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ANNA WANG Podcast EP3 with Silver Pearl Venues – Re-imagining a venue steeped in history and tradition

Podcast Transcription:

[00:00:00]

Anna Wang:                Welcome back, everyone. Anna Wang here, doing our podcast episode number 3. So for those who are following us, welcome back. Thank you for listening. So hopefully, over the last two podcast episodes, you’ve engaged in some of the reasons why I started, how I started, and all the difficulties and everything that’s kind of built to where I am today. So what we’re doing in this episode is actually introducing a different aspect of what I do. So for the last, probably the last 12 months or so, we’ve actually been working on events other than weddings. We’ve actually been doing redesigning cafes and restaurants and venues and just making cafes look really pretty. So, one of which a lot of people probably have been to and have known of is Social Hideout. So, we actually did so much florals for Nader. And as a stylist, I was really really excited to actually engage and actually do something different with venues and things like that. So then as we kind of go through the process, we have then played with other smaller venues and smaller cafes and restaurants to create some other little floral pieces and flower walls and things like that. And probably one of the most exciting projects we’ve worked on most recently is actually the redesign and rebrand of Silver Pearl. So, as we kind of go through the process of how we came to this project and why we were actually captured to do this project, we’ve actually got our special guest Hanh To who actually is the general manager and sales manager at Silver Pearl Venues. And what we’re going to cover with Hanh is actually why she chose us to recreate the vision of Silver Pearl and why she chose Raging Monk to actually redesign the brand. So welcome, Hanh, to our podcast.

Hanh To:                     Hi Anna, thank you for having me.

Anna Wang:                So, just a little bit — Introduce yourself a little bit to our guests and our audience. You’re a working mother, the family, you’re part of the family of Silver Pearl, how you came about and falling to this position. Just kind of explain to our guests who you are, what you do, and why you’re doing so that way they get an understanding of what it’s all about.

Hanh To:                     Well, Anna, I am a working mother of three and my background is basically I’m a chef by trade. So, been in the industry for eighteen years now. Yeah, eighteen years in the industry. Silver Pearl is a family-run business with five very hard-working ladies behind it, one of whom is my mother-in-law. So, I got into this position when it was to a point where we needed and upgrade of venue to showcase what our core business is about, the food, the services. And to do that, we thought we need to modernise, reimagine the whole venue to be within the time of modern modernising our whole structure. And there wasn’t anyone else that I could think of that could be able to execute the job properly, to redesign the venue besides you yourself, because you understand the dynamic of our location geographically and you grew up in the area. So, you understand the actual food and the background of the whole Asian banquet set up as well. So, engaging you was a no-brainer because we’ve seen the work that you’ve done. We’ve seen how you execute every single wedding that you’ve already designed, style and it was just a matter of bringing you in, letting you know what we needed to do, and just let your creative mind take you and us to where we are today.

Regarding Raging Monk, from the first initial meeting with him, we already knew exactly what we wanted from Bailey himself because he himself already saw that vision before, I think, you and myself can see it. He knew what was lacking in the area. He knew what we needed for the next generation to keep going back to us. So, he already started all the plan even before we sat down, have our sketches, and have a mood board going with you. Bailey already had that vision in his mind. So, it was a no-brainer having him on board as well. And so far, it has been just a breeze working with him. He knew exactly where Silver Pearl want to be, how we want to capture the audience, and how we want to represent ourselves as a brand.

Anna Wang:                Yeah. He’s a great marketer.

Hanh To:                     He is —

Anna Wang:                He’s got vision.

Hanh To:                     — brilliant.

Anna Wang:                It’s pretty crazy. And sometimes my husband —

Hanh To:                     Sometimes a little too crazy.

Anna Wang:                — is a bit too crazy.

Hanh To:                     Sometimes a little too crazy but you got to be different.

Anna Wang:                You got to be outside of the square to see —

Hanh To:                     — to achieve what he has. And in a space of three months, he has achieved a lot for Silver Pearl and we’re so happy with the result that we’re getting so far.

