Stacy Shoemaker Rauen: All right. Okay. But tell us about hiking.
Tony Chi: So, anyway, I need to be the foot held of my own by six, and then they climb up and climb down. It’s a pretty amazing little island. They have about over 10,000 feet, three meters Mount over 200 of them.
TC: Amazingly, it is connected from north to southeast to west. So you can go around like a merry go around, if you’re able to. So I sort of do this thing four or five days a week.
SSR: Have you been back in New York too during all this?
TC: I have, I have. I’ve been hiking up the Appalachian quite a bit.
SSR: Wow. Look at you.
TC: One day, I’m going to walk down to Atlanta from New York, or I’ll pick a wrong turn, wind up in New Hampshire somewhere.
SSR: Yeah, exactly. Too funny. I love it. Okay. So let’s start at the beginning. Where did you grow up?
TC: I grew up, I was born in Taiwan, which is little island that I am in now; migrated when I was nine. So New York, has been a backyard, a home for nearly, I don’t know, I’m 64 now. 63, 64. So, New York has been a home, its San to see New York. The way it has been for the last 18 months is equally signed to see a lot of people moved out. I mean you know best, you know what happened in New York in the last 18 months.
SSR: Were you a creative kid, was design, part of your ethos growing up?
TC: Well, design is, like a maze you don’t know what’s in it and you don’t know what’s out of it. So I don’t know how I got into it, and as you are growing up, always exploring, you know what exactly exploring, You know, when you are young, you don’t know why, and you certainly don’t know what. You don’t know why you are getting up, you don’t know what you ready for. So, you spend an entire journey doing these unknown things in life, that’s called growing up. Until one day, you’ll figure it out to say, oh, why am I doing this? For what? For, what’s the purpose of doing this and what exactly am I are doing? And, of course with the school, the education and the people, the society that teach you how to do certain things.
So you sort of combine them together and evolve, as you are evolving at five o’clock in the afternoon and increasing the velocity of your daily life. So we’ve been doing that, I’ve been doing that for nearly 40 years. So stay here. I look at, it’s almost like a season unfold and the season fold. So I come through the spring days, summer days, and perhaps I may say, “oh, gee, I haven’t been all days of my life.” You’re supposed to be harvesting the great scent, look good, looking good. I don’t know how I, how well I look, but you’re supposed to look good in the autumn days and get ready for the warmer days. So in theory, life is, in that metaphor. Now, the only difference is after winter, there is no more spring, unless you reincarnated somehow.
So, I look at it from that perspective, as I come through nearly 40 years of life, now in this 40 years, we all learn, I mean, from Stacy, from your end of it, you I reminisce all of you, Michael Adams; Bell Weathers ton your good self. Can you remember those days?
SSR: Oh yes, of course.
TC: And how we all become, we were the believers, and we believe the chapel. We were building hope that chapel one day becomes the greatest cathedral, which you are actually the pop in it nowadays. So, congratulations to you, Stacy. Really? Thanks. Okay. No, seriously, because, all of you have been the ambassador in the hospitality field. And I even remember, the original magazines called Restaurant Design, which I still love, unless you want copies of it, then transformed it in the Hospitality Design.
And when they transformed it, I think the first couple issues I was resentful, I was, angry. I said, I mean, what is this hospitality mean? So of course through the process, you learn to being guided by a word that someone created and you’re supposed to figure out what it means. Now, the industry figure it out to say, oh, that’s called hospitality industry, and that consists of travel, lounging, entertainment, et cetera, cetera. So it’s sort of all lump your emotion into one word. I know that I thought that’s pretty far out. That you can use one word, one word to define a universe. I mean that if I own that word, I would have a monopoly. So, in these 40 years of a hospitality with you guys and many others, what do we learn? Or what, at least I can say what I learn.
What I learn, of course not to use the word people love to use. Now. They say, oh, I curate. But I somehow gone through a process collecting. I collect great memories. I collect memories through everyday life. Every day is different rhythms every day and encounter different people. Some people you choose, whether you want to see them again, some people choose to say, well, I do want to see them again. So, these are the process over, time, and that’s sort of evolved how, how I do what I do, and what I do, I’m not the…I’m certainly very passionate to what I do, and I take on those people, I cross paths with and collectively building memories, and that, memory just like origami, the paper on soul, and that create the creases of the memory of the paper. So I do that with people. And I, collect a group of people that I enjoy waking up with and collectively do something. Now of course, every project we’ve done always have done it through a group of people and the group is called Prefer group, and until one day I walk into a meeting, Stacey, this is a true story.
