An interview with the co-owner of Bubbledogs and Kitchen Table
Interview by Anna Sulan Masing | Illustration by Gwendoline Blosse
It is no surprise that the restaurant world is called the hospitality industry; the act of service and the art of welcoming is what keeps us coming back to our favourite places, it is what makes us feel special, and what endears us to dining out. In this column, Anna Sulan Masing takes us on a journey around the UK, speaking to the talented people who orchestrate the most memorable experiences we have at the table.
For this column Anna speaks to Sandia Chang, co-owner of Bubbledogs and Kitchen Table, where she runs the front of house for both restaurants.
Why did you join the hospitality industry?
My dad said if I like making people happy, I should either be a doctor or work in hospitality. I chose hospitality. Since I can remember I always wanted to work in this industry. While other kids in school wanted to be astronauts and ballerinas, I wanted to be a waitress. Instead of playing house, I played make-believe restaurants.
I did a bachelor degree in Hospitality Management, but after graduation I trained at The Culinary Institute of America. After cooking for a few years I realised I wanted to be more involved with restaurants as a whole. So I abandoned my dream of being the next Iron Chef and went back to front of house. I believe front of house encompasses more of the restaurant business – you need to know about the food, the kitchen, the wine and interact with guests.
Talk me through last Saturday at work?
Saturday is my only non-double day of the week, as I have less emails to go through. I get into work around 2pm, have a quick walk through the restaurant and say hello to all the staff. Because on Saturdays Bubbledogs service is non-stop, I take over from the restaurant manager for a couple hours so they can have a break. 5pm is pre-service briefing for Bubbledogs staff’s dinner service. 5:30pm is pre-service briefing for Kitchen Table’s dinner service. 6pm till 11pm I’m in service between both Bubbledogs and Kitchen Table – #bestjobintheworld!
What happens after service?
On Saturday nights we always have staff beers, and every two weeks the staff take turns to cook snacks for the team after service.
What do you like to do and where do you like to go on your days off?
It always starts with walking Paxo (my dog) on Hampstead Heath on a Sunday. Sundays are a day off for James (Knappett) and I, we usually follow the walk with drinks at The Southampton Arms. We eat out, attend a #SearleyRoasts or cook at home.
What do you enjoy about your work?
I love everything about it, but mostly the fact that every day is unpredictable. I cannot imagine not doing what I do, I would be completely lost.
"The London restaurant scene has seen the biggest changes in the last five years. Young chefs and front of house are returning from their travels around the world, bringing back fresh ideas"
You are originally from California, where else have you worked? Do you have any favourite places?
I’ve worked in all sorts of restaurants and hotels – from cheesy American diners to big hotel chains to the number one restaurant in the world. I’ve worked in LA, Napa Valley, NYC, Copenhagen and now London. Here are some of those places:
- Sheraton Hotel, Pomona as hotel front desk
- All Season’s Bistro, Calistoga as a chef
- Bouley, NYC as a chef
- Per Se, NYC from food runner to captain
- Noma, Copenhagen as a waitress
- Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, London as Junior Assistant Manager
Every single place I’ve worked was distinctive; I believe it was the best way to learn about the industry. My favourite time has to be when I worked at Per Se.
As you are based in London, how to you think the restaurant scene has developed?
The London restaurant scene has seen the biggest changes in the last five years. Young chefs and front of house are returning from their travels around the world, bringing back fresh ideas. I've also noticed more guests are travelling to London just to eat, like they did for New York or Paris years ago. Never would I have imagined it happening here.
Who are the people you admire in the industry and what makes them good at their jobs?
Thomas Keller for his enduring pursuit of perfection and being a gentleman in all aspects of the word. Darren McHugh at The Ledbury for being on the front line of advocating the difference between service and hospitality. Joanne Searley, Operations Manager for JKS, for being the strongest women I know in the industry.
"Tesco has customers, restaurants have guests"
What do you hope for the future of the industry in the UK?
For our industry here to realise that hospitality is much more than just service.
What do you never start service without?
My Dansko shoes.
Finish this sentence: the first rule of good service is…
Tesco has customers, restaurants have guests.