Maximal Concepts boss Malcolm Wood dreams of delivering luxury Chinese fare and Mexican street food to a global audience

Tracey Furniss

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 June, 2016, 11:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 June, 2016, 11:11pm

Besides their love for food, Maximal Concepts partners Malcolm Wood, Matt Reid and Xuan Mu have a simple rule which has served them well. “If you can’t eat it twice on the same day, it doesn’t go on the menu,” Wood says. “If you can’t drink three in a row, it doesn’t go on the menu.”

This philosophy has helped Wood, the founder and group managing director, steer his company into one of the city’s most successful restaurant groups within four years.

With 18 brands, Maximal Concepts is expanding two of its more popular concepts globally - Mott 32, known for modern twists on traditional Chinese dishes and Asiacentric cocktails, and Brickhouse, a trendy Mexican street food eatery offering great cocktails.

“The large part of our focus this year is [on] expanding the Mott brand,” Wood says. “We are [initially] going into three locations - Dubai, Bangkok and Vancouver. The first opening is Vancouver in August, the second will probably be Dubai towards Christmas time and Bangkok is very early 2017.

“Mott 32 is the first luxury Chinese restaurant from [mainland] China/Hong Kong to expand globally with five-star partners,” says Wood, referring to American Ian Schrager who, in the 1970s and 1980s, co-founded and coowned the legendary Studio 54 and Palladium, both in New York City and introduced the boutique hotels concept to the world. Mott 32 will be located in the Schrager-owned Edition Hotel in the MahaNakhon, Bangkok’s tallest building.

In Vancouver, Mott 32 will be located in the Trump Tower and in Dubai, The Viceroy Palm Jumeirah.

“[Mott 32 in Dubai] is going to be the largest luxury Chinese restaurant in the world - it’s 20,000 square feet,” Wood says.

“We’ve got China, the US and we are looking at other places in Europe.

We are doing a couple of Brickhouses as well.”

Brickhouse opened in Dubai last month. “It’s been one of our most successful concepts in terms of a business model - it won one of the top four restaurant concepts. It seems when we talk to partners, it’s either Brickhouse or Mott 32.”

Wood started the now 500-strong team at Maximal Concepts with partners Reid and Xuan.

“I started in hospitality and events and I formed my partnership with Matt way back. We went to [University of] Bristol together and [since the age of] 19, we’ve been partners in everything,” Wood says. “We started out doing promotions and events and gradually moved into bars and clubs and then owning a couple of restaurants together - one in London and a couple in Shanghai. And then I met Xuan in Hong Kong. He was just redoing a night club, Play, and we formed a partnership together and Matt came over - that was about four years ago and we just carried on.”

Most food and cocktail aficionados in Hong Kong will be familiar with Maximal Concepts’ outlets in and around SoHo and Central, which include Blue Butcher, Fish & Meat, Stockton, Limewood, Mercedes me, Double D and urban spa Flawless. In Macau, the company has veered into quick-service-restaurants (QSR).

“In Hong Kong everyone knows us more as a high-end restaurant group - we have nine brands here and we’ve targeted different cuisines and food types,” Wood says.

“We don’t like to replicate what we’re doing within the Hong Kong market. The customer looks to us to do something different. In Hong Kong that’s been the pattern.

The more we’ve looked at Macau and China, we thought the way to go in those markets is to try to deliver quality food at a lower price point and try out this different business model, so that’s the strategy with the QSR and food court-type restaurants. We did our first test in Studio City [in Macau] with Lawrence Ho and we are looking at a few other cities in China right now. [It’s] more likely to be 2017 in Shanghai for our international QSR expansions.”

In Macau, the QSR brands include The Pasta Factory, Made in HK, Kare Yama, Steak Rocks, K-Belly, Pho Fresh, Mrs Sing’s and No 11.

Wood attributes Maximal Concepts’ rapid growth to great products, a strong creative team and keeping consistency.

“If you have a good creative team when you’ve created a great product, then expanding that product is an HR game - can we get the right people, execute the food in the right way, especially at the high-end level,” Wood says. “There is a shortage of staff [within the industry], so that’s been our number one challenge, keeping the consistency.

“We have tried to build this academy to train the global teams we have now and the way we’ve been tackling this consistency issue is to use Hong Kong as a training ground and to send the top chefs to different countries to improve the food quality.”

Wood likes to create a story around his concepts. “If you look at our first six locations, every one was difficult. Down an alleyway [Brickhouse], Stockton is at the top of Lan Kwai Fong with a difficult entrance and no sign. Blue Butcher was the first big restaurant to be in the Sheung Wan area of Hollywood Road. But we like to create a story around those spaces.

“So here we are in the basement of the bank [Mott 32] and you have to circle down the stairs, so this is all about being in the basement of the bank, artefacts being collected and when you go into that detail, customers don’t mind looking to find that experience. When a restaurant is in an awkward place, it’s about the story, the design, the food, everything.”

Father-of-two Wood gets up early each day and finishes his office work by 8am. He spends this time with his 18-month-old son too. The rest of the day is troubleshooting.

He focuses on project development and the culinary side of the business, while Reid does the marketing and Xuan, the finances. Wood attributes his love for food to having lived in India, Italy, Taiwan, Hong Kong, London and Canada during childhood.