This month, we’re talking to Roger De Leon, the man behind one of our fave lunch spots Little Burro! Other than drumming up a mean burrito bowl (we seriously can’t get enough!), Roger works tirelessly behind the scenes on Little Burro’s cool design and branding and is Dad to adorable 2-year-old son, Phoenix. And that’s all when he’s not DJing on the side… Check out how he rolls in our That Papa article…
Can you tell us a bit about your background? What brought you to Hong Kong?
My background is in Industrial Design and I was the creative director for a studio in New York. We had manufacturing in China, so I came out with this company to try to expand the studio and help with production. It was supposed to only be for a year, but we all know how that goes.
How did you find out your wife was pregnant?
Kate came in one day and just told me to sit down. No sugar coating or fanfare. Just came right out. Then burst into tears. We had discussed it previously in depth, but we weren’t planning for it at the time. It was a pretty big deal.
How did you handle the news?
My initial reaction was, okay, lets do this. I’ve always been the type of person that really wanted to make sure we were ready, but once it happens, you realise you’re as ready as you’ll ever be.
How did you choose your son’s name?
Kate ultimately chose Phoenix. She’s a teacher so a lot of names were a no go from the beginning. We wanted something unique, but not necessarily something that would prove difficult for him growing up.
How was your experience of changing the first diaper?
To be honest, it wasn’t as difficult as I imagined. When you are first thrown into this situation, everything is a learning experience, so I just made sure I watched and took note and then did the best I could. I was very lucky we had Kate’s mom around during the first few months too, to help teach and supervise. No way I would’ve known what to do.
How hands-on were you during the birth process?
I’d like to think I was very hands-on without being obtrusive. I took the whole experience as a chance to learn and try to be helpful where I could. To be honest, the only books I read during the whole pregnancy were about the actual labour. I wanted to make sure I knew what was about to happen and be aware of any risks or complications.
What do you hope your son gets from you and what do you hope he doesn’t get?
I’m pretty easy going and like to think that things have a way of working themselves out. It helps when dealing with stressful situations and minimising tension. I hope Phoenix can adopt a bit of that. I can also be impulsive at times, so let’s hope he steers clear of too much of that.
What’s your favourite part of your parenting routine?
I love the time I get to spend with Phoenix in the mornings when it’s just us. Although it’s also the most difficult time, waking up at 6 or sometimes 5am, it’s really the best way to start your day.
Who plays good cop and bad cop between you and your wife?
I must say my wife has far more experience with kids so she knows how to discipline and what needs to be done. As I said, I am a bit more easy going…
Do you plan to have more kids?
We’ve always discussed the importance of Phoenix having a sibling and really hope to be able to add to the family in the next year or so.
How do you keep the romance alive after having a kid?
It’s very easy to let your relationship slide with so many distractions – especially work. But another variable that gets thrown in now is family time. Although extremely important, it’s also imperative to focus on your relationship as a couple. We try to have date nights once a week, to bring focus a bit more to ourselves.
What’s the hardest part of being a dad in Hong Kong?
This city is not very pedestrian-friendly. So throw a pram into the mix and you’re going to be carrying that thing in both hands. Upstairs. In the heat. A lot.
Who does your son look like, you or your wife?
When he was first born, people kept saying he had a strong resemblance to me. But now as he’s growing, you start to see Kate’s features becoming more apparent.
What do you know now that you wish you knew before becoming a dad? Biggest lesson learned?
If you’re planning a day out with your kids, you are no longer in charge of your schedule. At least with infants. If they want to sleep, let them sleep. You’ll be back on the move when they’re ready.
What’s the funniest parenting story you can share?
We were on a long haul flight to NYC and it was my turn to change a diaper. Phoenix was already about 10 months old so I figured I had a pretty good grasp on what needed to be done. I grabbed 1 diaper, 2 or 3 wipes, and jumped into the 1m x 1m airplane bathroom. As soon as the old diaper came off, Phoenix thought it a great time to go for round two, everywhere. Needless to say, I was not prepared.
How has having kids changed the way you define work?
I am lucky that my schedule with the restaurants is quite flexible. If there is time during the day that I know I can get away from the shops, I try to pop in and see my little man for at least a bit.
Do you have any tips for soon-to-be dads in Hong Kong?
Be as hands on as you can. A lot of times dads get reduced to mum’s assistant. But if you know what to do in mostly any scenario, I guarantee you’ll be more connected to your child and mum will love knowing things are under control even if she’s not around.
Favourite family-friendly restaurants in Hong Kong (other than Little Burro of course!)
Kinsale in Kennedy Town is a great place to sit down with the whole family and enjoy amazing food in a comfy setting. Cathal Kiely and his team are all family guys who understand how to create a friendly environment.
Favourite activities with the family? Play centres, etc ?
We try as much as possible to get out to the park or beach, either by ourselves or with other families, and just chill out for the day. Play centres are great, but there are a limited number of them and always full on the weekends. I try to take Phe mid-week, to skip the crowds.
Favourite date night spots with just your wife?
We are constantly looking for the next best place to experience. Hong Kong has so many restaurants, this answer changes on a weekly basis..
What’s your grooming return?
My barber Sammy at Zucoma International is a legend. He’s the guy to go to for any grooming needs.
What are your favourite foods to eat (besides burritos and tacos!)?
I love a perfectly cooked steak. And there are only a few places in HK that know what that means. If I’m requesting a certain temperature and it’s undercooked or overcooked, why even ask? I also love Chinese food of all types. Sichuan and dim sum top the list though.
How did you get into the F&B industry? Do you want to share this passion with your son when he grows up?
To be honest, I got into F&B as I saw a niche in the market that needed to be filled. No one was doing proper, affordable Mexican or Tex-Mex in Hong Kong, and I simply opened Little Burro to satisfy a (maybe selfish) desire for good burritos and guacamole. That being said, it has been a complete learning experience for me and proven to be one of the most difficult industries to be in. For my son, I want him to pursue whatever he is passionate about. If he does that, it doesn’t matter what industry he get’s into – he’ll love it and still have fun.
All photos in the That Papa article above were taken by the hugely talented Nicola Lemmon of Nicola Lemmon Photography (who now lives in sunny Australia!).