Bitten by the retail bug when just a child, Andrew Leung, scion of the iconic Diamond Restaurant-owning family, now helms Diamond Restaurant Food Products and the Pharmabelle skincare brand.
What was it like to grow up in the family that owned Diamond Restaurant, one of the city’s most iconic restaurants?
Honestly, I was really lucky to grow up in such a family, particularly since it meant we got to eat great food quite often. I was also fortunate enough to meet up with my grandparents every Sunday at Diamond Restaurant – which for decades was one of the most famous banquet halls in the city – for yum cha, along with all my uncles, aunts and cousins. The usual schedule was that we would eat with grandma first, then accompany grandpa while he played poker with his friends after the meal. It was a lovely opportunity to spend time with them, something I treasure to this day.
Did this background inspire you to join the food industry or did you have other career aspirations?
I was very influenced by my mother. When my brother and I were growing up, she was the CEO of Clarins, and instead of the usual family outings, she would take us along with her when she conducted spot inspections at Clarins’ cosmetics counters. It was my first taste of the retail business, and I think that was when I was bitten by the retail bug, even though it’s not exactly something you can add to your CV.
So you decided to pursue a career in retail…
Not immediately, no. I graduated with a degree in Accounting and Finance from Birmingham University, although it wasn’t an industry I ever worked in. I ended up landing my first job at an advertising agency in Hong Kong, but it wasn’t until eight years later that I joined Cartier and finally got a chance to give retail a try.
What was your proudest accomplishment while working there?
Oh, there were so many high points but a few really stand out. When I joined the company, I started as a communications manager. I think there was a bit of fate involved, because right at the beginning, in 2010, I was assigned to help launch the revamped Prince’s Building flagship, the fourth Cartier flagship in the world. I was lucky enough to be assigned by headquarters to do a local campaign. For this, I was allowed to shoot a 30-minute show, one that featured some of the city’s most famous faces. Everyone shared their personal Cartier stories, and the programme was so successful that it became TVB’s most viewed episode that year. I never expected such a commercial programme to touch so many people, and I’m so proud of what we achieved.
After that, I approached Nigel [Luk, Cartier’s regional managing director] about expanding my career into the management level. In order to do that, though, I needed to learn how to make money for the company as well, so I asked if I could shift to the retail front. It worked out and I ended up staying with Cartier for eight years.
Through it all, was there ever any pressure for you to join the family business?
Not really. According to Chinese tradition, it is normally the sons who inherit the business, so seeing as I was the daughter’s child, I wasn’t expected to take it over. It was supposed to be inherited by my uncles and cousins instead. Ultimately, the family made the decision to close the restaurant in 2002 as the industry was in something of a slump, and interest had moved away from traditional banquet halls like our restaurant to function spaces in luxury hotels instead.
But the ‘Diamond Restaurant’ name was revived once more in 2012…
That’s right. When my grandfather, who had started the restaurant in 1947, passed away in 2004, my mother and her 11 siblings all gathered for a family conference to decide what to do with the name. Ultimately, they ended up selling the property itself, and my mother, who had just retired from Clarins, stepped up to keep the name and the heritage alive. In 2012, my mother co-opted me into her efforts, and we launched Diamond Restaurant Food Products, which began the next chapter of its existence.
So, what exactly does Diamond Restaurant Food Products specialise in?
Given our family’s unique insight into sourcing the best ingredients for Chinese cuisine, evolving it into a retail-oriented business seemed like a logical progression. It allowed my mother and me to utilise our past experiences at Clarins and Cartier to create products that would appeal to today’s urban denizens. Hongkongers are very cosmopolitan – they love good food but they also want convenience. So, Diamond Restaurant Food Products steps in to fill that niche with high-quality ready-to-serve items. Currently, we have nine products, ranging from wild Tasmanian abalone, braised abalone from Taiwan and scallop XO sauce to tangerine pu’er tea. The idea is to offer restaurant-quality ingredients that can be cooked within the comforts of your own home.
You also introduced a new skincare brand, Pharmabelle, to Hong Kong. Tell us more.
Pharmabelle is a skincare brand that was founded in Australia seven years ago by a noted pharmacist who already oversees another well-known skincare label. Since then, we’ve introduced the products to the Hong Kong market, which includes everything from daily-use toiletries like body washes and body oils – especially focussing on contouring – to face products. Pharmabelle’s unique selling point is that it uses natural ingredients rather than the typical chemically driven items sold by other brands. This means that it’s gentler on the skin while still boosting its health and appearance. It’s received quite a warm welcome, and today, our products are available everywhere from Harvey Nichols and Wing On to K11 Beauty.
Can we expect anything new in the coming months?
Absolutely. We just wrapped up a special pop-up store at Harvey Nichols, and also launched a new Pharmababy line in August, which focusses on the skincare needs of babies. Thanks to its natural ingredients, mothers won’t need to worry when using these products on their precious little ones. Also, with Christmas coming up, we’re excited to launch a series of special seasonal promotions at Harvey Nichols, K11 Beauty, Wing On and the Royal Yacht Club.
What’s the top item on your bucket list?
I’ve always been musically inclined – I completed the Grade 8 musical exams in both piano and singing, and I’m a huge fan of musicals – but a relatively new interest for me is that I want to learn how to perform Cantonese opera. While it’s not something I commonly share, my grandfather is actually Leung Sing-por, one of the most famous performers of the genre. Unfortunately, he passed away when I was just three, so I think this is my way of getting closer to him and his legacy.
Interview by: Tenzing Thondup
Photos: Jack Law
Art Direction: San Wong
Venue: Natuzzi Showroom