Anna Wang:                Yeah. So in terms of now that you’re doing Silver Pearl, are you full time there?

Hanh To:                     I am full time there. Sometimes I feel like I actually live there.

Anna Wang:                So how do you balance — Who picks up the kids then and —

Hanh To:                     So, it’s a tag between — We’ve got a big family. So, on days where it’s a bit too chaotic, we have clients coming in and out and I’m not able to pick up my daughter from kindergarten, my mother-in-law, she’s one of the owners of Silver Pearl, so she comes in or one of the auntie would come in and pick her up. And vice versa, if I need to leave early just to pick my kids up, they would come in and help me execute the jobs and sit down with the clients. So, it’s a family-orientated business where it’s not just about the numbers to us. It’s the experience, the memory that we will be involved in creating for our clients.

Anna Wang:                Yeah. I think that’s one thing that I actually saw and we’re getting to know yourself and the family and the five aunties. I think, that’s what I actually kind of really brought out. It’s all about family and it’s all about how everyone works together and how everyone puts everything together and that’s what really attracted me to you guys as well. And we don’t really take on these type of works every day and all the time. We actually are quite choosy with who we work with because we also have a lot of relationships with a lot of venues in Sydney and we want to make sure that everyone is taken care of and we do our best for every venue while we work there.

So to do a renovation of a venue, they probably have a lot of Chinese whispers where I probably am an owner there or, “Oh my god, she’s redesigning something.” And it’s quite touchy. This is probably one of those touchy topics from back then when we actually did this, a year ago. So, a little bit different whereas we were an investor, but this time we’re actually being engaged as a designer. So as working with you, you would have seen and heard how things kind of came about from the previous projects to now and everything. So working with me, how does it really impact your branding and everything? So, do you feel that you’ve created new relationships from the industry now that we’ve had? The networking, the referrals, the word of mouth. Like, how do you feel working with us together as a unit and not just a designer that I just design and leave but, I’m actually is kind of still in there and it’s really lovely to have the oldest auntie actually say like, “Our home is open to you.”? And it’s really blessed.

Hanh To:                     Well, that’s how family is about. We come from a very big family. So for us, it’s not about just engaging you as a designer. And once we did that and we see the work and the commitment that you and Bailey put into the project, it was actually more than what we could have actually imagined. We saw how you treated the place as if it was your own, the hard work, the hours that you pour in as well. It wasn’t just a business. You treat it as one of your little babies. And that’s what is different between hiring another designer and hiring you. You don’t just come in, show a design, expect an architect to draw it up, and that’s it, just leave. You came in, every single detail was overseen and overlooked by you. Hence, why we have that much trust in everything that you’ve recommended for the venue, from the lights, to the colour of the paint, to the finer details of the strip on the bar, because we’ve seen how much passion you’ve put into the venue. Especially like you and Bailey grew up in the area so you knew what was missing and you knew what Silver Pearl could offer. And it was just more about keeping that legacy of 25 years business going on. We are not in it to create a short-term business, and you can see that. And that’s what the Ann Wang brand did represent. You’re there to create memories, create a relationship with your clients. Not just, “Here, this is my project. See you. Thank you very much.” And now, you’re basically a part of the extended family to us.

Anna Wang:                Thank you. That’s really lovely.

Hanh To:                     So, like you said, auntie is like, “Our home is open. Come see us anytime. Bring the kids. So, in the short amount of three months, it just shows you guys, you and Bailey, as a unit, as a team and how much we have learned to trust your work, trust your instinct, and trust your vision. And to continue to have this relationship going with you, we know that when we ask of you on any other any other project, you put more than 110% of your work in there.

Anna Wang:                Yeah. I mean, that’s what we kind of always do. Like, we don’t do anything 10% or 20%. It’s always 100%.

Hanh To:                     Well, it shows in the product that you’ve put out.

Anna Wang:                So, for those that actually haven’t been to Silver Pearl, it’s actually probably a really nice experience for you to actually go and have dinner, because they’re open for dinner. So pretty much every day of the week, during the week, and it’s just Wednesdays they close just to have a break for sanity. But, I mean, seriously for anyone that really would like, I really highly recommend to have dinner there.

