We had the pleasure of sitting down with Maggie Bolger, founder of Maggie & Rose, the private member’s dream club for families. She tells us how it all started, what brought it to Hong Kong and even shares some insider tips on traveling with kids to London.
Parenting is amazing, but it is life altering. Those carefree days of eating at fancy restaurants, hanging at all the cool spots and being able to meet and socialize with other interesting adults are replaced with eating at places called Hamburger Hamlet or Pizza Palace, hanging in the smelly play area in the middle of the mall and being the target of every judgmental and unforgiving non kid-friendly person within view (and earshot). Ugh! Yes, the struggle is real.
But then one woman in London, Maggie Bolger, decided to do something about it. And she started and later partnered with Rose Astor to develop what is now the much talked about and ever popular Maggie & Rose, the first UK private member’s club for kids and their parents.
Maggie & Rose is a unique private member’s club, which focuses on families with young children, giving kids a cool, creative place to play, learn, and get messy while their parents can either join in on the fun or kick back and socialize over good food or a nice cup of coffee in a comfy and beautifully decorated atmosphere. There are two sites in London, Chiswick and Kensington. And now, lucky for us- Maggie & Rose has just opened its first international location here in Hong Kong. Maggie has teamed up with Yenn Wong, Levina Li-Cadman and Natalie Chan to bring us Maggie & Rose Beach Club, located at the pulse at Repulse Bay Beach.
Maggie started the club out of what she says was a “pure selfish need”. With three kids under the age of 5, Maggie faced the dilemma that so many other parents had been facing- where can you go to take kids that’s fun for them but also somewhat comfortable and enjoyable for parents, too.
“I kept thinking, I can’t be the only person feeling like I used to live a relatively cool life, feeling like I could go to nice places to then suddenly having kids and going ‘is this it? Play gyms, dirty church halls and coffee shops?’ All the nice places would give you a funny look if you tried to hang out there all day, and you had to order an expensive lunch just to justify being in that sort of place. So I just waited and nobody did it. And then I thought, I’ve just gotta do it.”
So with a 4-year old, a 2 ½ year old, and a 14-month old, Maggie started the club. The first iteration was a small clubroom out of which Maggie taught art classes to her kids and their friends. “One of my friend’s dad had this funny little studio that he was never able to rent, so my best friend and I went in one weekend and painted it, put some nice pictures up, took a sofa out of my flat and started a club room.”
Maggie added cooking classes and then music classes later on. She eventually designed and wrote all the art and cooking classes offered at the clubs today.
Maggie grew up eating meals prepared by her mother who created them from scratch every day. “The family eating mentality is we all eat at the table together where there are lots of different dishes to choose from. I started cooking when my now 15-year old was a baby because I didn’t want to feed her the jarred stuff or kid meals at restaurants.” Maggie is a passionate and talented cook whose experimental cooking is responsible for most of the recipes used at the cooking school and on the menus at the UK clubs. As for the Hong Kong menu, Maggie has happily put that in the hands of Yenn Wong and her team at the JIA Group who have created a beautiful selection of healthy, delicious family-friendly dishes.
Maggie is a warm, down-to-earth, funny and strikingly beautiful woman whose intelligence, fearlessness and conviction to stand up for her beliefs is impressive and inspiring to any person, let alone mums. She does all she can to ensure that her children understand the importance of work ethic and earning rights and privileges.
“I worry about this generation of children coming up now and their work ethic. I’m getting CVs from kids who have graduated from university who think a job is all about holidays and not having to do stuff at the bottom and work their way up. It’s all about ‘I need to start at 9 and be finished at 5’. I want to teach my kids that there will come a point in your life when you have the right to be able to have those hours, but you have to get there, you have to prove yourself. That’s why I’m making them (my kids) be the potwash and be the assistants in the class.
“I made my eldest, Azia, do an HR internship this summer. And it was the most boring job in the world because it was adding data. And it was cut and paste and log and save, and she was like, “Oh my God, mum, this is the most boring job in the world.” And I said, “ It is, but you know what? You’ve done it. And at least you know that it was boring. And you’re going to work harder now because you know that if you don’t work hard, that’s the type of job you may have to do one day. So I’m constantly trying to reeducate them, trying to teach them that you don’t get something for nothing, and just because you have a degree does not mean you’re employable. You know, you’ve got to work hard to be more than just words on a CV. We don’t even ask for a CV in the first instance. And our thing is, don’t send us a CV, just send us a cover letter of why you want to work for us and who you are. And that is way more important to me than having a CV that could all be a complete and utter lie. And that’s what kids are taught to do to get a job. It’s not about personality. It’s not about being able to sit down and have a conversation and engage and be a likable person. They’re not teaching that in school. So I do worry.
Maggie has had the support of her husband, Sean, since day one. And Sean’s since given up his job to join his wife in full devotion to the club. Sean is outgoing, upbeat and full of personality. The two of them together are quite a dynamic duo. With both her and her husband working full-time at the club, how does Maggie juggle the demands of work and family life (remember she has four kids)?
“I’m not, considering my children think they’re orphans currently (she’s been in Hong Kong opening the club). My kids were raised in the club. Its basically their home. They know all the staff. I run my business like I run my family. And the staff are an extension of our family. Most of them come over for dinner. If they’re out late one night with us, they’ll sleep over on the sofa, so the kids are so used to the team. Some days my kids will even go into the club and help. Sometimes the managers of either Chiswick or Kensington will call and ask if Oscar is free to come in and be the potwash. He loves it. And then the girls help with the classes. Indi is very maternal and gets requested by the kids a lot. She’s like the child whisperer. She can get those crazy ass boys to calm down and fall in love with her.”
