Inside our #BuroSocial dinner at The Mill
Tailored for success
It was an evening full of men in sharp suits and merry conversation surrounding a topic that certainly had Singapore's top creatives captivated — personalisation. Whether that involves specially crafting a menu, or selecting a made-to-measure outfit over an off-the-rack purchase, it's this dedication to tailoring a service that bonded the crowd at our fifth #BuroSocial, held in partnership with Hugo Boss.
Being a male-focused event, we handpicked five dapper men prominent in their respective fields of work as our hosts for the evening. We had the privilege of Bill Cain (owner of Hat of Cain), Joshua Schwartz (founder of SJS Group), Norman Hartono (marketing communications manager at Tung Lok Group), Marc Nicholson (founder of 1880), and Roy Teo (founder of The Mill) join us for dinner. Each host brought friends from different industries — individuals who were open to having a meal and exchanging ideas with a bunch of strangers, with the hope of connecting, sharing life, and potentially collaborating one day. Our seating plan for all #BuroSocial dinners keeps hosts and their friends apart for that very purpose.
How did that unfold? Watch the video below for a glimpse into our evening — which included a dynamic pocket square challenge, where our hosts had a one-minute to put together the perfect pocket square. The host with the best version (congrats, Bill!) won a made-to-measure Hugo Boss tie experience.
Part of the #BuroSocial deal is a dinner at an unexpected location (cue previous dinners inside the pool at Tanjong Beach Club and at the Asian Civilisations Museum). This time around, we dined inside The Mill, a dynamic creative coalition founded as part design studio, part think tank, and part creative hub. The space was cleverly transformed into a sophisticated dining room, thanks to grand touches of flowers by Floral Magic.
Our guests were treated to a scrumptious feast by Lavish Catering, starting with a 'cold fried' oyster and cured tuna, followed by a beautiful pan-seared barramundi with sautéed vegetables, spring onion foam, and truffle mash, as well as a roasted angus beef with confit root vegetables. All the dishes were designed for sharing, and paired with fine red and white wines from Equatorial Wines. A chocolate variation dessert, crafted with mint espuma and almond crumble, was the perfect sweetener to finish off the night.
Of course, no #BuroSocial dinner is complete without us picking the brains of our five esteemed hosts. What do these gentlemen define as their measures of success, and what are their thoughts on personalisation and comparison? Before the night petered out, we pulled them aside for a quick chat — find out what they have to say below.
BILL CAIN | OWNER OF HAT OF CAIN
How do you measure success?
I measure success as the self-gratification that I get from my clients when they wear a hat that makes them feel better about themselves. When they are able to come into my shop bringing in one demeanour, and walking out with another. You can't ask for more.
How did that self-gratification inspire you to start Hat of Cain?
Back in the day, I used to be an optician — you know, someone that fits people with glasses. When I got into my professional career, I missed having that interaction with people. When I was able to find an opportunity to find a niche business, I took it. I wanted to love my job, and find something that I was passionate about — that I could live and breathe, and not just for me, but for others. The satisfaction of being able to sell something as simple as a Panama hat, and have them walk out of the shop feeling two inches taller; now, that's priceless.
How do you incorporate personalisation into your Panama hats?
Every person is different and I want people to come in and be able to express a little bit of themselves, and to make their hat an extension of themselves — or bring out something they're hiding. When it comes to personalising Panama hats, it's all about the individual. You've got to dig deep to find out what they want to express in wearing this hat because it is taking them out of their comfort zone. This is especially so in Asia, when people are not used to wearing Panama hats. But there's an inner creative in all of us, whether it's showcasing that through a hat band or a feather.
MARC NICHOLSON | FOUNDER OF 1880
What does success mean to you?
I recently figured out my definition for success is being able to do the job that you really are meant to do, be the person that you want to be, and make a living out of it.
Do you have any mentors?
Yes, I have mentors whom I think exist on an ephemeral level — my mentor would be Elon Musk on one level, simply because he made the distance between thinking and doing imperceptible. And I think that's a gigantic thing. My mentors are people who have overcome adversity and then succeeded to build their own journey.
Can you share with us any adversities that you've been through?