Hanh To:                     It’s not just wedding banquet venue. Yes, we are exceptional at those banquet set. But, even for dinner-wise. Like, our chef has over 30 something years of experience. His dinner is very hard to leave, like home hearty meal. Not those what you can get in just like a chain restaurant. You can’t get the same dish that our chef would make in another restaurant because it’s not, let me see, like a franchise. Everything is cooked from his heart and soul. So, dinner time, he comes in and — For example, we got a regular family coming in twice a week because they’re working family. Mom and dad’s working late. It’s hard for them to make dinner. They live around the area. They come in. They always have the oxtail hotpot which is our signature. And the son is allergic to seafood. Our waiters would always remember that and we will put in an order for the food. We just need to tell the chef, “Oh, it’s this family.” He would know. No seafood, no greens, no shallots because the kid doesn’t like it. So, it’s the final details, the final — Yeah, like it’s the final details that makes —

Anna Wang:                Yeah. It’s not just the client that comes in and out. You’ve got such regular clients coming in.

Hanh To:                     That is correct.

Anna Wang:                Very family-orientated. So, just to touch base a little bit more about yourself, you said you were a chef.

Hanh To:                     I was trained as a chef.

Anna Wang:                Yeah. So, how did you become a chef and why are you in the position of the Venue Manager now. Like, how did you get into this position?

Hanh To:                     Like every Asian family, you’re expected to go to uni. I was never really a bookworm. So, as soon as HSE was over, I wanted to follow my passion, which was very hard 18 years ago for a female to be in the industry which is mainly dominated by males. So, I trained really hard to become the chef. However, once my daughter came along, it becomes really hard for a female to juggle a career in the hospitality industry let alone being a chef in a male-dominant industry. So, I had to put that on hold.

So, after two more kids, now I was working in an office. It was good regularly. It’s a 9:00 to 5:00 but at the same time, it was missing something. I was missing the passion of the industry. So when the aunties decided, okay, it’s time for a change, they approached me and go, “What do you think? How do you feel?” And it was an opportunity that I couldn’t say no to. Being back into the hospitality industry was probably one of the best decision I’ve made especially when you’re taking on such a challenging role to transform 25 years of history and still keeping the tradition in the cuisine and just modernising it. It’s just reimagining the whole new look for the future. And so when my mom and auntie approaches me to get into the position of the general manager, I thought, why not? It’s a challenging job but because it’s something that I’m very passionate about, I just balanced it out by just –I don’t know but I have a lot of help.

Anna Wang:                Yeah.

Hanh To:                     As much as I want to say I can do it all, I do have a lot of help and that helps me balance out the work life.

Anna Wang:                Yeah. Yeah. And especially the fact that you don’t have the experience of venue manager or general manager before. You’re pretty much learning on the spot and doing the sales and doing everything. So, as you go, are you finding it like quite challenging into trying to get people to understand this, you know what, there’s modern way, there’s a new way, and having different packages and stuff set that are out of the norm. How are you finding people really accepting all of that or is it a really hard change?

Hanh To:                     At the beginning, it’s a bit of reluctant to understand, especially the older generation. But, I did my oldest daughter’s wedding here. It was very different. So, it’s just like trying to let them see the different way, a more easier way to book in a function. There’s less — You know, the way we are offering a service of helping them plan the wedding instead of you just book in the venue and off you go, you do the rest. So once they see that they’re there right now, they’re not booking us just for the food, they’re booking us to help guide them on planning their big day. So convincing the older generation was a bit difficult at first, but once you explain to them, break it down, they need to understand the different packages. And especially with Silver Pearl, we cater packages, personalise, everything to suit each bride and groom. The younger generation is now they’re much more relaxed and confident in our service knowing that we’re going to give them a much more modernised approach to it.

Anna Wang:                Yes. It’s modernised with really good traditional which, in the industry, is missing.

