Leroy Zhong of Bonsoir – Dark Dining

Here, we have Leroy Zhong of "Bon Soir – Dark Dining" (third from left in picture), one of the 10 finalists for The Ultimate Start-Up Space challenge 2010 by Martell VSOP, to share his entrepreneurial idea and what makes it different from the rest.

1. Could you share with us what Bon Soir is about?

Bon Soir Dark Dining will be a sensory based dining concept where customers dine in complete darkness. The purpose of the concept is to enhance the sense of taste by removing all visual distractions.

The focus of the concept is not actually the dark environment; you could probably switch off the lights in your dining room for that. It is more about how our chef re-invents a string of dishes to craft a palate-driven culinary ensemble. We'd liken a 3 course meal in Bon Soir to a storybook for the palate; every dish tells a story to your taste buds where one course flows to and compliments the other.

2. When and why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I started my first business during my university days sourcing for door gifts, staging equipment et cetera, for hostel and school club events. Business was really good but I had to shut it down when the workload piled up for my final year.

I realized this was my calling when I had a taste of work life. You know what suits you best when you walk down two paths and have the chance to compare. In my case, nothing beats the satisfaction of running your own business.

My mum is involved in a couple of family businesses but my biggest influence is my grandmother. She opened 8 pubs in her day, her words of wisdom: “If you want to do something, make sure it’s different from what everyone else is doing”.

3. What are your reasons for choosing to do business in this particular industry?

The vibrancy of the F&B industry is alluring. However, you do see new food chains springing up and old ones struggling and disappearing. Entrepreneurs might find this daunting because business 101 teaches you not to lunge yourself into a bloodbath of competition.

The reason I’m pressing on towards this direction because contrary to the perception of competitiveness in this industry, I’m not going head-on with any other restaurant. Bon Soir stands in its own league in the F&B industry with its unique offering.

4. How did you put together all the resources needed to start your business?

We have investors and partners to look to for funding. Ultimately it would be about choosing the right partners and investors; preferably people who believe in the concept.

5. What are some of the challenges you faced in starting up? What are some interesting stories you have in starting up the business?

For a start, there was a barrage of skepticism from potential investors and other restaurant owners I spoke with. It is not surprising though. You must know how it must sound like: young guy walks up to a restaurateur veteran saying he wants to open a restaurant with no light. You should see their expressions.

I was explaining my concept to a potential investor. It must have taken me a minute or so to realize that there was some miscommunication. The guy heard “duck” instead of “dark”. So while describing the concept, he had the impression that I wanted to set up a restaurant serving duck in the dark.

6. What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

It means having to look at a problem and come out with ideas to solve it that no one else can; and then having the capacity to materialize that idea into a viable business solution.

7. What are some entrepreneurship qualities that you have which has helped you come this far?

I am able to be emotionally detached from my business ideas; this helps me to be open to constructive feedback and see the idea from a business standpoint.

Based on my experience, entrepreneurship is not for the faint hearted. It can only be suited to a certain type of people who are resilient; people who are able to think on their feet with a high threshold for stress.

8. Who or what motivates and inspires you?

I hope this doesn’t come across narcissistically, but I prefer to be self-motivated. Very often when running your own business, you’re on your own. So believing in yourself is your best bet.

9. With the changes in the market today, do you think it has become harder or easier to succeed in business? Why do you say so?

Well it has neither become harder nor easier. Different eras have their fair share of difficulties and opportunities for businesses and it is just a matter of evolving to suit the times.

One good example is to take a look at traditional businesses; we call them “traditional businesses” because they’ve existed since decades ago. Yet, see how humble bread and kaya businesses evolved into the likes of “Yah Kun” and its huge franchise model.

10. What advice would you give young people who want to start their own business?

Think big, if you can’t do that, don’t be shy to talk to people who can give you a better insight. If you have the opportunity, travel and see the world for inspiration. You will be surprised how your perception can change over a road trip.

Related link: Bonsoir – Dark Dining introduction clip, Bonsoir – Dark Dining Facebook Page

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