I’m not going to say where and who, but when somebody decided not, nominate. Label me and feel other people that I brought with me are the vendors. And that really gave me a hell of a wakeup call, and that didn’t happen. That happened maybe during the early autumn days of my life. So they really had me thinking, I said, if this is how industry changing, then I certainly don’t want any part of it, because being called as a vendors like that, I mean, I’m not a vending machine. I’m, partners with many people. Through time. These are the things, the ups and downs that we, travel through this road that we’ve been on, we’ve both been known for so many decades.
SSR: What do you hope to create in these amazing hotels that you’ve created over the years and restaurant? Is it just that memorable experience? Tell me what, your role.
TC: Oh, Stacy, everything we do, as I say, we must have a purpose. So the first you say, why am I doing this? Where am I doing it? And who am I doing with? So if you take all that, add it together and define the purpose. Besides the money issue. If I want to make a lot of money, I certainly won’t be in design business, but, the purpose needs to be very clear, sometime where it matters, Where you can add and elevate, certain value, and this intangible value, you really can put number on and that give you the right purpose to do what you want to do; and that’s the reason why I’ve gotten international in 1980s, because I just felt maybe United States was too small for me, or New York was too small for me and I, not because too small in, the physical way, but in the thought process, in the culture way; in the diversity way; it wasn’t big enough.
And I didn’t wish to be purely guided by a business formula. You know, New York very well, every business has a formula. Then you use the formula, apply to a business for as long as you can, then you revenue the bottom line so that’s as much as you can. Then when that formula no longer working, then you develop another formula. So this is basically how, New York or the business world works, and I didn’t want to be part of that. And I sort of explore my own purpose, where, where I want to go, where I can learn and inspire me to do something that does not define by the mainstream. So, this is how I actually started, and of course a restaurant has always been one of my favorites with you guys, and I even remember traveling with, MJ Mannequin back in the early days is why, what do you like to do restaurant?
I said, I love the cooking part of it. I love the chef cook when nobody tells them how to cook. And it is almost like the chef does not need to, to share heat or her recipe to say, tell me what you like and tell me what you don’t like, and I will prepare accordingly. Even to this day, it doesn’t happen. So I thought of myself in designing restaurants like that, it’s like, cooking a meal. So I enjoy that. I enjoy creating that process, hospitality, totality is very, just bigger scale, much bigger, and longer duration. So, I got into that also by accident, because as you know, when Pan Am TWA it went down and the global travel started in the United, all these airlines are flying everywhere.
Hotel became a sort of a pit stop, accommodating a lot of great roll warrior. I call it those days that we used to fly now used to fly over 200 days a year, I can even you imagine United give you a million miles a year travel a war? I mean, what does that tell you? So you, look at all of that and what did you learn from it? And that’s a lot, those are the price I pay, but I did enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong. And I, am no Saint, I absolutely loved it, to a point you say enough is enough. So we all gone through this process of, learning what to do, how to do it. So the purpose was very clear for me. And then what to do, Stacy, we all learn to evolve with our own sensibility or sense of design or sense aesthetic.
What I love then, and what I love now may be miles apart because I evolved, and my taste may have altered it as, because the time altered my path. You may say, well, that was fashionable, but that was not timelessness; or perhaps that was timelessness, And today still fashionable. So I looked at it from that perspective and curated the word, curated, collected my DNA of liking and using those DNA of my liking and create I do; and hope that people find it equally flavorful, if that’s a word for that. And, I often tell people to say, you spend lot of thin net, lots of money on me and I’ll make it disappear quickly. So I promote it invisible design, and, why did I do that? And I talked about this a lot.
I said, you don’t need to dazzle people with monetary wealth, but you can fuel their life with amazing intellectual wealth, and they gather through their life journey. So you can give them a platform, give them the thumb of wealth and they can then gather. So imagine you can create a design they cannot see, but rather they can felt and they can keep on, going back to that flavor for, for life when that be something. So, that’s basically what I do about how, I was talking to a colleague of mine who just recently retired, we’re having a virtual happy hour together drinking like this and you should have a glass wine, your hand. I see a lot of, so I’m going to splash those bottles. So I was talking to a friend of mine to say, the old days when we used to design and we spent 50% of our time designing.