Hanh To:                     Though the most common thing that they always comment is, “Oh, it is very Instagramable.” It’s all about how to take a picture for the Instagram now and which, I think, that’s what Silver Pearl is offering them. You have the great food to keep the parents happy and you’ve got the visual image to post it up on Instagram, social media.

Anna Wang:                You’ve got chandeliers everywhere now. [crosstalk-00:17:58]

Hanh To:                     We’ve got amazing chandeliers.

Anna Wang:                There’s just chandeliers everywhere.

Hanh To:                     That is correct.

Anna Wang:                So for anyone who really haven’t seen it, come, really. I highly recommend just to come pass and have a look.

Hanh To:                     We got 14 chandeliers around the whole venue.

Anna Wang:                So, I believe there was like — We did the industry launch and we did a public launch. How did you feel that way and how did you find having that whole event and bring having all these new people come and see the venue? How did you feel?

Hanh To:                     It was so — It was a shock to my system actually. With the industry, I didn’t realise how big these wedding hospitality, wedding venue type of thing is like. Like this is my first time in the role helping operating a wedding venue, to see the amount of vendors coming in, the amount of stylists, and suppliers. We’ve never really been exposed to these, let’s just say, new businesses that started. Like I said, 25 years ago, the wedding venue is just here. You book your packages, that’s it, off you go. And now, it’s like, now we can collaborate with all these new vendors offering stress-free planning to the bride and groom and it was real big shock to me to see that there’s this much option now compared to what they were getting before.

Anna Wang:                Exactly. Exactly. Those mothers were probably saying that, “Oh, when I got married like 30 years ago, I go to a venue, everything is included. The photographer, the videographer, everything. And now, you just got to source everything yourself.” But it’s really crazy. So, what were you trying to bring in?

Hanh To:                     But it’s more personalised now. Before, 23 years ago, everything included. But you’re getting everything the same as everyone. Like your wedding day, if you look at a picture for, to say, my parents or your parents are probably got have the same location to taking pictures, the same decoration.

Anna Wang:                The Urban Gardens.

Hanh To:                     Yes. So, it’s all the same. But now, everything is personalised. Most bride, they want the whole day to reflect them. And they’re probably not reflecting anyone else. So, that’s why —

Anna Wang:                And you’re finding that — Because you guys haven’t dealt with a lot of different nationality weddings, it’s like mostly Asians and things, so how do you feel about now that you opening the doors to actually different nationalities, the Lebanese. Potentially, you will got the Indians, and potentially maybe even some of the Europeans. Like, how exciting would that be for you to actually open the doors to something else? You’ve probably engaged in some inquiries that are Indians and all of that. So, have they come in to see you yet or —

Hanh To:                     It’s actually, to be honest, is quite scary because it’s a new playground for us. We don’t know what their culture’s custom is. But it’s an amazing experience to learn because now we know that we are capable of taking on these diverse wedding. And it’s hard to really explain it to word but exciting at the same time because now we know that we were capable of doing all of this. We’re capable of having a traditional Hindu wedding and we are confident that we can cater to them now. Before, it was very scary. We can’t accept any of that. It’s very limited to the venue. It was just Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian. Now, having the launch night, especially the public as well, has opened up the door to so many different cultures and nationality to come in. And they’re not just looking at Silver Pearl as an Asian venue. They’re looking at as a venue on its own.

Anna Wang:                On its own, yeah. So, as you kind of see, there’s a totally different ballgame there. What’s the vision for Silver Pearl? What’s it like moving forward to a family business to such a professional ground of — where do you think Silver Pearl will — As a vision for the future, what are you thinking? Do you know what the plans are or anything?

Hanh To:                     Oh, I can’t really disclose in details but there is a lot of talk already in maybe Silver Pearl two, three, or four depending on what are you doing, Anna.

Anna Wang:                It’s pretty crazy. I have to redesign, I say. So, there is talk Silver Pearl with the aunties and staff are thinking of opening up number two?

Hanh To:                     They’re in the talk to opening up number two.

Anna Wang:                Okay. Very exciting.

Hanh To:                     The location is still quite under the wrap at the moment. However, it’s happening.

