afar – regardless if they live near, overseas or interstate.
When it comes to love languages, 68% of people consider gift giving one of their top priorities, something that is more important than ever this year as we navigate a ‘new kind of normal’.
In light of spreading the love, we chatted to owner and founder of Chinese restaurant in Melbourne’s CBD, Victor Liong from Lee Ho Fook about surviving lockdown, giving back to the community and how to connect with others during this uncertain time.
His top tip? Give back to the people you love, including yourself!
Hey Victor! Thanks for chatting to us. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your history behind Lee Ho Fook?
I grew up in Sydney and moved to Melbourne in 2013 to open Lee Ho Fook. It was by chance I got introduced to my partners and loved the idea of championing Chinese cuisine within an Australian lens. At the time I had only started to cook and explore Chinese cuisine, so being able to do it in my own creative space and restaurant with the support of my staff and business partners was amazing. I felt it was a rewarding journey to be on and I'm grateful for all the things we have managed to achieve with the restaurant.
How have you and your team pivoted during lockdown and COVID?
We’ve changed every step of our process – going from offering takeaway at the early stages to becoming a food store and catering for two people in meal boxes, cooking for charities and the lesser represented community. We’ve also added Lee Ho Fook at Home, which is a series of dishes that can be frozen for later or finished at home. We have tried to keep the offering generous and fun.
How have you personally kept in contact with your loved ones during this time?
It is interesting how this has affected people; it has its ups and downs. As a business owner, it can be quite isolating dealing with the stresses and uncertainty of everything. I have a core group of people that I would usually catch up with pre-lockdown, but this has been a trying time.
I make time to call my family in Sydney every week, facetime my nieces every Saturday morning, cook dinner with my partner most nights, zoom my university friends over irregular poker nights and send food and treats to my staff, industry friends and family; it's nice to receive something unexpected. I strongly believe in selfless generosity – it keeps everyone feeling part of my circle.
How do you think the hospitality industry will change after COVID is over?
It will be a very difficult time that I don't have a definitive answer for. I feel there will be more use of technology: QR codes, online reservations, designated dining times and apps and websites to help with contact tracing and logs and even cashless options.
With staffing – there will be a reshuffle on how to manage the costs versus the limited patronage. Prices will have to inevitably reflect this, suppliers will also change the way they do business – which will ultimately affect the restaurant industry.
There are a lot of stakeholders and elements that will change, and I haven't even scratched the surface of the whole issue.
What has helped you stay positive?
I have an amazing sense of self-confidence and an irrational optimism that is getting me through day-by-day, and I've been so bored that I've started jogging (laughs).
In the future, how do you think COVID will change the industry in a positive way?
This will make every operator look at running their businesses better, and like in any instance of trouble, the cream will rise to the top. There will be many instances where people have proven themselves and really stepped up during this time; it'll be good to show appreciation to everyone once we get through this.
What are you excited about getting back into once COVID is over?
I'm looking forward to reopening Chuuka in Sydney and finally launching Lee Ho Fook at Marvel Stadium. If I can do these two things, I feel like it would mean we are getting closer to a reality where it will resemble a freer and safer time.
And finally, where is the first restaurant or bar you’ll visit after COVID in Melbourne?
Amaru in Armadale - I'm a big fan of Clinton Mciver but haven't had the chance to go there yet.