Hoi Tin, the Zeedijk bakery known for its steaming buns showcased in their shop window, has been active for exactly 45 years this year. Having once started as a tiny bakery right beside the He Hua temple, it has grown out to be a renowned restaurant in the city of Amsterdam. However, we all know these are turbulent times right now for restaurant owners. Lots of Chinese family businesses are currently struggling.
Wanting to support these businesses and help shine a light on their unique stories, Warrior Shanghai has developed a limited edition Hoi Tin clothing line. Warrior Shanghai was able to get a behind the scenes look into the family business Hoi Tin. We sat down with Ethan and Susan, both who are currently running the restaurant.
Lots of authentic Chinese companies are found to be true family businesses. We were wondering how you feel about this way of running a business?
Susan: I like it very much.
Ethan: I think that’s really a cultural thing. Lots of Asian restaurants are run by families. I think it’s a part of our culture that it’s common for children to take over their parents’ business.
So it’s always expected for the business to be kept in the family – does this ever cause issues?
Ethan: Well, sometimes it’s not so nice to get frustrated with each other when mistakes are made. When there’s friction or a disagreement, because we’re family it can automatically feel a little more personal. But generally speaking, I do think it’s easier to run a business like this, because we all know each other through thick and thin.
The Zeedijk feels like a very unique neighborhood, would you say it’s gone through many changes in recent years?
Susan: I do think more Chinese restaurants have been disappearing, at least from our street. Next to Chinese restaurants I’m seeing lots more Asian restaurants pop up. Like Vietnamese, Thai and Japanese places.
Ethan: Also, it’s all getting lots more popular, the Asian culture. Take YOYO for instance, down the road, selling bubble tea. When I was 12 years old you could only find one place selling that, now it’s everywhere throughout the city. It’s a huge thing for the youth right now. I’m now also seeing them in our restaurant quite a lot, holding those cups. And don’t forget the latest Chinese culinary trend; hot pot restaurants. For a long time we never would have thought the traditional Chinese kitchen could become so popular in the Netherlands, but here we are.
Do you specifically cater to the new, young, Zeedijk visitors?
Susan: We’ve always tried to continue what my father originally started.
Ethan: But we did start with social media and Instagram, which I think is quite important for our generation. But in the kitchen not much has changed, because that would move us away from our ambition. In the end, we are still a traditional restaurant.
2020 has been a very difficult year, especially for the restaurant industry. How have you experienced the past year? Has Covid impacted your business a lot?
Ethan: Well it hasn’t been easy, of course. As you can see, the streets are almost empty, there’s hardly any tourists around. The Red Light District is usually mostly a touristic area. We’re a relatively large restaurant in the Zeedijk area, which means we’ve always been a pretty popular place for hosting large groups of people. But now with COVID it’s exactly those groups that are seen as a threat.
In China they seem to have a better grip on the virus nowadays. Are they any lessons we could learn from them, to be able to hopefully get some eased restrictions here as well?
Ethan: Yeah, it’s tough. The way China is handling it wouldn’t be easy to apply here. When you arrive in China you have to go into a mandatory 2 week full-on quarantine. I don’t think you could really do that here.
Susan: Most people here are a bit more attached to their freedom.
Ethan: I have the feeling there are definitely instances in China where you’re being tracked. There’s lots more cameras and many things are not allowed on the internet. The people there are used to a cerain lifestyle that I don’t think would work here.
Would you give up parts of your freedom if that would mean the end of the lockdown?
Ethan: Sure, for a short amount of time, but not for too long. We obviously don’t like to hang tight and do nothing. I’m also an Amsterdammer, and we just love our freedom.
Do you feel like the virus has caused negative associations with China? Have you noticed any of this?
Ethan: In the beginning you definitely noticed a difference. Because COVID originally came from China, people assumed that in Chinese restaurants you’d run a higher risk of contracting the virus. I guess quick conclusions and prejudice are always going to be around to some extent, but we’re trying not to really let it get to us.
Why not? I could see how it could be really frustrating.
Ethan: Well, I guess at times it is, but it’s not like we’re the only ethnicity that’s dealing with prejudice, right?
That’s true, but isn’t it also true we don’t usually hear lots of backlash from the Chinese community?
Ethan: Yeah, I do find that odd at times, but I think this largely has to do with our mentality. Most Chinese people came to the Netherlands to work, and a large part is still focused on that and doesn’t typically spend too much time with other issues.
Susan: I do think that’s more a historic thing however. Nowadays you do hear other sounds from the community. Previously lots of Chinese came to the Netherlands to work, but now many more are actually coming here to study. The Chinese economy is so large now and, in many ways, has grown to be even more modern than here.
Ethan and Susan, thanks! The Warrior Shanghai x Hoi Tin collection will be available on warrior-shanghai.com starting 26th of December. With every item a €5 coupon for the bakery is included, so find out why we’re so fond of them!