Chef Alex Chang
Updated: Dec 19, 2019
Within the Freehand Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, Alex Chang, executive chef of ‘The Exchange’ defines the modern-day chef. Self-taught, Alex gained recognition while attending USC, where he and his roommate began hosting dinner parties. The duo would charge a small fee for a three-course dinner, rapidly maturing into 60 covers a night. This underground restaurant gained so much attention that a filmmaker covered the story in a Tribeca Film Festival premiered documentary. Seemingly overnight, the restaurant-world would become Alex’ oyster.
With rising minimum wage and high rents, the cost of running a restaurant in LA has become almost prohibitively expensive). How are you making it work?
There’s no way around that cost, so extreme discipline and constant monitoring of the cost is the only way.
This business allows no error, so you need to have a very strong vision of the concept you want to create and build a thought-out labor and cost structure around it – and then stick to it.
Supplementing the restaurant with a strong bar helps balance out some of the high cost from the restaurant operation, too.
If someone approaches me with a vacant restaurant space, I make sure that footfall and real traffic is already in place at that location. Opening a restaurant in a new location and hoping for traffic to build up after that is too risky with such a high operating cost.
If you could make one request to real estate / hotel companies, what would the ideal collaboration look like for you to be able to run a restaurant sustainably?
A unified vision is extremely important. What are the driving factors behind what we’re doing? Is it to create a beautiful restaurant space and great food? Are we trying to create added value for other tenants within the same building such as a hotel? Or is it merely to maximize profits?
What is your number one challenge when working out a deal with hospitality or real estate companies?
From my experience, real estate companies don’t have an understanding of how the process of building a sustainable restaurant brand and concept works. Often, the suggested rent structures don’t allow for organic growth, or they suggest ideas like moving a restaurant to a temporary location during construction. They don’t see that while it might work for a traditional retail store, it could kill a restaurant.
Modern hotel groups and lifestyle brands on the other hand understand how to make a restaurant become a part of the hotel and integrate the restaurant concept in a way that it enhances the hotel concept.
What’s your next project and your professional long-term plan?
I have a few great concept ideas stored in the back of my head and constantly see places and learn about ingredients that fuel my imagination. Currently, I am very interested in experimenting with Japanese cuisine. Even though there is no concrete plan for a next restaurant, I would love to build a company that allows me to open more restaurant and bar concepts in the future.