Which are very enjoyable and the other 50 percent making it happen, and, go persuade people, perhaps showing people, or perhaps convincing people or convey the design. So it was a fair 50/50 kind of a lifestyle that we have, but nowadays, at least the last 15 years that I see this entire thing, tilt it. It’s almost 10% of the time design. That 90 percent had become this sort of administrative persuasion, convincing, conveying, communicating, it’s a process that become stressful; in a way, of course not to mention, things just got faster, faster, faster. So, I look at it from that, expect to say, wow, when is enough. So, these are the thing that I’ve gone through these 40 years of learning. So, you learn one thing or at least you learn one thing that you want to learn forever is how to learn, how to go, just let it go, but that’s the toughest thing to, learn. How you let it go?
SSR: Easier said than done.
TC: Of course. So, you practice, I practice, I mean, if you have a pet, and she, or he pass away, how do you let it go or relationship? How do you let it go? Memorable places, how do you let it go? When you even see restaurants, see restaurant clothes, this in New York, and that’s been there for 35, 40 years, they closed, and the feeling of, oh God, I let that memory go. So you look back to say, those wonderful time and we took it for granted. Does that make any sense to you?
SSR: Makes A ton of sense. I think that’s such a good lesson, but it’s, as you said, easier said than done. When you started though, what was it, what was the impetus to start your own firm? What made you start tonychi studio, then what, why did you, what, what did you think you were going to create in this industry and looking back, ever think you create something as amazing as you did?
TC: Or no. Never thought about it. Actually. No, I was simply wasn’t cut for a corporate life and certainly wasn’t cut as a salary man, and I simply and I remember when I got my first paycheck and after taxes, $96 left in the weekly salary, then my rent was $320 a month, and I say, this is no life.
So when they come to give you a promotion to say, you get $2, more, $5 more. I thought, it was just like, when people have labeled me as a vendor and I felt that so strongly then. So I say, I’d rather have a life rather than being treated as a part of a tangible life of someone else’s be worthy of two bucks more per hour.
I look back and that’s the reason why I sort of say, I want live a life to do what I want to do, and be content with it. Now, of course, a lot of people may have a different approach and say, oh, I want to build a business, and this business can become blossom, so that will then allow me to do what I want to do. So, there’s a forward and backwards kind issue. I never thought about that. In other words, a latter part rather than the first part is I want to do what I want to do as a present moment, but not to just do what I have to do so I can do what I want to do later. But so, I was very clear just to live that moment, for as long as I can, so that’s how I started it.
SSR: Is there one project that you think kind of stands out in your mind as, I mean, I know it’s hard to choose a favorite, like your favorite, but is there one that stands out in your mind as either your big break or your, most proud moment throughout your career?
TC: Well, I think, there are lot of great moment. I mean, I go back with you guys when you guys gave me, and I believe that it is long ago, back in the 1980, whatever year, I don’t even remember celebrating these young designers, myself, a few other ones. Those, were, was a very memorable moment, and now PAC was job. It wasn’t a big deal of a job, but, those job were very sweet, and I enjoyed it. Of course, the biggest, probably the grand finale of the Andaz Tokyo, for which I think it was one of the most powerful projects I ever did.
With the team, very small team, at tonychi studio. It was Bill, it was another young lady, and David Singer. She was very close colleague, together created that project. And that project, when they say, what do you want to design? And I say, if I can design one word and let that one word define the future of this design. And that will be it.
And I think that so totally inspired by the owner, which is Mr. Morin and this was his grand finale project. Because he was diagnosed with cancer. So we didn’t know how long he was going to live. So I went to see him. I said, I’m going to design one project to really show people what you do? You as a builder, master builder in Japan. And when you build a building or city, this entire project duration, maybe 20 years or 30 years, it consists amazing memories among you, your family, and your colleagues. But the day you complete the project, you open that door and cut that ribbon. The first guest walk in forever, it changes the memory of this building. Okay, and the new memory begins. And I say, I will do this project on that Tokyo for you based on memories. I show him a piece of paper, white washi paper, and I fold it. I say, I just order the memory of the paper. So, I never show him what I want to design.
But I did design the entire hotel with washy paper. That’s why the entire on the Tokyo was all done in white washi paper. Of course the architect, everyone was, have a different opinions, say, Tony fire , I said, make it happen. And then Dave, I even remember David seeing, and say “Tony, white, I can’t illuminate white. It’s very difficult to light white.” So all the challenges that we faced and everyone overcome it, And if you would say “Tony, why are you insist having Charlie [Whinney] on this project?” This British sculpture. I said, “I insist Charlie, nonnegotiable”. I want Charlie. And they said “why”? I said, because he create this rhythm in the air with bend wood. It’s the wood that you can fold, you can bend, but to bend the wood, the wood must consist memory. Otherwise the wood can’t stay curve like that. So, I want to be able to have all these people that can master memory, be part of the memory building. To me, it was very simple, but some people may get it. Some people don’t, but it really doesn’t matter.
