Tell us about your background.
I was born in Taiwan, grew up in Hong Kong, and later went to acting school in London. Since 2013, I’ve been working as the managing director of Bund18, a premium lifestyle destination in a heritage building along Shanghai’s Huangpu riverfront, featuring multiple fine dining restaurants, a spa and a multi-brand fashion boutique.
You were just 21 when you took over the family business (Bund18 was founded by Chen’s mother, Chang Ailing). What was that like?
When I joined in 2013, the Bund was going through an awkward transition. Many luxury brands, including some of our former tenants, were exiting the area, and people’s spending habits started to change. Looking back, finding a new identity for Bund18 was the most challenging yet exciting task we faced, as we had infinite possibilities to start anew. Within a few years, we signed on and opened Hakkasan, two Joël Robuchon concepts and high-end spa Hüdié, and rebranded Mr & Mrs Bund and Bar Rouge. Through these changes, the dynamic of the space became a little less exclusive and more accessible yet equally tasteful.
Casual dining concepts have become increasingly popular around Asia and beyond. How is Bund18, which houses some of Shanghai’s most upscale restaurants, responding to this trend?
In China, trends come and go at a pace that’s impossible to keep up with. For Bund18 – which is located in one of Shanghai’s most iconic neighbourhoods – it would be a mistake to blindly follow that trend. In recent years, many local restaurateurs have opted to open short-lived concepts that cater to a social media-savvy crowd, focusing their energy on how to get people to queue up to take pictures of a pretty wall or an Insta-worthy dish. It’s a pity, but I believe that once this hype ends, what remains will be places that strive for quality.
You are also a performing magician. How did you develop this hobby? Does it influence the way you do business?
I first discovered magic at a Wan Chai shopping mall at the age of 12. A man was performing card tricks inside a magic shop, and I just stood there watching him for hours. After finishing high school, I went to Las Vegas to study under my first magic teacher, Armando Lucero. Since then, I’ve travelled around the world to learn from mentalists, hypnotists, memory experts and fortune tellers – these learning experiences continue to this day.
For me, magic is about understanding other people’s perception – and how to manipulate it in an artful way to curate an experience. Through performing magic, I’ve developed a sharper intuition, which is helpful for doing business. In a meeting, for instance, I can better observe and be more sensitive to non-verbal cues that are communicated beyond the spoken word and adapt accordingly.
You travel frequently. What do you ensure you bring with you on each trip?
My AirPods. One book about magic and another relating to a different subject.
A notebook for jotting down ideas.
Props for a magic trick that I’m developing.
What are some of your favourite cities to visit?
Tokyo is one of my top picks. The city has the most Michelin stars, and is home to a number of great magic bars – my favourites are Half Moon and Magic Bar Ginza Juniji.