Hong Kong restaurant group pays $ 650,000 to bring staff home

Hong Kong (CNN) – For Sandeep Arora, home is the ancient city of Jalandhar in the Punjab region of India. His wife, son and parents live there, but he has not seen them since March 2020.

Amy Stott has not seen her parents – or ate at her beloved local fish and chip shop – in Manchester, England since June 2019.

Sabi Gurung, meanwhile, dreams of the breathtaking mountains of Nepal, where her mother, father and beloved dog have all been waiting for her first visit in almost two years.

But thanks to a new initiative from Hong Kong’s Black Sheep Restaurants group, they’ll all be heading home soon – all expenses, more or less, paid for.
In addition to the money for the flights and the necessary Covid test battery, they will also receive additional weeks of unpaid leave to allow them to undergo the infamous Hong Kong hotel quarantine, which the company is also paying for. (Under the city’s notorious strict entry restrictions, all returning residents spend two or three weeks, at their own expense, in quarantine at designated hotels.)

And during their stay, Black Sheep restaurants will even deliver meals to them every night at one of their 32 restaurants.

The only downside? These personnel complete one year of service upon their return.

“It seemed like the right thing to do”

Arora, Stott and Gurung are among more than 250 employees to benefit from the move, which will allow employees of all levels to return from Hong Kong to countries as far away as Argentina, Nigeria, France, Africa. South and Australia.

The program was created by the co-founders of Black Sheep Restaurant, Syed Asim Hussein and Christopher Mark. Hussein is the first to admit that the move – which will cost them at least US $ 650,000 – is a little crazy.

“It was a silly idea we had after one too many bottles of wine,” he told CNN. “The next day we spoke with our business people – they were totally against it. They are there to help us not make stupid decisions.”

Despite this advice, Hussein and Mark did so.

“Our business people are great and help us understand responsibility and risk, but that’s going to stop us from doing the right thing,” Hussein said. “It’s still a company where the margins are very slim, but especially now. I understand it was a little cheeky – but it seemed like the right thing to do.”

It is clear that the staff who should take advantage of it, since it is taking advantage of it and going home from January, totally agree.

Amy Stott, second from left, can’t wait to get home to see her family, pictured.

Courtesy of Amt Stott / Black Sheep Restaurants

Among them is Stott, who has spent the past 27 months in Hong Kong.

“It has been difficult to be away from my family, especially when we have lost loved ones,” she says.

“Just not being able to physically hug your mom and being there when she needs support has been a mental challenge. Since Covid, I have had to become more careful about spending because you just don’t know not what’s going on around the corner. The cost of quarantine plus thefts is money I just don’t have to spare. “

She will be heading to Italy next summer for a friend’s wedding, before flying to Manchester, in the north-west of England, to see her family and her dog – and enjoy some real fish and chips. .

“We have a little black schnauzer named Pippin and she loves taking long walks in the fields near my parents’ house,” says Stott. “There is nothing but rolling green hills for miles, I never thought I could miss that cold wind that chills your ears.” Then, fish and chips! It’s a tradition for my first meal every time I visit the house. Fish, chips, pea puree. “

Her family’s reaction was understandably emotional.

“My family was blown away. My dad said he already knew I was working with amazing people, but it was by far the most generous gesture he has encountered. My mom just sobbed,” says- she.

Sandeep Arora has not seen his wife and son since before the pandemic.

Sandeep Arora has not seen his wife and son since before the pandemic.

Courtesy of Sandeep Arora / Black Sheep Restaurants

Arora is a restaurant manager and sommelier at two Black Sheep restaurants across the street, the New Punjab Club – the only Punjabi restaurant in the world to have been awarded a Michelin star – and Carbone, a sister restaurant of Carbone in New York.

“I haven’t been home since the start of the pandemic, which has been very difficult for me and my family,” he says. “My son is only eight, so he’s at an age where they seem to grow so much, even in a month. Coming back to Hong Kong from India means 21 days in a hotel. Before the pandemic, I was going back. every six months. “

As a veteran of the restaurant industry, the first thing he looks forward to eating is home cooking.

“I can’t wait to eat my mother’s cooking, especially her baingan bharta with roti. It’s a simple dish of Punjabi eggplant, but I missed it so much,” he says. “It’s the first thing she does for me every time I go back.”

For many, it’s also the simple act of traveling somewhere – anywhere – outside of Hong Kong, for the first time in two years.

“The ability to come home means so much,” says Arora. “Besides being with my family, I am really happy to travel again, I want to visit all corners of Punjab, especially the mountains. We will walk along rivers, stay in resorts and just stay in the nature.”

There are also elements of working in the hospitality industry that make it all the more difficult to get away from the family, he says.

“With the holiday season approaching, there will be a lot of families in restaurants to party. It can be a bit difficult when we are away from our loved ones, but it is always like that when you are working in the hospitality industry. , even before the pandemic. For those times, we make guests our families. ”

Sabi Gurung says she can't wait to return home to Nepal and see her family - and enjoy some momos while she's there.

Sabi Gurung says she can’t wait to return home to Nepal and see her family – and enjoy some momos while she’s there.

Courtesy of Sabi Gurung / Black Sheep Restaurants

Gurung, an eight-year-old employee of Black Sheep Restaurants, who runs the operations of the group’s Paris-style steakhouse, La Vache, says being away from his family during an outbreak has raised real concerns.

“I’m from Pokhara in Nepal, a 20 minute flight from Kathmandu, a beautiful part of the world,” she says. “This is where my mom, dad and dog live.

“Obviously when you have parents over a certain age who are much more vulnerable to this virus, you worry about them. It’s just a constant preoccupation at the back of your mind. Since the vaccinations, the situation in my hometown is much better, but it’s been pretty bad for a while, not like here in Hong Kong. This opportunity to come home means so much to my parents and to me. It made me really proud. “

Local food – and views to make your heart beat – is also on her agenda.

“I craved momos (Nepalese dumplings) and samosas that we ate when my friends and I were hanging out in college. I miss those days! Then make a coffee, sit on my roof and watch the view of the Himalayas. “

Clearly, as a successful group with over 30 restaurants to its name – along with ambitious future expansion plans in London, Paris and possibly elsewhere – Black Sheep Restaurants has the size and pockets deep enough to offer employees this very special benefit.

Gurung manages the operations of the Hong Kong restaurant La Vache.

Gurung manages the operations of the Hong Kong restaurant La Vache.

Noah Fecks / Black Sheep Restaurants

Since restaurant groups are often seen as the bad guys, Hussein expects this move to be met with a healthy combination of optimism and cynicism.

“Groups are known to derive value from the people who work for the group, from the guests, from the vendors,” he says. “So it’s very important for us to continue to be the type of group that gives value – or leaves something on the table for the other parties.”

As for any staff who might try to take advantage of – say – the program?

“My instructions to our management team are not to strictly control this. Let’s bring people home. It would be horrible if it was to check the documentation. We don’t want to be draconian on the implementation, because it loses weight and value. If someone wants to go to the beach, they must need it! “

Top image: Carbone, one of the 32 Hong Kong restaurants of the Black Sheep group. Credit: Black Sheep Restaurants

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