Hong Kong Madame - English

Entrepreneurs of Hong Kong – Esdras Ochoa & Daniel Eun, “The Taco King” and his partner at 11 Westside

January 17th 2019

by Aude
Remember, end of November I was confessing my deep addiction to Netflix’s show “The Final Table” (which I have binge-watched in something like 48h … oupsie doopsie) and was super excited that I get to interview Chef Shane Osborn from Arcane who was one of the contestant. Well, Shane isn’t the only contestant from this show based in Hong Kong … Chef Esdras Ochoa from 11 Westside also is. Of courses, I had to gave a go to the place (opened since September 2017). Which is dope … and reminds me I absolutely need to review it! But hey don’t wait for me to do so and believe me, make sure to head off to Kennedy Town from some crazy tacos (not kidding, Esdras’ nickname is no less than “The Taco King”, nickname inherited from the buzz he made when first starting his business in Los Angeles) and a serious guacamole served with pretty dope cocktails crafted by Daniel, the beverage director. But also had to arrange an interview with Esdras (am such a groupie) and Daniel. 

Hey Esdras, Daniel. Nice meeting you both! Esdras, you were born in Mexico, Daniel you are from LA, how did you both end-up here in Hong Kong opening a restaurant together? 

Entrepreneurs of Hong Kong – Esdras Ochoa & Daniel Eun, “The Taco King” and his partner at 11 Westside
Esdras: well, to explain how I ended-up here I think you have to go back all the way to the beginning! I grew up between Mexicali (Mexican state of Baja California) and Calexico on the other side of the border, in the US. As a kid, I’ve always had this dream to move to a big city and become a fashion designer (even maybe run my own couture house somedays in Paris) so I moved to LA to study Fashion Design Merchandising. Have always been an artist, I love to paint, to draw. While at school, I also took a job in the casino industry to make some money. And it was actually paying pretty well. After I graduated in 2005, I started looking for a job but realized fashion industry was paying nothing while I was making pretty good money in the casino one. So, ended-up not working in the fashion industry at all. 
But then came the recession and I lost my job. This is when I started selling tacos in the streets of LA. At the beginning, it was purely out of necessity. I have no cooking background, the things I knew were only family recipes. But I had ambition, a vision and I thought “Man, I wanna be big”. I didn’t want to just make tacos, I wanted to make the best tacos I could ever made. And traditional tacos like the one we have in Baja (flamed grilled meat, different kind of salsa …) were not easy to find in LA at that time so what I was doing was pretty different: more rustic, fresher. It soon became a hit and I got a lot of coverage from the media. Also, chefs started coming over to my taco stand and I’ve become friend with a lot of them. This is how I started to grow my interest for the FnB industry but also my knowledges, by being friends with all those chefs. But actually, having a street-food stand is illegal in LA so we eventually got raided by the cops … that’s when I decided to open my first “proper” restaurant: Mexicali Taco. This one was a success but my second one, Salazar, was even a bigger success. 
With Daniel, we met 2 years ago in LA. Daniel was also working in the FnB industry, running a bar in Korea Town, and we had a bunch of mutual friends. They were all like, oh you should meet each other, and we finally went for Korean bbq together. 

Entrepreneurs of Hong Kong – Esdras Ochoa & Daniel Eun, “The Taco King” and his partner at 11 Westside
Daniel: nothing can go wrong with Korean bbq! 
Esdras: with Daniel we both met John, who is our partner here in Hong Kong but lives between both here and Los Angeles and this is pretty much how the 11 Westside’s story started. I have actually always dreamt of visiting Asia (especially since I was meeting so many people from Asia when working in the casino industry) but had never been to Hong Kong before. 

Entrepreneurs of Hong Kong – Esdras Ochoa & Daniel Eun, “The Taco King” and his partner at 11 Westside
Daniel: neither did I! I actually was the first to come and it all happened very quickly. It was pretty brutal because we didn’t know anything about the city, it is so different from LA and we only had 3 months before the opening. 
Esdras: but we have been lucky to meet a lot of people who’ve been so helpful!  

Esdras, you were speaking about the coverage you got from the media from the very beginning. What do you think of the nickname they gave you: “The Taco King”?

Entrepreneurs of Hong Kong – Esdras Ochoa & Daniel Eun, “The Taco King” and his partner at 11 Westside
Esdras: it’s not a nickname I was looking for but I kinda likes it because I really feel like am pushing the boundaries with my tacos, trying to take the taco to places it has never been before, bringing it to people who may have never heard of it. 

Entrepreneurs of Hong Kong – Esdras Ochoa & Daniel Eun, “The Taco King” and his partner at 11 Westside
You know when I first started, I just wanted to make money so that I can feed my family. And now I get to share a bit of Mexico all over the world. 

