This month, we’re catching up with our city-slicker Sassy Mama Joleen Soo to get the latest on Hong Kong’s booming events and F&B scene. As the Marketing and Business Development Director of Buzz Concepts and Buzz Agency, Joleen is well-known in the city’s social circles, and with a little 2-year-old now running around at home, life is pretty non-stop! A stylite, foodie and dedicated mama all in one, Joleen took a break from her busy schedule to give us the lowdown on Hong Kong’s hottest events, best tables in town, and life at home with her beautiful baby boy, Gabriel (soon to be an older brother!).
Are you from Hong Kong originally?
I was born in Singapore but raised in Hong Kong, where I’ve lived for over 18 years. Out of all the wonderful places I’ve lived (NYC, Boston, San Francisco, Singapore), it’s really the only place that feels like home.
What was your career path before landing at Buzz Concepts?
I was actually working in media for over 10 years before Buzz – film and television was my family’s bread and butter and what made up our table conversations for most of my childhood. After working for so many years, I decided that I wanted to break out and work in more of a lifestyle industry, which led to an amazing few years at LUXE City Guides – a job that taught me how to travel well. This was followed by Moet Hennessy Diageo – a job that taught me never to accept bad Champagne (haha!) and finally Buzz Concepts and Buzz Agency where I am now!
Have you always been passionate about F&B and events?
Well, like anyone living in big cities I’ve always loved trying new restaurants, making sure I was at all the hottest lounges, bars and clubs. Although I absolutely love to eat, I can barely operate a toaster, so I really admire establishments that not only create a wonderful environment to dine, but can deliver delicious inventive food on a consistent basis.
And who doesn’t love events? Often you are there with friends, drink champagne, eat delicious food and enjoy exclusive entertainment. Hong Kongers are incredibly spoiled when it comes to events. There’s usually a few going on each week and usually quite lavish. I’m a nut for branding in general and I love the immersive experience a well thought out event has on a potential customer. A meticulously executed event has all the potential to make people completely fall in love with a brand.
What are some of the future plans for Buzz? Most exciting thing you’ve worked on?
Pradasphere was definitely one of the most memorable events for me. Everything from the travelling exhibit of archive pieces to the industrial pop-up party space to Lorde’s incredible performance really set this one apart. Buzz is always working on new concepts and events. Our PR department, Buzz Agency, is extremely active and we’re working with all the best brands around the world. That’s very exciting.
What do you love most about your job?
The creative crazy team! This is also an amazing place to work as a mother – the flexibility and understanding from the executive team would be unheard of in my previous corporate jobs.
What do you dislike most about your job?
We have to work late when there are events on. During busy times I might not see my family for 3 days!
Most difficult aspect of working in Hong Kong’s F&B scene?
The cutthroat competition. Everyone opening new establishments are really on top of their game.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
DELEGATE! Don’t sweat the small stuff! I also hate squeezing too many things into one day so I never feel bad about spreading out my schedule. It’s so much more relaxing….
I wish I had more time for…
My husband. We do take a number of “adult” trips but I’d like to be able to dedicate more quality time to him overall. I actually have lots of time for myself which may sound selfish, but I am someone that’s always fared best with lots of me time.
I always feel saner after….
Massages. Oh, and making sure I look put together.
Favourite activity with the kids in Hong Kong?
Picnics and riding the star ferry! We also bring our son to the Ocean Park aquarium all the time and it doesn’t seem to get old for him.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Hong Kong?
What are those? Ok just kidding – Hotel restaurants are all generally very accommodating. I love the brunch at Bloom cause there’s a fun kids play area (maybe more parents on the staff have influenced this!) and they bring the food to you. I also love going to the Grand Hyatt’s One Harbour Road for Sunday family dinner.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
We took our son to Melbourne over CNY and it was incredibly family-friendly, even the fancy restaurants! After that, probably Singapore because it’s a mecca for kids entertainment and convenience. We travel loads with our son and I honestly can say Capetown was an incredible adventure for him.
Activity that I do not love to do but do it anyway because my kids love it…
Reading books about trucks. And watching Nemo – over, and over, and over again.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Adult-only trips! And no co-sleeping although I’m sure it’s not for everyone. My husband and I have our best chats right before bed!
Favourite date-night restaurants?
Ronin and Kishoku.
Can you talk us through your career pre and post babies? How did you get back into the swing of things after having children?
I would say the first 6 months back at work were the hardest for me. Suddenly I felt the guilt of not being with my son, and then not spending time with friends, and then not enough time at work. I just couldn’t figure out how to balance it all.
As I started to get the hang of working parenthood, life became a study on priorities. Gym over drinks, sometimes drinks over rushing home. Sometimes it was home and that was the only place I wanted to be. It was whatever I felt that I needed at that time. My instincts would help me make sure I did what I needed to do!
How has having kids changed the way you define work?
It has to complement my life rather than define it. I know I need to contribute to this world in a commercial sense – it validates a lot of what I think is important about myself. However I will no longer work 14 hour days or entertain late into the night. Work is about productivity during work hours. After that it’s about family and friends time.
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and working other mamas in Hong Kong? Especially for those looking to go into F&B?
F&B has loads of amazing part time positions! Social media and marketing roles, freelance editorial, PR etc.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
You can’t be perfect at everything – not even close.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
Perhaps that it’s ok not to do everything yourself? I work so my son’s nanny does most of the night soothing. And make the decisions that work for you (like I wasn’t that into breastfeeding etc but I totally advocate making your own choice). Don’t let anyone Mama-shame you!
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Cooking – I see some of the amazing creative food that other Mom’s whip up without a second thought (cue Samantha Lee). I stress about how to slice bread.
My most humbling mama moment was…
When my heart crushed with overwhelming emotion when my son first started laughing. Just to let you know my sisters sometimes call me the Ice Queen.
One thing I won’t sacrifice as a mama is…
Handbags, jewellery and clothes that are just a little too fancy for my lifestyle! I’ve given up on high heels already.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Our wonderful family trips where we discover all kinds of funny things about each other!
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
Is he breathing? And getting into school….
Bedtime is always smoother when…
I know I previously said co-sleeping wasn’t for us but when we travel our son sleeps with us and I have to admit it’s so much easier. He pats my arm a bit then sleeps like a log.
Even when my child has a family of his/her own, I’ll still…
Totally smother him with love.
My favourite moment of the day is…
Right before bedtime when Gabriel insists on “Again!”. One more book, one more cuddle, one more monster growl…
Beautiful pictures of Joleen and Gabriel courtesy of the talented Sakshi Verma at Sakshi Verma Photography, and you can check out the rest of our That Mama hall of fame here.