Syed Asim Hussain
Starting a restaurant in Hong Kong isn’t easy (read: extremely risky), but Syed Asim Hussain has made it look effortless with not one but 24 (and counting) successful establishments under his Black Sheep Restaurants hospitality group, which he co-founded with Christopher Mark in 2012. “In a city obsessed with newness, we wanted to create dining experiences that become a part of people’s memories and stories,” Hussain explains.
His own memories of growing up in his father’s restaurants played a huge part in shaping who he is today. A fourth- generation Hongkonger, he came home each summer from boarding school in Pakistan to work in the family business, first as a cleaner and then behind the bar.
“It was hard work, but I loved being a part of that environment,” says Hussain, who later studied finance at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania before starting his career in New York. Consumed with the restaurant scene and dining-out culture, he eventually made the decision to move back to Hong Kong.
“I knew I was going to work in hospitality – taking care of people is in my blood and bones,” he says. “It was humbling and slightly terrifying to give up my comfortable job, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Since its founding, Black Sheep Restaurants has become one of Hong Kong’s largest and most successful hospitality groups, with restaurants featuring almost any cuisine you can think of, including Italian-American at Carbone, Parisian bistro fare at Belon, Neapolitan-style pizza at Motorino and funky Chinese food at Ho Lee Fook. One Black Sheep restaurant that’s especially close to Hussain’s heart – it’s located in the same spot as one of his father’s original restaurants in the ’90s – is New Punjab Club, which transports diners to colonial North India with delicious tandoori cuisine served in a regal setting.
“I’m picking up where [my father] left off because he didn’t have the same success in hospitality,” says Hussain.
“I just want to continue that story for him, for me, for us.” In 2018, New Punjab Club was awarded a Michelin star, making it the world’s first Punjabi restaurant to be recognised with the honour. The same year, Belon received a Michelin star too, making the 33-year-old Hussain the youngest restaurateur in the world to hold two of the prestigious awards.
However, that’s not what makes him most proud; rather, it’s the community he’s created. “When we started Black Sheep Restaurants, first and foremost we wanted to create a company that looked after its people. We can’t look after guests if we’re not looking after each other.”
Hussain is now working on several new initiatives including a Tuscan trattoria, an online cake shop powered by the group’s own delivery app (GO), and its first delivery-only restaurant, Uncle Desi Food & Sons. “We’re a very aspirational bunch and I see us doing a lot more than just restaurants,” he says. “In five years, I hope that Black Sheep will become a global Hong Kong-based hospitality group.”
His advice for other restaurateurs in search of success? “Stay committed to your ideas, execute in a thoughtful and determined way, lead from the front and look after your guests and your people.”
Outfit: Hussain’s own