What matter is the common objectives that we all fear to build one memory. But the memory, not mine. The memory of the journey we’ve had for the journey to be half. So, you look at this whole duration of the project. It was probably one of the greatest a moment for me. And of course, since that project, then of course I physically got ill. I simply, taking a very different approach in life. I should know I’m a cancer survivor and, and of course, many things that alter my life, I guess that was the grand finale of the project that I said, that’s it. No more,
SSR: That’s it.
TC: That’s it. No more.
SSR: When was that?
TC: 10 years ago.
SSR: And so how has that been? I mean, Allison, your daughter now works with you. Has that been exciting to help kind of pass the torch to her and the team with Bill?
TC: Well, it is not a marathon. That’s how I understand this life, you run your life, you run alone. It is not that you can pass a baton of your life to someone else. And it won’t be fair to them nor fair to you. So, to me, it’s never a marathon. Okay. It is a race. It is, a journey, and journey come to an end. Okay. And someone else’s journey begin somewhere. This is no different than when I go hiked up in the mountain. The path I took many had taken the same path. Okay. And I walk on other people’s memory. And of course, sometime I look back what happened a thousand years ago. So, you not going to tell me she’s studio today. My, my daughter, she’s bright. She’s very much like me. Okay. Except she’s brighter, smarter. And prettier. And of course, because of the circumstances, we, as her parent, give her the best education, the best money can buy education. And she took advantage of that. And she equally learned the life. We platformed it, Allison never had a summer camp, maybe one or two of the American summer camp.Other way of life is always their choice to say where they want to be during the summer. I always allowed them to pick the country, the city and I will move the whole family there for the whole summer. And I did that for them when they were growing up.
SSR: That’s amazing.
TC: We didn’t want them to grow up in the little pond. We didn’t want them to blend in with their same kids in the school. Not that blending. We would like to open up their, their, their environment a little bit, so they can make their own call, who should be their friends who shouldn’t. And whatever the choice they make, it will always be theirs. We have absolutely no inheritance pass on to them.
I didn’t pass on anything to Allison. Is only one thing. Did my life come to end? Let’s just say if Tony Chi studio, which I started it to a point where I call it the end, then it’s for me to, to, to close it. And people may say, oh, that’s not a good business model or not, but it was never a business model to begin with. You know? So, but, but luckily Allison find joy in it in the last 10 years. And she found this feel of hospitality is so diverse is so creative. It is so passionate and especially the people in it and is so genuinely amazing people, right? It’s a very different than Wall Street, very different than the other field. You know, it’s a unique feel of industry, you know, as you call a hospitality of design feel.
I think she went into one. I couldn’t speak before, but I think she went into, she able to design life. I mean, I mean, God does that, you know? I think she probably went into that. Because of that now for me, I was very clear that I no longer don’t want to do this than in my life. You know? I think not because I got sick, but also the purpose certainly audited? Where, who, why, where no longer mattered anymore. Where this globalization, everywhere the same and they all look like Hong Kong, they all look like Singapore. They all look like Tokyo. I mean, there is no more individuality? I mean, if you go down to even New York, we used to have ghettos, the Hudson yard. It’s, I mean, Hudson yard looks no different than Hong Kong or, or any other Japanese.
So, if you look at it from that perspective where don’t matter anymore. But who becoming more monetary driven. And I think the purpose for the who is very hard to, to bring your people, you, I mean, very often we say, they say, let’s have a drink. You know, you never know what’s going to come out of it. But today, I guess you choose who you want to drink with. So who part of it also evolve quite a bit. Okay. And how, how part of it, Stacy, you, you guys are amazing? Because you always evolve over generation. The generation are, are created by the people. One generation after the other. So this sort of adjustment in people making is also a very critical part of it. Now that you have to look at yourself to say, am I capable to make that adjustment?