Anna Wang:                Beautiful. So, that way you’re going to kind of blossom a bit more of the different cultures and things like that.

Hanh To:                     Yes.

Anna Wang:                It’s really exciting to see because then, obviously, I’ll probably get involved with the design process and marketing it also. Who knows where that will take us but it’s very exciting.

Hanh To:                     We don’t know where it’s going to take us but I know it’s going to take us to great places.

Anna Wang:                Amazing. Really amazing.

Hanh To:                     It’s something that I’ve always wanted to push the auntie’s in doing. So now, we have the opportunity and we’ve got the visionary to push it there and we’ve got the crazy monk to help us achieve it.

Anna Wang:                So pretty much what we did at Silver Pearl Cabramatta is kind of like a small challenge of the entire process of what we did there. We’ve learnt a lot. I think between all of us, we learnt good trait is, bad trait is, what to look out for next and things like that. So, be a lot more weary in how we design and how we execute in the next projects. But in all of that, you just got to still remember you’re running a business as a mother and balancing everything. So, it’s really interesting having the challenges that we face together. So, what’s your biggest challenge that you feel coming into this role with the whole imagination? What’s the biggest challenge?

Hanh To:                     I think the biggest hurdle or the biggest challenge is trying to get everyone to see the same vision as you. Trying to get them to understand to move away from the traditional way of customer service and trying to show them that, now, it’s not about, okay, you just got the date for them, the venue, and the food, and that’s it. Now, you’ve got to give them the experience. It’s not about just the food, just the availability now. It’s the experience. It’s when they walk away from booking a wedding with us. We want to impact them that they would recommend us to family, to friends —

Anna Wang:                Yeah. Word of mouth.

Hanh To:                     — to bringing their first kid’s birthday, to come and do the function there. So, the biggest challenge is trying to let the older generation understand that it’s not all about just the food anymore. We need to give them the service, the extra mile to get them to have that memory, have that step, that satisfaction which a lot of the venue in Cabramatta or even on local area of Fairfield, Bankstown and all that, it’s lacking.

Anna Wang:                Yeah. 100%. It’s just like restaurants. When you go to a restaurant, they may have good food but really bad service. And we always remember that and we never go back.

Hanh To:                     I had a lot of brides coming in and go and cancelling out from other venue just because they feel like every time they go in, it’s just a number to them. They don’t feel valued. They don’t feel like they’re being looked at as a —

Anna Wang:                — valuable client something.

Hanh To:                     — a valuable client. [unintelligible-00:26:06] “I’m just another number in a month, one of the weekend for them.” So hence, why they decided to turn to Silver Pearl and they’re being very happy with the service that’s offered and the communication that we’ve kept up with them. And every time we spoke to them, it’s never this is wedding of this date. It’s by name, first name. And when they come in, we have the just that final details. The drink that they like is ready for them. If they come after work, we know that’s got to be — they’re hungry so we have little snack and food for them. So, it’s a small little details in the customer service now that we’re offering them that’s showing that this is the new Silver Pearl. We’re not about you coming in, book us, pay us and go. It’s you’re coming in experience with us.

Anna Wang:                Yeah. Because they now understand on the wedding day, you’re going above and beyond.

Hanh To:                     That is true.

Anna Wang:                So, it’s really exciting there is a massive vision for Silver Pearl and all of that. So, let’s kind of like — Because you got a lot of work to do, you got a lot of clients to see, a lot of contracts to probably push out. So, let’s kind of call it for the day and thank you for joining us, Hanh. And I’m sure if you actually have any clients come through that actually listen to the podcast, it’s really exciting. You might have some people go, “Girl, I heard on the podcast and that was really good.” So hopefully, the vision for Silver Pearl pulls through to the next level sooner rather than later, and then we can actually continue the journey with you. Thank you.

Hanh To:                      Thanks for having me today, Anna. I really love working with you and I know the future is going to be very bright for us.

Anna Wang:                Have a good day. I’ll speak to you later.

Hanh To:                     See you.

Anna Wang:                All right. Bye.

Hanh To:                     Bye.

[End of Recording-00:28:22]