In anticiptation of International Women’s Day next week (Tuesday, 8 March), we spoke to Abby Cadman, the owner of catering and event companies Relish and recently acquired Gingers, to discuss her experiences as a female entrepreneur within the F&B industry in Hong Kong, including the professional challenges she has faced and her solutions to maintaining her businesses during these trying times.
She presents a strong, clear-cut vision of the trends she sees for the future and shares her views on sustainability. Her mission for both companies is to continue serving her client base with enhanced customer service and entertainment options while maintaining consistency in providing delicious food and drink to the community.
The majority of your experience before going into F&B was focused on marketing and communications. What drives your passion for going into the entertaining side of things?
I love to cook and have fond childhood memories of my parents regularly entertaining guests. The table was filled with delicious food and drinks and people dancing to music in the living room. I love entertaining, and this energises me through the work I do. This is how I show my love and passion, and the F&B industry is embodied with lots of joy and celebration. We are in the business of happiness!
I have experience and studies in marketing and communications, and this has helped me take the direction I want for Gingers and Relish. I can communicate my vision to the team and sell our services to clients. I see marketing and communications as interchangeable through every job I’ve had to help to manage people.
You moved here from Australia. With your passion for entertainment, including your dream of running your own hospitality business, why not jump into working with a restaurant group or starting your own restaurant in Hong Kong? What attracted you to catering?
When I moved to Hong Kong, I wanted to use my marketing experience to get my foot into the door somewhere before focusing on what I would do with my career. I wanted to get to know the city and culture before finding direction.
Getting into catering was unexpected, so when I got the job for marketing and events manager at Relish, I didn’t know what to expect, but I found myself loving the company and the fast-paced nature of the industry. The hours were long and the job was physically tiring, but the job energised me, and I realised I found my calling. When the owner announced that she was moving back to New Zealand and selling the company, I had a light-bulb moment and suggested to my husband that we look into purchasing the company. The rest is history!
Congratulations on recently becoming the owner of Gingers! You must feel proud to be running two long-term, established catering companies in Hong Kong. Looking at both Gingers and Relish, what have been the greatest successes since you have taken over? What are the hurdles you have faced owing to Hong Kong’s political unrest and the ongoing pandemic?
Thank you! Both Gingers and Relish have been successful in Hong Kong for many years, which is a rarity in F&B. I know that both companies have a proven track record and that it is only the environmental factors out of our control that have affected the businesses. With this in mind, we needed to quickly adjust to the ever-changing terrain.
With Relish, I took over just before the protests. We had the downtime to rebrand the company by adding event services such as decor and production and changed the website to present the brand as modern and sophisticated. When COVID hit, we needed to save money wherever we could, so we moved from our expensive kitchen and office space in Sai Ying Pun to our space in Wong Chuk Hang. Not only did we reduce our rental expenses, but we scored an amazing event space, which adds another income stream to our business. We wouldn’t have made these drastic changes without being forced to adapt to both situations, but in doing so, we’ve entered a better place as a company.
I took over Gingers in April 2021 and used this time to understand the business, team and customer base. We have made some minor internal changes to make the processes more efficient. Another focus is to reduce the amount of single-use plastic used in packaging food. We will continue to work on using more sustainable products as well as refresh the brand without taking away the heritage and reputation that clients have loved over the past 20 years.
What are some changes you hope to implement for Gingers and Relish? What are the biggest trends going forwards in catering?
This year has started off with huge challenges, but we have learned from the past two or more years to take swift action. For the first time, private events have been affected, so it has really halted our businesses more so than other waves. We’re using this time to find any inefficiencies across both catering companies as well as work on a new site for Gingers. In addition, we are looking to create an internal system when events return, taking on more with enhanced customer service.
The biggest trend I am anticipating this year is client engagement with ingredients. People want tasty, sustainable and aesthetically pleasing dishes, especially as social media dominates us. Packaging must be environmentally friendly, and there will be more demand for vegetarian and vegan options.
For special events, we see a demand for experimental and immersive occasions. All of us have been trapped in Hong Kong for more than two years, so everybody is looking for stimulation and excitement. The food needs to be out of the box, drinks need to be curated by an award-winning mixologist and the entertainment needs to be above and beyond. Canapés and a DJ won’t be enough for big occasions, and clients will be looking for a real wow factor from the moment the event starts.
Sustainability has been a large focus of the F&B space in Hong Kong, and you’ve already mentioned that you’re trying to reduce and reuse plastic waste. What policies have you implemented for tackling plastic waste?
We have always been conscious about plastic waste, and Relish even won an award many years ago with Plastic Oceans. At this point, we have eliminated single-use plastic. When we cater events with our team on-site, we use our insulated catering boxes with metal trays inside, which are then washed and reused. For drop-off events, we use our wax-coated cardboard boxes, which are biodegradable and delivered in our very convenient canvas bags.
A lot of produce in Hong Kong is still sourced internationally. With the discussion of reducing food miles becoming more common, how do you go about sourcing your ingredients? Are there any local artisans, farmers and suppliers you have partnered up with here?
It is a very difficult balance in Hong Kong between food quality and carbon footprint. We have made a conscious decision to use meat from farmers in Australia, New Zealand and the UK where the animals’ quality of life is prioritised, with ethical farming is practised, uncompromised and strictly implemented.
Most of our vegetables and herbs are sourced from local Hong Kong farmers who provide high-quality products to balance some of the food miles we use for our meat. We are part of the Hong Kong Sustainable Seafood Coalition (HKSSC) and source some seafood locally or from neighbouring countries like Japan depending on the time of year. For us, it depends where quality is best during each season. With any product we use, I want to ensure I can put my name and the company’s name behind it.
What was the most extravagant party or event you have ever catered for?
We’ve done some amazing events over the years, but our 800-person corporate event at sky100 was the most memorable. We had elaborate food stations, unique canapés, mixologists, dancers, acrobats and a light show-synchronised band. We’ve done an exclusive ice- and fire-themed private dinner party at a Hong Kong villa with synchronised swimmers, a mirror-ball acrobat and some salsa dancers complete with a delectable four-course menu.
What’s the most popular or in-demand dish that clients request consistently from both Gingers and Relish? Do you have any wine-pairing recommendations for these dishes?
We have many “famous” and favourite dishes that our repeat customers love to request. For Relish, our jasmine tea-smoked and whisky-cured sustainable salmon is popular and enjoyed during summer on many private and charter yachts. We recommend a chilled Provence rosé and some crackers with horseradish mascarpone for the perfect after-swim afternoon snack.
Recently, Gingers has relaunched its à-la-carte “At Home” menu, which has proved to be a favourite for clients looking for restaurant-quality food at home. The menu is prepared in our kitchen and delivered with instructions to finish and plate, making even inexperienced cooks transform into five-star hosts. Our fillet of beef with mustard, boulangère potatoes and vegetables paired with a Barossa Shiraz will make any dinner party (and host) shine.
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