Speaking of sharing the tacos all over the world, I heard that you recently opened a new restaurant in India. Places you had never been before, just like when you opened in Hong Kong. How did this happen? 
Esdras: it’s actually thanks to The Final Table. When shooting the show, I became very good friend with Indian chef Amninder Sandhu who is also one of the contestants. We were shooting in LA and one day we had some time off and I was like “I wanna take you to Tijuana so that you can discover Mexico and Mexican food”. She was so afraid of going! But in the end, she loved it and she told me I have to visit her in India and check-up her restaurant. So I went, met her hospitality team and actually cooked for them and they were like “oh let’s open a restaurant”. 

What would you say is the most challenging thing running a restaurant here in Hong Kong? 

Entrepreneurs of Hong Kong – Esdras Ochoa & Daniel Eun, “The Taco King” and his partner at 11 Westside
Esdras: I wanna say the rent but I mean everybody knows rents here are crazy. 
Daniel: one thing that we’ve found very challenging is to deal with our workforce. First of all because people here don’t know anything about Mexican food. Living in LA, Mexican food is standard and you end-up eating something Mexican pretty much every day. But here, they just don’t know how it is supposed to taste so you can’t just tell them to follow the recipe because when they taste they cannot say if it’s good or not. But also, because in LA we had a huge network and whenever we had something going wrong, we could call someone. “hey we are missing a waiter today, let’s call this one, he’ll probably have someone to send over”. 
Esdras: but now we have a network here too. I’ve become friends we some of the chefs around. There is also a big Mexican community and they have been very supportive at the beginning. And some people from the FnB industry have been helping us since day one such as Manuel, the co-founder of Pirata Group (editor’s note: Esdras actually says to write “Chef says thanks to you Manuel” in case Manuel is reading this one). 

And the most rewarding? 
Both: The people we have met and wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the restaurant. 
Daniel: Our team is pretty unique. We hang out together after work, we have dinner together. We even have people coming here on their day off just to hang out. 

Why did you decide to open your first HK location in K Town? 

Entrepreneurs of Hong Kong – Esdras Ochoa & Daniel Eun, “The Taco King” and his partner at 11 Westside
Esdras: didn’t have a choice! I landed in Hong Kong and Daniel and John were like “this is the space, now let’s open the restaurant” 
Daniel: the space is pretty cool, and we couldn’t have got that in Central. And I personally love the idea that I have moved from K Town LA (editor’s note: Daniel used to live in Korea Town in LA) to K Town Hong Kong! 
Any developments you are looking at in Hong Kong and across Asia? 
Both: We are definitely looking at growing. Our biggest drive is to create opportunities for other people, kids, cooks. It’s also some pressure because as the staff is growing, we need to grow with them so that we can offer them opportunities to stay with us. 

Entrepreneurs of Hong Kong – Esdras Ochoa & Daniel Eun, “The Taco King” and his partner at 11 Westside
Daniel: would love to open something in Korea

Moving on to the Netflix’s show – The Final Table – have things changed since the show was released? 
Daniel: Crazy!
Esdras: the power of this show is crazy. When they first approached me, I wasn’t really keen on doing it. It was at the same time we were opening Hong Kong, so I was already under a lot of pressure. But one day a friend of mine told me that I would be stupid not to do it. So, I was in. When we started shooting, I was like “as long as I am not the first one out, I’m fine”. But then, the casino mentality took over. You know when you win something and you’re like “let’s play again and see how far my luck can take me”. It was pretty much my mood when shooting the show. I’m now super happy I did it, I’ve made great friendships during the show (editor’s note: if you follow him or Shane Osborn on Instagram, you would have seen that they were together for a pretty cool night out few days ago) and the power of this thing really is crazy. 
Daniel: at the time Esdras was shooting it was a bit stressful because there were rumors like “Esdras has already left Hong Kong only few weeks after opening his restaurant” and we couldn’t say anything. All we could say was “he hasn’t left, he is in the US for a special project which we cannot tell you anything about”. 

Esdras, does being part of this show makes you maybe wanna explore more with Tv?
Esdras: am not sure. I don’t think I have a Tv show personality and I would definitely not like to be a host.
Daniel: you say that today. Wait and in 5 years you’ll be hosting “Cooking with Esdras” ahah 

And one last thing to end, would you share some of your fav foodie addresses in Hong Kong with us (aside from 11 Westside of courses)?
Esdras: Kam’s Roast on Hennessy Road, Dim Dim Sum
Daniel:there is this restaurant here in Kennedy Town which name I can’t remember but they open at 3 am which is pretty much when we end our service and we love to go there with the team. Although, we usually wait until 4 am because 3 am is when all the taxi drivers are going, and it’s packed. 
Esdras: also love 22 Ships and all the Pirata’s restaurant 
Daniel: and the Black Sheep’s ones. I mean those guys (editor’s note: Pirata Group and Black Sheep Restaurants Group) are where we wanna be at some point. 

11 Westside   
1/F, The Hudson, 11 Davis Street - Kennedy Town 


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