A Chinese pub owner tells Yang Yang that he wanted a place where people in Beijing could relax.
When Zhang Aimin went to Australia 10 years ago to visit his son, who was studying there, he came across one of the liveliest places he had ever visited.
“I was walking on a street and suddenly I heard music and laughter from a pub. When I pushed open the door, the atmosphere there amazed me.
“Everyone was holding drinks, talking to each other and smiling.
“It was as if there were no strangers. Everybody knew everybody.”
Zhang’s first experience in an Irish pub convinced him to open one himself at home.
His Molly Malone’s is located in one of Beijing’s upmarket streets, behind the European-styled Legendale Hotel.
Those who spot the international clientele of family and friends, accompanied by the occasional baby in a pram, will agree that Zhang has managed to replicate the warm, convivial atmosphere of the Irish pub that helps act as a refuge from the fast-paced Beijing life.
“There are few places like this on the street and the Guinness is good,” says Joe Yu, managing director of H-Line Ogilvy Communications across the street, whose colleagues were having a party in the pub.
Zhang, 55, started off as a construction worker 30 years ago, earning just 16 yuan a month. But he worked his way up to become chairman of the board of an investment company, which is also involved in areas like real estate and jewelry trading.
Zhang’s company was also involved in holding Miss Universe pageants in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Molly Malone’s is not the first Irish pub that has attracted Zhang’s investment.
He first started a pub in Beijing Henderson Center near the Beijing Railway Station called PJ O’Reilly’s 10 years ago.
“But I made a mistake targeting clients for that pub,” Zhang says.
The pub was located where thousands of commuters passed by every day, but they were only concerned with having quick meals, Zhang says.
He had to shut the pub soon after opening it.
But that did not stop him from trying again. In 2008, the Beijing Olympic Games brought about many business opportunities. Jinbao Street, where luxury brands including Rolls-Royce cars are sold, was being developed.
But before the street was fully developed, the global financial crisis struck China and businesses in the area turned sluggish.
“My friends tried to dissuade me from investing in the pub because they all thought the street was hopeless.
“But I didn’t think so,” Zhang says.
He invested $965,035 in the pub, including hiring an Irish company to design the pub and supervise its construction, and Molly Malone’s opened in November 2009.
To keep the pub authentic, Zhang also hired two Irish staff to help with its management.
But they left at the end of 2011 after difficulties in applying for work visas and cultural differences.
“I still hope we can have Irish people run the pub, even if the costs are high,” Zhang says. The pub has one small library and several VIP rooms.
“Chinese people still go for private rooms,” he says. But Zhang’s pub serves a sizable number of Irish. About 75 percent of the customers are foreigners, he says.
“Although it’s many thousands of kilometers from Ireland, it offers a traditional Irish experience and a taste of Irish culture,” says Emma Leonard, agriculture counsellor at the Irish embassy.
“Irish pubs in Ireland and around the world are very varied. However, the key element in any Irish pub is the welcoming atmosphere,” Leonard says.
Zhang now leaves the running of his pub to his son and daughter-in-law. Still, as a businessman, Zhang is not satisfied with its revenue performance.
“I was very sad when the first pub failed. I refused to accept it and that’s why I decided to open the second one.”
Source: Yang Yang, chinadaily.com.cn