Brunch with Buro: Julian and Christian Tan

Brunch with Buro: Julian and Christian Tan

Going loco

Text: Tracy Phillips

Photo: Vanessa Caitlin

They've got us in swimmers every weekend and made us go loco for Mexican cuisine. Just who are the Tan brothers and how did they manage to nail their winning F&B formula?

These affable brothers have injected some much-needed cool and colour into Singapore's F&B scene via their three outlets — popular Mexican hangouts Lucha Loco and Super Loco, and Tanjong Beach Club. I caught up with the golden boys, Julian and Christian Tan to find out what it's like to work with family, their future plans for the business, and what makes them go loco.

Julian Tan, Tracy Phillips and Christian Tan at Super Loco

When I first met the both of you several years ago, you were holding down corporate jobs and partying late nights. Today, you've got three successful restaurants going. How did you make that happen?

Julian Tan (JT): We saw huge potential in the F&B space in Singapore and were both feeling the corporate burnout. As you know, I was an investment banker for more than 10 years. I worked six days a week and needed a change. Christian was working with a global IT company in Sydney and Singapore and was looking to venture out on his own. Our father owned restaurants when we were young so we grew up around them. Through my involvement in Loof — which was set up 10 years ago — we saw the opportunities ahead and quit our jobs to set up Tanjong Beach Club in partnership with The Lo & Behold Group.

What's it like working with your brother and how do you split your roles?

Christian Tan (CT): We are a formidable team! As Julian's background is in corporate finance, he oversees the accounting, financing, operational analysis and strategic planning for the group. I have a background in marketing and PR so I handle the marketing and events side of the business which plays to my core competencies and prior work experience.

JT: It works pretty smoothly as we've known each other our whole lives. We know each other's personalities, strengths, and weaknesses pretty well. 

Lucha Loco has been busy since day 1 and injected new life into the Duxton Hill area, what do you think your winning formula is?

CT: It's hard to pinpoint one thing but we have always believed in creating venues that we would like to hang out in ourselves. We wanted to give people a place they could head to early and not have to wait till midnight for the fun to happen. So it's a combination of great food, solid drinks at reasonable prices, music, lighting and ambience, and being committed to being there every day to make sure everything is running as it should. Quite often, you can find us at our restaurants even when we are not working; we are just there to relax over a few drinks with friends.

Why did you choose to start with Mexican food? Do you plan on tackling any other cuisines?

JT: When we set up Lucha Loco, we wanted to set up a venue with great energy, where the party started early. Mexican food and the Mexican spirit was the perfect fit. Mexican food and culture is spicy, lively, colourful and fun. Throw into the mix a few margaritas and tequilas and you have all the ingredients for a fun night out. Over the years, we have learned a lot about Mexican food, drinks and culture, and continually want to do more with new dishes and cocktails. We also have plans to expand around the region.

CT: We have a few ideas for other concepts and cuisines, but at the moment, the focus is still very much on Mexican restaurants and bars.

What's been the biggest challenge in running this business?

CT: Keeping up with the tequila shots!

For the Lucha Loco and Super Loco virgin, what would you recommend ordering and which items are your personal favourites?

CT: The elotes (mexican street corn) is a must. We specialise in tacos, so all of the tacos are delicious. The snapper and mango ceviche is also consistently one of our best sellers.

JT: The brunch at Super Loco is amazing. I always want to eat everything on the menu. But my current favourites are the huevos benedictos, a Central American version of eggs benedict, and the acai super bowl. 

Julian Tan, Tracy Phillips and Christian Tan at Super Loco

Favourite tipple of the moment?

CT: Mexican Mule. It's a twist on the Moscow Mule, but using tequila instead of vodka.

JT: Blood orange and guava margarita.

Are there any expansion plans on the horizon?

JT: We have been approached by people from all over South East Asia who love our restaurants and want us to expand our concept to their home country, but we like to take our time and expand when we feel ready. We are constantly evaluating potential sites and opportunities, and have been spending a lot of time in Jakarta, Hong Kong and Tokyo. We hope to open one overseas outlet of Super Loco later this year and a second in 2016. We are also evaluating a few spaces here in Singapore and hope to open one more outlet here early next year.

You're from Perth but seem to have made Singapore home. Is there anything you miss about your hometown?

CT: We miss the beach. We are both loco about surfing, and spent much of our youth at the beach surfing or just enjoying the coastal lifestyle. When we have a few days off, we often escape to Bali for a quick surf trip. However, we do enjoy Singapore and the life we have here, and see ourselves here for the foreseeable future. 

Favourite holiday destinations?

JT: Bali. Greek islands. Tokyo.

CT: North Shore Oahu, Hawaii. Tulum, Mexico.

Words you live by?

JT: Everything's gonna be alright.

CT: Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

Where do you see yourselves in 5 years?

JT: Living between Singapore and a beach villa with fantastic surf out the front. 

CT: Living between Singapore and Sydney.