Spacebar Design launched just the week before the COVID-19 lockdown. The hospitality design firm was, however, determined not to let it be a setback in its drive to help New Zealand businesses share their stories, sometimes on a limited budget.

Founded by designer Anson Kong, the company aims to fill a gap in the market by focusing on giving bars, restaurants, cafes and foodtrucks the opportunity to uncover the story of their businesses and the food and beverages behind them in a creative way.

“I’ve always had a connection with food, and growing up in Hong Kong around a big family there was always something happening in the kitchen,” says Anson.

I remember going to the farmers market at four o’clock in the morning with my grandparents and they would talk to some of the vendors who would share stories about their farms, crops and the effects of the season, and I specifically remember thinking to myself – wow, how are people talking about carrots for an hour!

“Around the dinner table my grandparents would share the stories told to them from the people at the markets about the food we were eating.”

Anson’s appreciation of the journey of food – from farm to plate – is something he applies to his design work.  Spacebar Design aims to encapsulate the farm to plate stories and other personal stories behind the eateries in its creative process, bringing those stories to life in venues around New Zealand.

“At Spacebar Design, we are passionate about connecting the stories of people and food through interiors. Being a designer is about the ability to solve problems but not just at a technical and physical level, to me it’s at the emotional and human level as well.”

He says he’s done that in his most recent work with Albany’s new yum cha restaurant – Jin’s Dim Sum.

“Due to the impact of COVID, the owners had a reduced budget, so instead of doing a full shop fitout, I worked with them to create a whole branding package – from logo design, to signage, wall art and menu design – with a strong theme running throughout,” says Anson.

“We want our clients to understand that we don’t need to use the most expensive materials to create environments that reflect a vision and effectively tell a story.”

The theme – developed to help all cultures better understand traditional Chinese cuisine – looks at yum cha through the eyes of the restaurant owners’ son, Jin.

“We came up the concept of introducing people to the cuisine through the eyes of their young son. Jin’s parents have worked in the industry for 25 years and he grew up around this cuisine.

He had an interesting perspective when it came to looking at yum cha. In my research I discovered that a lot people don’t know what to try when having yum cha as they find it intimidating. Through Jin’s eyes we take patrons through the process of how Chinese people use produce in certain ways and the meaning behind the different items on the yum cha menu.”

Since opening Jin’s Dim Sum has received positive feedback from visitors who say they feel ‘connected to the owners’ through the storytelling elements introduced by Spacebar Design.

Anson is currently working on giving a popular Auckland Indian restaurant a make-over and he’s looking forward to helping other hospitality businesses realise and communicate their mission.

“Not everyone has the luxury to create their dream space right off the bat, especially during these difficult times, but they can still take small steps towards their dreams. That is what we’re striving for at Spacebar Design – we will support our clients no matter the size of the project, as long as we are helping them turn their dreams into reality one step at a time.

“My goal is to work with café, restaurant and bar owners to find out what their goals are and develop designs that communicate, not just decorate. That way we create environments that reflect their stories and have soul.”

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