Restaurateur Kim Minards talks about Enoteca Group’s longevity in the food and drinks business in Hong Kong

The group, founded in 2005 by Minards and her husband Robert Cooper, has gone from strength to strength, and today has seven restaurants in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 June, 2017, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 June, 2017, 12:02pm

Restaurateur Kim Minards came to Hong Kong 20 years ago as a backpacker. “I worked as a waitress, and then went off backpacking again before returning to Hong Kong,” she says. In 2005 - along with her husband, Robert Cooper - Minards founded restaurant group Enoteca Group. “Rob was also a backpacker. We worked for different establishments up until 14 years ago. He was working at The Bayou and I was working in neighbouring Staunton’s in SoHo. We were managers of those two bars and that’s how we met.”

After they were married they decided to open Enoteca. “The Elgin Street restaurant was the first of our restaurants and it’s still there,” she says.

“When we first opened Enoteca in 2005, we were looking for a niche in the marketplace and we decided to open a wine bar,” she explains. “Around that time, you could only get a good selection of wines by the glass in hotels, there were no high street restaurants doing it. It was predominately a wine bar - hence the name - and the food was almost secondary. We had 32 wines by the glass, which on the high street was quite unusual. And the concept really took off.

When we first opened Enoteca in 2005, we were looking for a niche in the marketplace and we decided to open a wine bar
Kim Minards, managing director, Enoteca Group

“Enoteca was so successful that we opened another place called The Pub, just down the road, as an overspill for the wine bar, but it became very successful in it’s own right, and so we opened Cicada next door to that. Those were our first three places,” Minards says. “But [a few years after The Pub and Cicada opened] the building that housed them was pulled down, so we [had to close them] and we reopened Cicada on Elgin Street next door to Enoteca - which is where it is today.”

Enoteca Group now has seven restaurants: Enoteca on Elgin Street and another Enoteca on Tong Chong Street in Quarry Bay; Iberico & Co in SoHo and another in Yoho Mall in Yuen Long; Cicada and the more recently acquired gastropub The Phoenix, both in SoHo, and The Conservatory in Sai Kung.

After more than 12 years in operation, Enoteca and Cicada are still packed every lunch and dinner time. Enoteca serves fresh salads, pastas and pizzas as well as tapas for sharing, and Cicada serves pan Asian dishes and tapas. The dishes are packed with fresh ingredients, with plenty of choices for vegetarians, those wanting light healthy options, and the hungry drinking crowd wanting something more substantial.

The Conservatory has similar dishes to Enoteca on the menu. “With The Conservatory, we’ve gone back to our roots; we watch over the food closely,” says Minards, who more often than not is in the Sai Kung outlet overseeing the busy restaurant. “Everything has to be fresh, everything has to be delivered every day. The emphasis is [on] doing something fresh that we’re proud of.”

Operating as a husband and wife team over the past decade has worked, according to Minards, because she and Cooper have two separate roles within the company. “Traditionally, I have tended to do the food side of things,” Minards says, adding that she works closely with the chefs. “And we are both hands-on from a management point of view. Rob does more of the marketing side. He’s a real ideas guy so he’ll do a lot of the marketing and business development. He’s also got an eye for design.”

Other factors behind their longevity in the challenging food and beverage industry are, according to Minards, to do with the prices they charge, the locations of their outlets, and having a happy work force. “I think we’ve created our own little community; many of our staff have been with us since the beginning. We tend to think [in terms of] friendliness, so we’ve always been complimented on our staff. And our managers have come through the ranks as waiters and are now managers. The kitchen is the same - we promoted from within, so the chef at The Conservatory has been with us for eight years and the chef at Cicada, 10 years.”

Looking ahead, Minards admits rents are too high in SoHo, so the out-of-town outlets are a way for the group to expand. “We have an Iberico up in Yuen Long, it’s been there for over a year in Yoho Mall. Sun Hung Kei wanted Iberico, so we took it up there,” she says, adding that the needs of local diners in Yuen Long differ from those in Central. “[We] now do a semi-buffet lunch adopting the popular fong tai - tick a list of food at the table and you just keep eating. So it’s the first Western-style fong tai in Yoho Mall.

“We also want to do more in Sai Kung, maybe expanding into the gastropub scene there,” Minards says.