Ben Ng is a strong name in the local bartending industry not just for his passion to bring the best, also his vigor to spin a different mix when it comes to hospitality with good food and relishing drinks. During our trip to Penang, we sat down with the man of the hour in his private lounge and spoke all things booze, business and blunders.
If you have not heard of the famous joint, Mish Mash at Muntri Street Penang, you can thank us now, because we covered the ultra-cool joint with delectable drinks and no-frills gastro-bar food here, on our previous trip. Mish Mash is now a household name in town as a watering hole at dawn to unwind and catch up with friends and other fellow regulars too.
As we reached Mish Mash, we were welcomed by Ben Ng himself as he walked us into a separate room, which presumably looked like a private lounge area. It took a while for us to regain our posture as we were floored by the intricacy and the nitty-gritty that went into the styling of the room. Following our gaze, Ben was kind enough to take us through the room decor details which shed some light on his story and also a peek into his next move.
Looks like you had a fair share of traveling— is it for work or play?
Traveling has basically become a part of me since I started bartending, that has been about close to 14 years now. It is quite a surprising matter for people whenever I tell them that because of the preconceived notion about bartenders. Though it can be demotivating to keep hearing people doubt your choice, for me it is humbling now to know that I am who I am because of my adamance to keep to my passion and make a livelihood out of it.
More than that, traveling not only opens up to new networks, it also inspires you to take in the valuable work ethics within the industry, starting from the base of a relationship between an owner and the staff. The best part about traveling, you may ask— definitely all my collectibles as you can see in this room.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you would advise to another when it comes to staff management?
As previously mentioned about work ethics, I am a firm believer of passing everything I know and the new things I learned to my staffs because that’s how you keep them interested and inspired. We have established a new mentoring regime whereby I give them a one-on-one training. After every work event or seminars, I hatch a short meeting, share all that I learned to them so it won’t be wasted or last. In my opinion, mentoring is about sharing everything you know and it is an on-going process. When it comes to techniques, I let my guys take the reigns as it gives them a space to be creative and innovative. I learned a lot by assuming different roles, thus that would be my ultimate advice to budding bartenders too.
Reduce meetings; it takes a lot of time and frankly, I find it unnecessary unless it is a matter of emergency.
How about your tips for a budding bartender (or any aspiring entrepreneur)? What would you tell them?
I’ll keep it simple— firstly, lose the “millennial” mentality. Good things take time and effort. Be patient and hustle and this will come your way. If it doesn’t, trust that there are better things on the horizon. Next, I say is to research into technologies and invest in scalability and implementation of technology, and digitalisation of the business. It is 2018 already, no more manual documentation. Technology keeps everything and everyone accountable— and that secures your business in a tight seal. Finally, make time-management a priority. Reduce meetings; it takes a lot of time and frankly, I find it unnecessary unless it is a matter of emergency.
Do you think bars would be a passé, ten years from now?
As much as I don’t want it to be, I must be realistic, and agree, yes, I do think having drinks at bars would significantly be reduced in the coming years. But, it isn’t such a bad thing— from the way I see it, there is not enough workforce in the market and interestingly, there is a significant change in consumer pattern too. Evidently, consumers have changed the way they approach purchasing products be it from the mall or be it online. Today, people have nicer homes and a lot of them prefer having their at-home bar for entertaining. This is a significant change in attitude already, and of course in couple more years, we can definitely foresee consumers opting to have a drink in the comforts of their own house bars as opposed to popping by the neighborhood joint. Self-serving taps have kicked off but not in a vigorous way due to specific laws and licensing issues, however, the change is slowly becoming. Whatever it may be, I am intrigued to see.
Looking back to your journey, what are the things you would advise your younger self?
(Chuckles) Don’t drink so much, because it affects decision-making. I think everyone will tell themselves that because we make a lot of mistake along the way but those mistake help to shape the person you are today. Next, I would tell my young self to be less impulsive. It is still a work in progress, however, when you are younger, being impulsive to do unwise things got me into a lot of trouble. This brings me to my next point—I wish I had spent time evaluating the steps I made and be more structured in the steps I have taken in the past. Finally, I would tell myself to read more. Now I spend an hour and a half every day (I try) reading documentaries, books and news materials.
Ben Ng is definitely a character that resonates transparency and confidence in his strides and decisions when it comes to his business. Definitely a person to look out for in the coming years in the industry, and hey, don’t be surprised when he stops by your table at Mish Mash because he’s just as friendly and loves socializing with his customers.
For more information on Mish Mash, please check the details below:
*All images by UPPRE.