If you can make that adjustment, then what make you capable to design something new for the people? So, I look at it from both and you know, how part of it, the learning part of it will then become, how do you make that adjustment to people? And in my case, I can feel, really make the how adjustment based on artistic knowhow. But the scientific knowhow, you got to go back to school, sociology school to learn how to make that kind of adjustment scientifically with people. But then of course we can choose what do we want to learn? You know? And when I realized this, when I realized this, this is a project, just say, what’s a next project. There’s a project that, that people contacted our office. And, and I’m not going to say where. But, and then the people the chairman want to talk to me, not, I said, you know, I know this chairman.
I know they’re very well, I know they huge it’s it is a right business model with their own food industry, food industry, their own banks, then they can do all the thing you wanted to do. But I did give them a question list to say, if even tell me why you, you, you create this building, look like this, what was a lot behind it? And what do you see the rhythm inside this building? And what do you expect? When somebody not able to answer those questions, then you have to say, gee, am I able to be partnered with that person to create this new hotel?Then the second part of it, of course, if you want a global, some places, not global, some places, always local, but in being local, I laugh, but I love the local with a global view, but not the global with no local view.
I’m very clear. I find that this project that Allison, maybe we should not be bothered with it. And I thought about it. I said, yeah, maybe should write. We shouldn’t be bothered with it because it is a local, a global view and trying to be global and forget the local sense. So you know, there is one of those things that is make not worthy of doing.
But of course, in terms of project, you could just simply take it and using the copy and paste and do the job. Collect the fee. But think about this, your fee, whatever you collect, 90 percent of that will be spent on communicating with people and how difficult is that? Especially when with English language, it’s not a common platform.
So how do you convey clearly? There’s a lot of things that we go through. And of course, you know, tonychi studio was never a business for me and home, how Allison formulates, which I input zero. The only thing I suggested back around 2016 or 2017 was I say, the hotel industry is growing way too fast. Just, there’s, there’s over 1,500 hotels being built in China alone. I wonder where they going to find 1,000 qualified general managers to manage them. And where are they going to find 1,500 executive chefs that create a cuisine? I mean, how do they do all this? Then not to mention, how do you find 100,000 people every day to fill them?
I look at it, I says, oh my God, this is almost like a McDonald’s now. That’s when I say, maybe we should, should continue to learn and still making the difference by doing some amazing private homes, which we always have be doing. You know, one at a time, amazing home, amazing people. You learn with them for good and for the ugly. Because you learn to live with them, emotionally. You know, their habit, their behavior and, their aesthetic preferences, their social life. Even the ugly part of it, how they use their bathroom. When you get emotionally engaged with people, what that you like, this is almost like having great many families you’re designing collectively. This there’s a collectiveness somehow working much better in this residential field, which Allison I say is particularly good at those area. You know? I think how Allison take tonychi studio will be certainly interesting.
Now I certainly never built it as a, as a 500-person firm, because I didn’t want that. So I always kept it on the 30 people and, and I think she probably carried a similar scale and perhaps even smaller. So she can then enjoy her little micro scale life within her realm. So, from that perspective, I’m pleased.
SSR: I mean you’ve had such amazing clients, Rosewood, Park Hyatt, Andaz, as you mentioned, I mean, list goes on and on what has been the secret to success for you working with such using clients and building, these sanctuaries, and these urban places that you’ve got to design right. With this almost as you talk about residential aesthetic, right. They almost feel like glamorous or luxurious homes to begin with. So, but what has been, I digress, what has been your kind of secret to success along the way? Do you think of getting these amazing collaborators?
TC: In my quarantined life, I’ve been watching the symphony every day. I go to six symphonies a day. I’m going to use that as an example: some great composers need a great conductor to convey their great symphony. And I did that. Then they were some client that had no composition and they say, would you be my composer? And would you show me how to conduct? So I’ve done that as well. So all the great client I have had that was all through this collaboration of knowing our strength and weaknesses. Perhaps I say my weaknesses is really the people. So, I am clear what rhythm, what note. And I hear, and I also know how to create that great, absolute seamless symphony at the end. Okay. But it takes lot of effort to do that. Don’t forget I have 28 musicians on the stage, and everyone want to be shy. Everyone want to be outstanding. And how do you then be a great conductor to keep everything in place? So the consumer will then hear the symphony and become a flawless the evening. But it doesn’t it, it really takes a lot of dictatorial approach.
So sometimes you look at this conductor on the stage, you look at his facial expression. Was he angry? Was he please? Did he see turbulence during particular moment? And I look at this concert, I say, I do see that. And so, I never find a flawless concert. And I go through six of them a day. Then I can certainly look at each concert and say, certain musicians are wonderfully disciplined. Okay. But this concert seems to be bit rigid and bit scientifically perfect.
