Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

The not-so-easy quest in naming a frog to promote a restaurant

Posted by Kimberly on September 16, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
September 16, 2007, page 2 (1,283 words)

Naming a baby is hard. Naming a restaurant, particularly when it’s situated in a Chinese city, is harder. With the nation’s well-known propensity for superstition, Blue Frog founder Mr Bob Boyce admits to leaving no stone unturned in his quest for the perfect restaurant name.
Asked the reasons behind the unusual combination of words, Mr Boyce recalls a close friend “who always carried a lapis lazuli blue frog I his pocket.”
Having done so for twenty years, he adds that this had always brought his friend good luck.
“And so when I got ready to name my place I just thought that was a great name and I asked him if I could use it,” he added.
That was the easy part. What followed was a series of efforts raised to ensure that neither “blue” nor “frog” held any negative connotations in Chinese culture.
“Colours are very symbolic so we had to see if there was anything bad with blue,” he said, adding that as it turned out, blue was a fairly optimistic colour that generally made people feel good.
“But it’s not like red or yellow or gold which is super-lucky,” he said.
As for the frog, while it is a “nice animal”, they’re not “super-lucky.” even better, they “don’t have any bad meaning.”
“And blue and frog are almost never associated with each other so people will remember it,” he added.
With the newest opening at the Venetian Macao, Mr Boyce believed this was an opportune moment to extend his business beyond Shanghai’s city limits.
“We had a lot of customers and friends who actually ended up being involved with the project and they were looking for someone who could operate in both worlds, with both a Chinese and international customer base,” he said.
It’s a concept that has worked well for him, having begun in 1999, when he recalled “having a hard time getting a decent meal” in Shanghai.
“I’d moved here with my job and it was hard to find normal food for a westerner and a normal place to hang out. There were really expensive places in hotels and sort of lower-end fast food and there were a few locals but they didn’t really have it right,” he said.
So he quit the job he felt was going nowhere and, with the help of a friend, opened the first bar.
“A really hole-in-the-wall little cafe serving burgers and beer and wine and the stuff that westerners really identify as comfort food,” he added.
For him, blue frog is synonymous with “casual sophistication,” an establishment “entirely geared towards the modern international white collared professional,” said Mr Boyce.
For him, the fundamentals behind the business are based on community. He admits that cities can be “cold places” and that while Shanghai is a great city, “it’s huge and its hard to really connect with other people outside of your workplace.
“So what we’ve always strived to do is create a place where people felt welcome and could connect with one another,” he added.
For the layout of the Venetian establishment, Mr Boyce stressed that with the resort’s large expanse, it was necessary to create an environment that would ground patrons.
“So we used a lot of natural material, like wood and stone and brick,” he said, adding that “we used it in a very contemporary way so you don’t feel like you’re walking into an old bar.”
Asked why the bar was so dark when one steps into it, he said it was to counteract the brightness of the casino itself.
“But using less light is something that we wanted to do as it creates the mood. We have the lights on a timing schedule so in the morning and lunch time it’s going to be brighter than it will be in the evening,” he said.
With the lack of natural sunlight, he felt the mood had to be created based on the time of day.
“But we’re still working on that. It’s a whole new challenge,” he added.
Such challenges seem to be the norm these days for Mr Boyce and his group, known collectively as Blue Horizon Hospitality Group, which includes not only blue frog, but also KABB.
Of the latter’s style, My Boyce calls it “a bit more sophisticated and is always in a really unique location like Xintiandi.
“We only have one of them but right now we’re negotiating a few other spaces that are in very unique locations,” he said, adding that KABB is very much geared towards business people.
“In the future they will usually be in areas where there are a lot of offices and hotels and its heavy on the grill. Blue frogs are a lot more causal and a lot easier to adapt,” he said.
Then there’s the upcoming third concept.
“We’ll be adding a third brand that’s more geared towards the local market here. That’s something we’re working on right now,” he said, although no name has been created.
“I would say this time next year we’ll be ready to roll out the first concept,” he added.
He currently has plans to extend blue frog into other Mainland China cities, most notably Beijing, where two projects have already been signed up, just waiting for completion.
“By Chinese New Year we should have two new venues. The only reason we hadn’t gone to Beijing earlier is, it’s been very difficult to find really great space until just recently,” he added.
Of possible expansion overseas, particularly to the United States (US), where Mr Boyce originates from, he said, “well the US food and beverage market is pretty saturated right now. I wouldn’t say no to a good deal but that probably wouldn’t be my first choice.
Certainly Europe and other parts of Asia would be definitely something we’d consider,” he added.
For those sorts of markets, he believes what is need most are strong fundamentals, adding that his group’s fundamentals are very simple for a reason.
“It’s friendly service, good quality food, comfortable atmosphere and reasonable pricing. And we really just stick within those four fundamentals and work really hard at them,” he said.
Being competitive is really all about taking care of your customers,” he added.
That competitive edge is evident in the way blue frog is laid out, catering for all its customers’ needs, including a large number of power points for laptop usage as well as wireless access.
“It’s really set up for people to get some work done while having a break from meetings,’ said Mr Boyce.
In fact the only way the Venetian establishment seems to differ from the Shanghai ones is the grill.
“Because we have a show grill at the Venetian, we’ve added a lot more items on the grill so we have a lot more steaks and grilled items than we would normally have,” he said.
And with the upcoming weekend-long opening party on November 10, those eager to experience blue frog will get their chance.
“We’ll have customers and friends flying in from all over the place for a huge party,” he said.
Customers are encouraged to sign up on the group’s website for further information, with Mr Boyce adding that, “We’re known in Shanghai for throwing really great parties.”
He certainly has enough to celebrate, considering the business has grown from as little as 15 staff to the almost 650 that will be employed by this time next year.
So with all these projects underway as well as the newly-opened Venetian blue frog, it’s enough to rest on one’s laurels, but not so for Mr Boyce.
“I’m pleased with the start but I’m looking forward to even more prosperity.”

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