Hong Kong – At a tender age of 16, French-American Camille Glass had to fend for herself when she was separated from her mother. She was undeterred and attended Ferrandi, one of the most prominent culinary schools in France.
She moved to Hong Kong in 2013 and joined Serge et le Phoque. The restaurant had a Michelin star for three years before closing in 2018. In the following years, she opened a private kitchen in the speakeasy style, worked for two renowned dining establishments with a large expat clientele, La Cabane and Locofama, and developed a strong expertise in natural wines. In 2017, Camille took the plunge, and alongside her business partner George Kwokm, they launched Brut!, a boutique restaurant concept that simultaneously celebrated storytelling through wine and food.
Camille’s ferocious will and tenacity to make a definitive mark in the competitive Hong Kong food scene paid off. Today, Camille is an established restaurateur, and co-founder of Side Note Hospitality Group, whose concepts include Brut!, Pondi, Fat Chad’s and Crushed Wines. All three flourishing restaurants and wine business are located within her beloved Sai Ying Pun neighbourhood in Hong Kong.
Table of Contents
- Tell us more about the pivotal moment in your career path that shaped who you are today.
- Why did you choose this particular chapter of your life?
- What happened in the end?
- Letter to my younger self
- Building Side Note Hospitality Group to where it is today must have been a roller coaster ride. Can you share some key learnings on running successful businesses in the hospitality industry?
- Lastly, out of curiosity, how did the name Side Note Hospitality Group come about?
Tell us more about the pivotal moment in your career path that shaped who you are today.
I’ve spoken a fair bit about the struggle of having to grow up too soon and the general pains of being a young woman in a militant and male dominated industry.
There’s one story that I’ve not yet shared which is that I had to go back to school, work in a pizzeria for pennies and push myself through the equivalent of my high school diploma, at the ripe old age of 29.
I did this over one year, in hopes that I would be allowed back into Hong Kong with a working visa.
It was a truly pivotal moment in my life where I decided to dig deep and trust my gut which was telling me loud and clear that my future was in Hong Kong.
…and that it was here that I would be able to make a difference in my industry. I just had to fight for it.
Why did you choose this particular chapter of your life?
I’ve had a lot of moments in my life that are testament to my overall grit, but nothing quite like this. I came to Hong Kong in 2012 with my boyfriend at the time. I came on a tourist visa which eventually led to a working holiday visa which got me through to the big life changing break-up that propelled me back to France to live with my mum who I’d been separated from since I was barely 16 years old.
I had no formal education as I’d had to drop out of school and support myself very early on in my life. I had no money, no car, nothing… except for the first time in ages, I had my mum by my side. I knew that I had a shot at getting back into Hong Kong but that it was required, for visa reasons, that I have at bare minimum the equivalent of a High School Diploma. So, I enrolled in a programme at the local college in France. I had no academic skills as I’d not properly gone to school. I studied like a maniac, having never studied in French before.
What happened in the end?
In the end I graduated with Honours. Thankfully, I had made enough money working in an awful pizzeria to hire a visa lawyer who helped get me back into Hong Kong. Less than 2 years later, in the winter of 2018 I opened our first venue, Brut!
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Letter to my younger self
Her letter to her younger self is about that pivotal moment of her life at 29 years old. At the lowest point of her life, she fought her way back to Hong Kong by going back to school to meet the minimum requirement for the visa application and worked like a dog at the local pizzeria. She was abused emotionally and verbally by both the customers and her superiors. Camille reflected, “But it brought my family closer and was without a doubt the most significant year of my life. That year changed everything for me.”
You will learn in time, that you never stop learning. You will meet bad people, but the good ones will always outweigh the bad. The world will not always be kind, but it will nudge you to be kind on its behalf. Listen to the good in you. There’s so much of it. Allow time to dream. Your dreams have value.
Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and for the things and people that you care for. You won’t always feel like you can, but I promise you, you can. You’ll need to learn to lead and when you do, lead with the heart.
The truth is that obstacles are everywhere, navigating them will be tough, much tougher than you think, but there will always be people there to help you, you just need to remember to ask for it.
You’re a woman, which, unfortunately will make your life more difficult, but it’s also your strong suit and you should wear it proudly. Be elegant, be measured and try to always look at the world with wonder. You’ve got a beautiful life ahead.
Building Side Note Hospitality Group to where it is today must have been a roller coaster ride. Can you share some key learnings on running successful businesses in the hospitality industry?
- Our community is literally everything.
- Treat the people that work for you with tremendous care. Afterall they are working for your vision and there’s no greater gift than that.
- Adapt when necessary but never at the expense of your vision.
- Know your worth and that of your team, remind yourself and them of that worth every day.
- Seek help. Mentors are an invaluable part of your evolution.
Lastly, out of curiosity, how did the name Side Note Hospitality Group come about?
It kind of came to me on a whim. I wanted a word which expressed that we were not here to dominate the conversation. That our group would much rather accompany the city’s F&B journey, imprinting our philosophies gently on the people who were curious enough to come see what we were about. There are a lot of loud voices out there, we choose to have a quieter and intentional approach with purpose that can be felt when you’re in our venues.
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Side Note Hospitality Group is a Hong Kong-based hospitality group founded in 2018 by Camille Glass and George Kwok. Together they have harmonised the languages of food and wine spoken in both eastern and western cultures bringing something brand-new to the table. Concepts include Brut!, Pondi, Fat Chad’s and Crushed Wines.
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