But what is a lack of? We look at my role is to achieve that perfect symphony and then have I ever achieved that? Absolutely not. You know, because to do that, say, you know that to do that, I need perfect guests. I need perfect guests to come in to enjoy. So I look at this counselor, I mean, this is actually, I’m watching right now, this Berlin symphony and it is getting nearly perfect. You know why? Because the audience, they are all disciplined.
And they’re part of that symphony. Nobody coughing, nobody doing movement and everyone in the gray color suits, nobody jumps out. Only allow this in this music to dancing through the air. I say, oh, this is a nearly perfect concept, but, my clients then, and our client today, I think they all treasure that they all treasure, they’re smart. They’re not stupid people. They’re very smart. And they’re smarter to know, to know what they don’t want. They really, really smart about that. Okay. And we certainly mature enough to know what we don’t know. We don’t know how to do certain things. So we find great partners collectively? Just like if I’m not a greatest piano player, I’ll find the greatest a player to play together. We can meet the symphony. So, we all know what we don’t know.
And these clients, of course, they, some of them have grown over the years become greater success. And some of them have grown over the years to be less in size, but more in quality. So people taking a very different approach of their own growth, they equally for us to decide their growth. Is it still in parallel with our growth? If it is not, then you’re part it. If it is the same, then you continue. You know, it’s not a complicated things in life. At the end of the day, we are all in this huge commerce together, and whether we like it or not, it is a commerce. Somehow we collectively, including yourself in it to add and elevate, this commerce, commerce world. However, we elevate them. So that’s exactly what we do. And we’ve been very lucky with some of these amazing, amazing clients who knows who, what they don’t know and allow us to contribute the part we do best. Yeah. And how, I mean, mean,
SSR: I think it’s interesting what you said before that, even our magazine was called restaurant and design and then it morphed into hospitality. Where do you see the industry headed from what you’ve seen? I mean, you’ve seen 40 years, you’ve seen a lot in your career, where do you think hospitality should go?
TC: Well, you know, Stacy, this is a very, very challenging question. The question here is where do you see family goes? Hospitality came out of your family, and of course, the old days your grandparents will take your mother out to dinner and how well she will get dressed up before she goes. Okay. And what certain manner that she will have when she is in this restaurant with other people prepare meal for her or for the family. So all this are with the family kind of thing. So the future hospitality, the question may have to go to the root of it. Yeah. Where do you think the future family is going. Now, of course today, the life that we’re living is so fast that we, we all somehow looking for a, they did the result, but, but very, very, very few people do care about the process. And the process no longer become relevant in our everyday life. I mean, what kind of an impact is that? I don’t have an answer to any of this.
But I still do believe the family value to some people still matter. I cook a lot of home because first of all, I have certain diet. It won’t be fair to have somebody else prepare that for you. Second of all, I trust me, I clean them. I trust me. So there’s certain thing. Of course, I got plenty of time nowadays. Since I’m retired, I have the time to process, to shop, to pick what I like to clean them and to prepare them, you know? I do.
We’re shopping in the market, and I cook play and I enjoy that. That kind of family value do you think is going to continue right now? Let’s just say we’re able to continue some basic of that. Not seven days a week. Okay. Not 14 or 21 meals a week. Let’s just say we do twice a week. And pick the day, pick the Monday, pick the Sunday. Those are the two days that you will do what you do. And let those two days define the difference of our way of life. So then people will then develop this sort of a hospitality from home. So when they do go out on the Tuesday, say, “Oh, finally, I go out to the restaurant.” They can still carry that residual emotion, that visual impact from home to the restaurant.
I think that link is important. The future of hospitality, I’ve been telling the, some of our colleagues say, let us, don’t look at life like a packaging design. It’s not just creating a beautiful wrapping paper and don’t worry about what’s inside. What we do is not a packaging. It’s not a cosmetic, it’s not a cosmetic makeup artist. What we do is the content building. So focus on what you think the content is important? In the hospitality field, what do you think is important? I think the value is important. I think education’s important. I think elevating is important. Happiness is important. And honesty is important.
