It’s a common story: a professional – more often than not a lawyer, a doctor or a banker – leaves their job to pursue a passion in an unrelated industry like F&B or the arts. Sometimes the parts of one’s life converge and lead on to new things.
For anyone even slightly invested in Singapore’s nightlife scene, the name Tay Eu-Yen might ring a bell. While her earlier experiences include working as a disputes lawyer at Drew & Napier, the 41-year-old is perhaps better known for her past 15 years spent managing various concepts in the nightlife and hospitality business. This includes the legendary, now-defunct Butter Factory and, more recently, Coterie Concepts, which encompassed spots like the Cantonese tapas bar Sum Yi Tai.
Now, Tay has moved the cumulation of all her experiences to the latest chapter in her life as an of-counsel in the niche of the entertainment and hospitality businesses with Providence Law Asia. It encompasses everything from F&B and nightlife to co-working spaces and even streamers.
As it did for many others, Covid-19 was also an impetus for Tay who witnessed first-hand the many pandemic-related struggles faced by the industry as the legal adviser for the Restaurant Association of Singapore and an executive committee member of the Singapore Nightlife Business Association.
“I’ve been closely involved with all the Covid-related changes. A lot of people needed help because of the legal uncertainties. People need to understand and react to the new landscape. They also need to know their rights and obligations,” she shares. Predictably, many of the issues had to do with leases on both ends – the tenants and the landlords. “A lot of people, from the small operators to the big hotels, are unsure of their positions.”
To that end, Tay has been offering pro-bono consultations while conducting webinars and talks so the various trade associations can put out content for members to better understand the situation. Even then, Tay’s expertise goes beyond addressing the problems of the day.
Having operated everything from clubs to bars and restaurants, she wants to amalgamate her experiences to practise a more holistic form of law, one where she can give clients, including F&B start-ups, food tech companies and fund investors, advice based on her experience. “The practice is generally defined as corporate business law but that’s usually very generic. When I offer advice in this area, it comes with operational know-how.”
She cites the example of franchising. While any fully trained corporate lawyer would be able to run the transaction, Tay would have the ability to point out potential operational hiccups that can be protected with legal drafting. As if Tay isn’t already wearing enough hats, she is also getting certified for sustainability reporting – in line with the United Nations’ development goals for environmental, social, and corporate governance.
“I’ve been closely involved with all the Covid-related changes. A lot of people needed help because of the legal uncertainties. People need to understand and react to the new landscape. They also need to know their rights and obligations. A lot of people, from the small operators to the big hotels, are unsure of their positions.”
“It’s interesting because a lot of the exchanges are making sustainability reporting mandatory. This concerns even the unlisted companies because the big, listed ones will then look for partners that are up to date on their sustainability protocols,” she reveals.
In a way, much of Tay’s journey has been about bringing things together – to practise law in a holistic manner, to unite an industry by way of trade associations or even to open a club so like-minded people could gather. She remembers: “Butter Factory started as a passion project. We wanted to create a space where pop art and hip-hop music co-existed comfortably. Over the years, familiar faces kept coming back. We became a community.”