Having Tea with Matt Reid
Matt Reid talks about creativity, problem-solving, and environmentalism without a pause, effortlessly hopping from subject to subject in the same way he hops from project to project.
February 06, 2017
This column is actually called "having coffee with…", but when Matt Reid and I meet at 9.30 in the morning at Emquartier's Dean & Deluca he asks if I'd like a cup of tea. I don't drink coffee and Matt being English --although he seems to be much more of a citizen of the world-- a conversation over tea it is.
Born in the UK, Matt spent his time growing up in both his home country and Barbados, his father having moved the family to the Caribbean island for its tropical climate. When Matt went back to the UK to study, his entrepreneurial and creative sides started to manifest themselves. Unimpressed with the parties that were going on, Matt and lifetime friend and business partner Malcolm Wood started throwing their own parties, making them bigger and more successful than those of the competition. "One rule was that we had to spend all the profit we made on the next party," Matt explains. It didn't take long before he figured out that he had a penchant for making people enjoy themselves.
After university, Matt thought it was time to grow up and get a real job but he quickly found himself unable to deal with the corporate environment. So he sold his car and moved to China, a country where he saw more opportunity for a young entrepreneur like himself. He took a crash course in Chinese, organized parties, was told off by the Chinese mafia, and eventually started selling vodka with a British business partner. Instead of just selling bottles of vodka to nightclubs, however, he decided to sell a whole party concept along with it.
Dean & Deluca
This innovative way of selling vodka proved successful, yet Matt was unsatisfied with just selling vodka and wanted to rethink the whole nightclub experience. He wanted to move away from the typical black box, which led to the creation of a hybrid entertainment concept in Shanghai's trendy Xintiandi district: a crazy amalgam of dessert, nightlife, and sushi rolled into one. The venture eventually failed, Matt says, because it was ahead of its time.
Failure works to motivate Matt, and when old friend Malcolm Wood called upon him to help set up shop in Hong Kong, it didn't take long for him to come over. This partnership eventually led to Maximal Concepts, a hospitality group that now owns and operates eighteen restaurants, including their flagship: Mott 32, a restaurant that successfully broke the highly traditional mold of dim sum in Hong Kong and would become the first high-end Chinese restaurant to be franchised from East to West.
Breaking molds is something Reid lives for: he succeeds by zigging when the world zags. He looks for a problem and then figures out how to solve it using insightful and creative solutions that most people wouldn’t think of. Whether it was conceiving the idea for wristbands as party advertisements or developing showroom concepts for Mercedes, each of his projects carry the mark of a creative entrepreneur who rejects the status quo.
Galician smoked beef fat candle, sea salt and ciabatta at Blue - Butcher & Meat Specialist, Hong Kong | Image: Courtesy of Maximal Concepts Ltd
Foam Cheesecake, biscuits ice cream, blueberries dried meringue at Blue in Hong Kong. | Image: Courtesy of Maximal Concepts Ltd
His current challenge is working to reduce plastic usage by developing a Plastic Conscious movement (www.plasticconscious.com). He's on the board of directors of Plastic Oceans Foundation, an awareness project centered on a documentary film (A Plastic Ocean) that focuses on our polluted oceans and impact on marine life. Apart from helping to produce and promote the film, Matt is also facing another epic challenge: rethinking the iconic Dean & Deluca. It’s a litmus test of his abilities: a project that excites him, but one that he can’t reveal much about at this time except that he aims to reduce plastic usage at both Dean & Deluca and his own restaurants.
When the subject of the future comes up, Matt says that he wants to make Bangkok his permanent home. He lives here now and enjoys the city because the climate reminds him of his childhood in Barbados. He also praises the city's creative scene. Ideally, he would like to occupy himself solely with creative work by the age of forty. While this seems unlikely for a man engaged in so many business projects, it is a vision we can agree with.
Quick Coffee with Questions:
Q: How do you take your coffee?
A: “I drink espressos because I like to taste my coffee and because, in my extremely busy life, I can use the caffeine uptake.”
Q: If you were a food, what type of food would you be?
A: "A blonde Galician ox. The Galician ox is an animal that works on the farm for fourteen years, after which the meat is delicious from being dry aged.”
While most interviewees would mention a dish, Matt’s answer is more a food product. Nonetheless, his rationale makes sense: the analogy implies that Reid loves working hard but would like to be enjoyed after all is said and done. Something we can definitely agree with.