And honesty is important. I went out the other day in New York, and I told the servers, “It’s terrible. The service actually is terrible.” And they included a 25 percent gratuity and it is all included in the meal. I said, “I can live with that because it’s just simply mean this meal includes this gratuity. But in another restaurant, the service is just as terrible, and it did not include a gratuity, which I need to pay that gratuity,” and that’s our thinking. I said, “Should I?” So, it crosses my mind what the hospitality should stand for. So, if we do go into the future, what do you think is important? Now, if you’re telling me the hard part, which is adjustment in people based in, then maybe we ought to promote the human behavior within the restaurant, and I don’t mean the guest only. I’m talking about the service staff as well? And I think if you’re coming out to have dinner, you surely want to have a memorable experience? But not walk away to say, “This was terrible, that’s terrible.” The certain thing we can accept, it’s not perfect? Just even I’m telling you about the concert, it’s not perfect. Nothing will ever be flawless, but you got to be able to see the possibility? So, with the hospitality field, it’s no longer that, and oftentimes also the hotels. I’m staying in a quarantine hotel. I wonder who trained this serving staff? The etiquette, kindness, somehow it’s not there. For them, it’s just another job. They get paid whether I like it or not. So this is sort of go back to how I started tonychi. I just felt that getting paid was something every week. Every Thursday, I get a paycheck. It’s like, “oh God, another week,” that sort of bothers me.
SSR: I remember an interview we did where you explained to me that if you’re doing this for a paycheck, you’re doing it for the wrong reason, that this is a way of life. I think that’s what you’re saying, that you still believe that, yeah.
TC: Well, that’s the only thing I believe. After 40 years, I’m still believing it, for sure. If I didn’t believe in that, I wouldn’t make of money along the way.
SSR: I love you. You’ve done a bunch of lectures and I know a lot of people are inspired by your work and your story. What would be your best piece of advice to someone starting out now?
TC: Well, I think the purpose needs to be clear. The advice is the purpose. Why? Why are you doing it? If you’re doing it for money, I think that’s a good reason. If you’re doing it for happiness, that’s a good reason, too? So you got to be very clear with the purpose, that you can say, “I want it all.” And altogether, that’s okay, too, but you got to prioritize it?
SSR: I like how you say that [your wife] Tammy is Zen. What has it been like working with her in life and in business since 1984, whenever you started? How do you guys work together well? Have you balanced each other out over the years? How did you kind of work together?
TC: Well, I think, working together is a big word. Working solo is more like it. We’re in two different worlds. Tammy is very accommodating and she’s the engine. She’s the scientist. She is the one that make it all work. Lucky me, right? If she doesn’t do that part of it, then who’s going to make the paycheck? If it’s up to me, then probably no one gets paid. So, regardless, someone has to do the part. I was not very focused of doing, okay? And perhaps, you can look at, “Oh, Tony is more selfish. He lived the life he wants to live.” Then, of course, Tammy is more accommodating, accommodate me the way she wished to accommodate, and I think that is something that we shared the journey for nearly 40 years, okay? And that’s a huge commitment from one side over to the other side?
But nowadays, things don’t work that way? Nowadays, it’s all about compromising? You go halfway, I go halfway, then somehow you will find the equilibrium way to go forward. But unfortunately, Stacy, you know me all of these years? And I’m more extreme and I think I just don’t believe in compromising, okay? And I think, how do you compromise on the symphony concert? How do you do that to get that perfect note? There is no compromising. But in business, of course, there is compromising. But I was never a business to begin with? But at the same time, are we not making money? Yes, we are. We’re making money so we can continue to do what do.
SSR: What’s been your biggest takeaway from that, or your lesson learned over the last 18 months?
TC: Well, I think, probably coexisting, not with anybody else, but with yourself because you have so much time being by yourself? So you got to coexist with yourself before you coexist with someone else? Can you imagine if you have a small apartment in New York and you have the whole family in it? You have to coexist with them physically? But foremost, it’s how do you coexist with yourself first.
And that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve learned. I learned, for the last 18 months, 85% of my time, I’m alone. Okay? And because I hike for five days up to the mountain? So I don’t hike with people? And people say, “What about safety?” I say, “I hired two trackers. It costs me $85 per person.” And I say, “One hiker, you go ahead of me. Another hiker, you stay behind me. Okay? So the one in front, the one behind maintain the pace. But what’s important, I don’t want to see any of you.” No, I don’t. I really don’t want to see them, but I want my safety as well. So they will know if I didn’t follow them, I’m lost somewhere.
So I do hike responsibly in just a matter of 150 bucks? You hire somebody to do that, these Aboriginal people. They know on the mountain better than I do? So I do that, but I do learn to coexist by yourself? You learn to talk about yourself. You learn to thinking out loud, loudly. You don’t really have to worry about how other people perceive you? The only person, or the only thing that sees you out there is you. So I think that’s probably the most critical thing for me in the last 18 months.
