Wee Teng Wen shares his vision for new venture, The Warehouse Hotel
The managing partner of The Lo & Behold Group grants insight into the challenges of restoring The Warehouse Hotel, his first venture in Singapore’s hotel scene.
by Daven Wu /
January 9, 2017
[dropcap size=small]S[/dropcap]et on the edge of the Singapore River’s Robertson Quay in a lovingly restored 1895 godown, the freshly minted 37-room Warehouse is the first hotel project by F&B specialists, The Lo & Behold Group. Gourmet & Travel goes behind the scenes with its managing partner, Wee Teng Wen for an insight into the challenges of restoring a heritage building for a contemporary audience.
You’ve been in the hospitality business for over a decade. What prompted you to open a hotel now? At Lo & Behold, we’ve always been passionate about creating amazing, unforgettable F&B experiences for our guests. For me, falling in love with a space and mining the potential to tell its story in a way that disrupts prevailing notions is usually the starting point for each new project. That said, we have never set out to run a hotel. But when we visited the Warehouse site, we immediately fell in love with the space and the rich heritage it was steeped in. That’s when we knew that a hotel was the next project for us. A building like this is incredibly rare. Everyone knows it. It’s one of Singapore’s most iconic buildings. And besides, creating a hotel just seems like a natural extension of what we love to do. After all, a hotel is like one long extended meal – it’s 24 hours instead of three.
7 Things you may not know about The Warehouse Hotel
Lobby of the Warehouse: muted tones and soaring ceilings
What is the idea behind the Warehouse? What was your vision? The Warehouse is a meticulously restored heritage building. A former godown, it’s full of really dark, rebellious history. That has inspired everything we’ve done. And unlike many other heritage buildings in Singapore, the building was owned by a lineage of local men who worked their way up. It was never owned by British colonialists. We are continuing that heritage by ensuring the hotel is 100% owned, operated and designed by Singaporeans. The Warehouse is also the perfect platform from which to launch a host of authentic experiences for our guests. From the F&B and different touch-points in the rooms to the minibars, everything will be rooted in our local heritage and what we believe is the best of Singapore.
From conceptualisation to launch, how involved have you been? We came in after the building had been acquired, so our job was to take a beautiful and storied space, and create all the touch-points that give meaning to a hotel, alongside the guest experience – from the brand and design, to the food and beverage, music, and sourcing. All the pieces had to be tied together. In every way, it’s been a collaborative process between Asylum who led the design, my team at The Lo & Behold Group who, as the operating company, created the experience, and a passionate and devoted owner. We have all been inspired by this truly unique building.
What are some of the challenges involved in building a boutique heritage property? We’re used to opening and operating restaurants, where there is a just a six-month lead-time. You sign a lease, and you’re off. Opening a hotel is a much more drawn-out process. There is more build-up. The Warehouse has been over two years in the making. Besides dealing with the many regulations involved with restoring a conservation building like this, one of the first challenges we faced was how to redefine ‘industrial design’. We felt strongly that the concept needed a new language. So our challenge was to protect the heritage of this space while creating a new perspective. We thought about how to make it softer, gentler, and warmer, and how to add layers. Another challenge was getting everyone to agree to use dusty-pink-coloured tiles for the pool. I really pushed for this because it’s a heritage colour that’s often found in local coffee shops.
What can Warehouse guests expect when they check in? What sets it apart from other Singaporean hotels? Somewhere between the big brands and the small boutiques, the Singaporean market has been missing a portal to local culture. One with depth and soul that still feels like it has a cohesive point of view. Our aim was to solve this via the brand, look, details, history, heritage and local skew, while over-delivering on comfort and the guest experience. In terms of the concierge experience, we want people to use the hotel as a prism to the city. We want to give our guests the real recommendations we have been giving our own friends visiting Singapore over the years.
When it comes to hospitality, what are the two most important elements? The Lo & Behold Group’s MO is to provide service that is intuitive and informal. We want our guests to feel at home with us. We want to cultivate an environment where the relationship is deepened with each visit. So, personalisation is important. Especially in the context of a hotel. You can no longer present cookie-cutter answers to problems. Because this was our first hotel project, we had the advantage of looking at everything with a fresh perspective, without too many typical hotel industry solutions. For example, we insisted on universal outlets for each plug, so guests don’t have to ask for converters. We are also not interested in penny-pinching guests, like charging for things we don’t have to – like late check-outs, or WiFi. The second element is the need for a bit of spontaneity. Guests should be able to talk to our staff without feeling like the answers are overly scripted. We want our staff to be memory-creators, to help guests have unexpected experiences, and to know the true Singapore.
Tell us about the restaurant Po by Willin Low? What is the concept and what can we expect from the menu? Po is both a tribute to the humble popiah as well as a subtle homage to popo, the Mandarin word for grandmother. It seeks to bridge the gap between Singapore’s vibrant culinary heritage and our rich collective memory of home-cooked specialties. The menu comprises local, comfort food – classics that have been staples of family gatherings and celebrations across generations – that we want to share with guests and visitors to Singapore.