Chasing The China Dream

Ever since moving to Shanghai with Saatchi & Saatchi as an advertising strategist, I have been constantly impressed with the calibre of the incredibly driven, passionate and inspiring people around me. Many of them are small business owners, artisans and start-ups – people who choose to do what they love.

Shortly after moving to Shanghai, I started Supperclub; a Shanghai dinner party that brings together different groups of people for a unique dining experience. Quitting my corporate job to make it on my own as an F&B entrepreneur didn’t necessarily come from Supperclub, although hosting Supperclub gave me faith in myself that perhaps I could finally make the jump into F&B – it was a baby step into a world I have always wanted to be a part of. Now I'm plunging in headlong!

Although the new concept is still in the works, let's just say that Shanghai is lacking a certain type of cafe you can find in New York, London and Melbourne - places where yes, good coffee is a requisite, but food is not an afterthought, it's actually the focus.

I guess "the China Dream" can be on a personal level or statewide level, and as far reaching as the financial and cultural levels. It is seen as ideals in other places, and thus, achieving a certain automatism. I guess it's most often seen through the lens of consumerism, how people want to be able to buy globally recognised status symbols to prove that they have 'made it'. The American Dream and the China Dream share the same spirit – people want to be able to pick themselves up and push themselves forward. I just think Americans might be taught that they have fewer limitations on how far they can go, but I think (and hope!) this is starting to change. I love how every person in China seems to be an entrepreneur of some description – everyone seems to have six business cards in their pocket.

I just don't think I would have ever had the guts to try to start my own venture at home or in another country. Beyond the fact that Shanghai is undoubtedly less saturated than the other cities I have called or could call home. I think there's a certain encouraging and even cavalier spirit here that makes you say, "I might as well give it a shot!"

It's definitely not easy to set up a business as a foreigner in China, although I have been so thankful for all of the insights people have shared about their experiences starting their businesses – everyone has been very forthcoming and generous with their time and knowledge! Almost surprisingly so – it's nice to know that other small business owners are so supportive, rather than seeing you as a competitor.

Although the market might seem saturated when so many F&B concepts have popped up (especially recently!), I think there is absolutely still room for more. I think the time of the uber-concept has expired worldwide, and people are turning back to just trying to produce great food. People can sense genuine passion and presence. More quality openings also mean better food overall – although I haven't been here long, I feel like I have already seen Shanghai's food scene change from "great, for China" to just "great", no qualifier needed.

The dishes I plan to serve will hopefully be a hit with those missing a taste of home, but also the local Shanghai community is incredibly sophisticated and looking for ways to experience culture through food, so I hope the new venture is able to satisfy both groups.

Camden Hauge is in the process of launching her own F&B venture and can currently be found managing Dogtown (409 Shanxi Bei Lu, near Beijing Xi Lu. Tel: 186 1614 7679)