SSR: Is there one thing people might not know about you, or that you’ve learned about yourself?
TC: Probably, most of the people know that I am difficult to get along. I’m a perfectionist. I’m always looking for that perfect. If it is not good enough, I’ll do it all over again. Now, the last 18 months makes it even more so for me.
TC: Because I’m always looking for that perfect hike, but I can’t find it? I need the weather, I need the wind, I need the light timing, I need all of it. So I keep going out there to look for it? So yeah, and persist to find that absolute perfect, perfect moment.
SSR: What happens if you find that moment?
TC: I will know, I will know. Just as someone said, it is not how many breath you take, it’s those breath that take your life away. So, I will know. And I remember, there’s one trip I want to do, and this is about maybe six months ago. This mountain is forbidden. You can’t go in there, so you have to register. So I waited for months to get the approval.
SSR: Where is this?
TC: In Taiwan. So this mountain, they limit the amount of people going there. This is almost like Machu Picchu, but more sacred than that. So, this mountain, you can’t go in by car because the road is all tiny and fragile. So you got to walk your way in and they take days, and they limit the people. But to go in there, you will see things at least 1,000 years old, the trees, the forest, nothing has been touched. So I got in there. It took me months to get in there? So I got in there and I had three miserable rain, okay? The rain just poured from day to night. You can’t go out there because it’s very risky? So, I wind up in the mountain, never saw the mountain.
SSR: After all of that?
TC: After all of that. But I’m sitting in the cabin and looking out to the cloud and say, “I can only imagine.”
SSR: Poor thing. Well, you don’t have to do it again.
TC: I will, I will.
SSR: Oh. So what are you doing now? Are you really retired? I feel like you can’t retire, but maybe I’m wrong. I feel like your personality won’t let you.
TC: I always love what I do, okay? The difference though, either you get paid or you don’t get paid. The last 18 months, there are a lot of people realized that I’m here on this island. They want to hire me and I turned down all of the offer. And, of course, I started to ask Alison, “Do you guys want to do it?” They said, “No, no, no. We’re not interested doing it.” So, I don’t, but sometimes I get itchy hands. I want to do something. So these people will say, “Listen, can we hire you to do this?” I said, “Don’t hire me, I’ll do it for free.” But not big, something very small. So I did an exhibition booth for a wood timber company? And this booth, typically, you do an exhibition. It’s very open that people pass by the aisle. They can see what you’re selling. And if they’re interested, they come in. If they’re not interested, they don’t come in. But instead, because I hiked so much, I created a mountain large mountain house.
You can’t see the inside. You absolutely cannot see the inside. First, you have to somehow show your business card. You have to register? And then, of course, you have to queue up and they only allow four to five people inside this 4×4, 60 square feet of a booth. Tiny. So four or five people can only be inside at once. So the inside, you go in there, you smell the scent of the wood because I wanted the wood that are from the forest, so I recreated the forest in the exhibition. And I saw people going there, they can smell this the forest, and this is where the timber comes from, and this is the symbolic gestures that represent this timber company. And I did that for free and I actually enjoyed doing it. And they never questioned what I want to do, and they followed by the tee, and they build everything I wanted.
SSR: Oh, that’s so great. When did you really stop working on projects, or have you stayed involved in some of the projects over the last few years?
TC: Listen, the studio will ask me in terms of the planning part of it, in terms of the content that matters. We oftentimes talk about storytelling. What kind of story you wish to tell? What do you wish to accomplish? How to do it, actually, I don’t get involved anymore. What part of it, sometimes, and they’re interested. Then, I will share with them what is relevant nowadays. Like your question, it says, what is relevant in the hospitality tomorrow? So we talk about that, but this is not a very black and white. One should talk about what the next part of this, how do you convey that one part? Then, the reader will then read through your part, and whether they will absolutely get what part correctly or not, that’s another matter? So I think that, with the studio, it become more abstract in the everyday communication, which is not a bad thing.
SSR: Yes. No, not at all. And I love that you used the word content because that makes me happy as an editor. Because it is all about all of the pieces? Everything that you create within, so I love that. You’ve done some amazing stuff. I don’t know, this is such a privilege and an honor to sit here with you, and hopefully we can have a drink in person, one of those happy hour drinks at the Pierre when you get back.
TC: Thank you. Thank you, Stacy, and you be well.
SSR: You, too. Let me know when you’re back in town.