Lessons in Redefining Yourself – From Betelnut to Hutong

Betelnut was a local San Francisco restaurant run by chef Alexander Ong for the past 17 years successfully delivering Asian fusion food in the Marina area.  Recently he completely rebooted the restaurant with a new name Hutong and a new menu even though he was still packing a full house.

In the article in SFGate interviewed when he announced the change.

“Eighteen years ago Betelnut was cutting edge. The American pantry didn’t have fish sauce in it. Now people are asking what kind of fish sauce it is. America has caught up, but we have not grown as we should have,” says Betelnut chef Alexander Ong, who will remain the chef at Hutong.

“For myself, I felt that we had to do something different, but to do something different, we couldn’t keep the Betelnut name.”

It is easy to justify change in what you do when it is no longer successful, it is another thing to do so when everything is working and you are doing it to keep ahead of the curve.

Over the weekend I went to  Hutong for dinner, and I asked the staff how people are liking it.  He said the menu has completely changed over and they picked what menu items worked and what didn’t.  People love the food but some complained because it is not Betlenut any more.  On the Yelp reviews, accolades were mixed with “Why change what is working?” “What was wrong with Betelnut?”

As I was eating among the busy restaurant and saw Alexander working in the kitchen, I think about what it takes to make changes like that and the changes I have made recently at work myself.

At the end of the day, it is about looking forward, not back.  You can base your new work on lessons from the past, but success in the future comes from meeting the expectations of today and tomorrow.  Many restaurants, auto companies, and retailers have spent time improving based on the past, instead of catering to tomorrow.

In case you are wondering how the food was?  It was very good, and I wish Alexander success with Hutong in the future.

UPDATE May 10th, 2013 – Just found out that Alexander closed Hutong and re-opened it as Betelnut, guess sometimes you have to be flexible and change back if things don’t work out.

Oyster with sriracha and Lemon granita at Hutong

Oyster with sriracha and Lemon granita

Lamb Belly at Hutong, San Francisco

Lamb Belly

Spicy Chicken Wings, Hutong, San Francisco

Spicy Chicken Wings

Wild boar Black Pepper Noodles, Hutong San Francisco

Wild boar Black Pepper Egg Noodles


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