I had a business that went bankrupt a few years ago. It's a terrible thing to say to your staff; that there's no more money to pay you, that we have to shut the business down, and tell your suppliers they're not getting paid. Personally, it's a very difficult thing to go through. But in retrospect, I wouldn't trade it for anything because it's made me the person I am and understand the things I might have done wrong. I've learnt a lot from it and persevered through it. I would not be where I am today had I not had that experience.
Our theme tonight is personalisation — how does that play a part in what you do?
That's a really good question, because one of the things that we say is that 1880 should be a space where you aren't wearing your game face; where you get to be the person that you want to be. To me, personalisation is similar to how I view success. It's when you're not afraid to be the person that you want to be.
NORMAN HARTONO | MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER AT TUNG LOK GROUP
What does it mean to be successful?
Being successful is when what you are doing with your time matches up with what makes you happy, and what sustains your life.
How does personalisation play a part in your operations at Tung Lok Group?
It plays a major part because every customer is special — people pay good money to eat out and we want to make them feel good. Everybody has a different way of enjoying dinner, so as much as possible, we want to personalise it based on the individual customer's profile and likings.
Tell us about what you do now at Tung Lok Group.
I engineer concepts for the group, which is more famously known for its traditional fine dining Chinese cuisine. What I bring to the table is my ability to identify more with the current trends, and my concepts are a bit more fluid than it is traditional Chinese.
Do you ever compare yourself to other people?
At the end of the day, you should always focus on yourself instead of being worried about other people all the time. I'm someone that likes to go against the green a bit and explore things on my own, but I do look upon the inspiration and success of others who have paved the way for us.
JOSHUA SCHWARTZ | FOUNDER OF SJS GROUP
How do you measure success?
You know, F&B is the ultimate instant gratification business. You know how successful you are every day by how many people arrive, and by how many people enjoy the experience. I guess in terms of measurability, that's how I do it, but in terms of how I view success? Well, if I can incorporate a quality of life into the business that we do, that's a measure of success for me.
Tonight's theme is personalisation. How much does personalisation play a part in what you do?
For us, personalising an experience is key and is something we look at as being paramount in anything we do. We painstakingly look to gather as much information about guests as we can; and at Lulu's Lounge for example, whenever anyone books a table, at each table, there's a personalised note written to them. We spend a lot of our time thinking about what it means to be VIP these days.
Who are some mentors that you look up to?
I've had a lot of amazing mentors in my career, including some of the giants in restaurants and bars in New York City that I've been fortunate enough to work with. But as cheesy as this sounds now, I would say at this point, it's probably my wife, Sarissa. I don't know if I would say she's a mentor, but if you look at a mentor as someone who teaches you something daily, that's her. She's constantly teaching me something about this business, and the way she thinks about dealing with people in different situations.
Do you ever compare yourself to others? And if so, do you think it's a good or bad thing?
I constantly compare myself (and our business) to others. And I think it's a good thing. You have to look at what others are doing, analyse the market, and try to get better all the time. If someone is working harder than you, and getting better than you, and you are falling behind, you have to look at those people. But I don't think you should look at them as if they should fail or succeed, or if they're doing better than you — but use them as an example of how you can put up your best product.
ROY TEO | FOUNDER OF THE MILL
What is success to you?
Success is a state of mind. If you reach a point where you feel like you've achieved what you wanted and you're happy, you have found success. Not many people can say that.
How does personalisation play a part in what you do in the interior design world?
I have this little quote where in the world of interior design, a hole must exude the owner's persona when he's not there, but really complement him when he's there. To me, being bespoke already speaks of one's personality, character, and persona. You really have to dive deep into the person's character and know what those passions are, and what he really appreciates in life.
Do you have any mentors, or someone you take inspiration from, at the moment?
Well, someone once said that if you think what you've created is original, you must be suffering from amnesia. Because the reality is, we absorb so much especially now with social media. Pinterest alone is the world's greatest library, tailored to one's liking. There is so much out there that you just pick up and becomes part of you. We are all inventive as much as we can, but it really is a compilation of good ideas and good taste put together into a composition.
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