“I remember once my kids were really upset with me. I hadn’t been around. I was really busy. I can’t remember what club we were opening at the time. All three of them were in the car saying, ‘We never see you!’ And I said, ‘Fine, if it’s upsetting you that much, I’ll give it all up. If it’s ruining our lives and our family, fine. I’ll close it’. And then my kids went, ‘well what will happen to Anna? And what will happen to Bells?’ And I said, ‘Well, they’ll have to go and find another job because we’ll have to close the company. Mummy works, but it’s not just about me; all the other hundred people who work for us have jobs and families and mortgages, too. And then they suddenly went ‘Oh, ok. No, I don’t think you should stop.’ They’ve gotten used to it all.”
Since Maggie & Rose first opened its doors in Kensington in 2007, Maggie has been contacted by people from all over the world with requests to open locations from Dubai to New York. There’s even a hashtag which was started by members who had moved away from London and were missing that Maggie & Rose life- #everywhereneedsamaggieandrose. Maggie has had plans to go global for a while, and when the beachside property at the pulse was presented to her by a dream team of hard-working, successful Hong Kong women, it became clear that Hong Kong was the perfect place for their first international location.
“Setting up here has actually been really painless, and that’s due to the fact that Yenn and her team are unbelievable. The JIA team is super efficient, super great to work with. We have always had a great team, but I thought that we were the exception not the rule in terms of working dynamic. And these guys have been brilliant. I mean we shipped everything from London and coordinating just that in itself is hell. Everything’s been a little bit too easy. I think they’ve ruined me.”
The Maggie & Rose Beach Club here at Repulse Bay is a stunning space overlooking the water with gorgeous, signature Maggie & Rose interiors. It has the same look and vibe as the clubs in London, which is very important to Maggie. All the furniture has been shipped in from the UK. The Hong Kong location retains its British feel with Hong Kong charm sprinkled in.
“We do the cha chaan teng (a Chinese version of a London cafe) here which is really fun. We have the mah jong table. I’m really interested in taking local traditions and old school cultural things that are getting lost and bringing them in as learning tools and inspiration for kids. The mah jong table has been the most popular thing so far with the kids. Kids of all ages, both Western and Chinese are coming in there and sitting and checking it out. We are planning on offering some adult mah jong classes here at some point.
Speaking of classes, Maggie & Rose Beach Club will offer a variety of awesome classes in music, art and cooking during the days. Art, music and cooking, gourmet food, amazing soft play zones, a movie room, and amongst other things, a stunning roof terrace which overlooks Repulse Bay Beach. Hong Kong parents bow down, Maggie & Rose is in the house.
She’s brought a piece of London to Hong Kong, but what does Maggie like to do in her hometown? She’s given us a few of her fave spots in London…
Favorite places to shop for babies and kids in London?
“Caramel baby is amazing. Elias and Grace in North London is awesome, too. And for online, I love Alex and Alexa.
Favorite eatery to go to with the kids?
“We actually don’t eat out that much as a family at restaurants. We eat at home. I cook, and that’s the novel thing for us at the moment is actually staying in. If we have to go out, we go to places like Byron’s, which is a burger chain the kids love. It’s right next to the movie theater. They have great zucchini fries. Ottomezzo in Kensington is this cute little restaurant in the back streets run by these guys from Italy. It also has a sandwich bar right next to it where you can get toasted paninis to take up to the park. The food’s really authentic and we’ve been going there forever, so my kids have grown up on it.
Best part of the city to stay in with kids?
Kensington and Chelsea. It’s the best place to stay with kids because you have art galleries, all the parks, and it’s just out of the city. I don’t think it’s the best thing to stay in the city with kids. It’s just hectic and busy. Kensington and Chelsea is just close enough. It’s quite green. We have awesome shows there, as well. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda are playing there now. Matilda is the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen, and I ‘love Tim Minchin who created it. It’s unbelievable, clever and funny. You can stay in Kensington and Chelsea and easily get in and out without staying in the crazy.
On the “must do with kids” list for families visiting London?
“We’ve got awesome art galleries. For all ages, Tate Modern. They’ve always got something interesting going on, and it’s amazing to see how engaged the kids get in that space. It’s a massive space for them to run around in, and they do lots of cool exhibitions there. And our parks are awesome. Hyde Park, Holland Park, St. James’s Park, Regents Park, Bushy Park, Richmond Park… They can go horse riding in Richmond Park. It’s a wicked city to raise children in because there is so much to do. The kids are learning French in school and then you can go to France for the weekend. Everything’s so accessible.
Favorite date night spots in the city?
Electric Cinema on Portobello road in Notting Hill. It’s got big leather sofas and you can watch movies on the big screen. It also sells booze and food, delicious brownies and stuff. It’s a really luxe place.
With four kids, it’s crazy. So if we can ever get the in-laws to take all four kids at one time, I quite like to go to East London because it feels like another world. We book a room at Shoreditch House. You can go and not get woken up in the morning at 6 am because someone’s wet the bed or their fighting and hitting each other of the head with Legos. And you can sleep in and have brunch. And doing that once every couple of months is actually better than just going out for dinner.
Maggie & Rose is located at 301 The Pulse, 28 Beach Road, Repulse Bay
For information on membership, call 852-2638 7191, [email protected]drose.com.hk
All photos taken in the above article were taken by talented photographer Sakshi Verma of Sakshi Verma Photography.