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Entrepreneur and Organizer, Clara Davis

Jan 19, 2018

I’m an East Coast American who moved to Western China on a whim in 2010. If you told me then I’d still be here now, I wouldn’t have believed you. I’ve spent the last five years in this city, and I’m currently heading up the Shanghai expansion of Hatchery, a culinary incubator and platform committed to testing and growing China’s next generation of food ideas. I’m also the founder of Unravel, a live storytelling platform, which has become one of the greatest joys of my Shanghai existence.

I moved to Chengdu a year after I graduated college tempted by wanderlust, adventure, and a wild way to evade the idea of “adulthood” which I felt utterly unprepared for. I was always curious about the world but was not an impassioned Sinophile in college, nor was moving here particularly…intentional. But I’m thankful I was young, reckless, and raised to take leaps of faith (as anyone who caught my Mother’s story at September’s Unravel can attest). Eventually, I realized I needed some direction and applied to a dual degree graduate program with LSE and Fudan University that would take me to London for a year and then back to China for a year in Shanghai.

claradavisbench

When my program finished I knew I wasn’t done with Shanghai and so I once again went about doing a bit of everything to stay. A pop up food project with a friend of mine turned into my meeting my future investors Duvel Moortgat, a Belgian brewery group. They were looking to invest in a venue, and I had the chance to pitch them a concept for a beer bar, which they ultimately approved. In a land where I was used to saying “Why Not?” this experience took the cake. It was a ridiculous and incredible opportunity.

After two incredible years at the helm of District I accepted a new job with Hatchery this past September. Hatchery is ultimately about empowering local communities to have a say in what concepts take off in their cities and operates by helping entrepreneurs and companies test food ideas in China. As I have learned first-hand, building a food and beverage business here is an enormous task, with a tremendously uncertain outcome. Incubating ideas and engaging consumers from the get go is one way to mitigate some of that risk and contain costs until a concept or business can feel more secure. Our primary objective is launching successful, scalable independent businesses.

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For me, working, eating, and drinking are often intersecting for better or worse! I love places in Shanghai where you can feel someone cares deeply about the product or experience they’ve created. Pelikan is one of my absolute favorites in this city; the backdrop to many notable birthdays, farewells, brunches and our Chi Fan for Charity venue for two years running. La Vite, my former living room, when I lived above it on Wulumuqi. Cheese and meat board and dangerously generous wine pours! I love having Bull and Claw back and across the street from me, treating myself to a lobster roll has been correlated directly to my happiness levels. So has the skillet of cinnamon rolls at Liquid Laundry.

I love supporting (read: drinking) craft beer in establishments across this fine city, though my heart belongs to a pint of Boulevard Pale Ale wherever it’s on offer. The rare gift of a Little Catch dynamite salmon poke (with 莴笋, duh) or Nosh bowl on my couch cannot be ignored. Also, I believe hot pot is suitable for all seasons and occasions. Hai Di Lao for the revelry (and that service! and that sauce bar!) or Elixir/Wulao when I'm feeling healthful. The hustle and the variety of F&B in this city is so real.

claradavisapplestore

Duvel made the difficult decision to close District at the end of November, and I still miss it like a ghost limb. More than the place itself, it was this warm, familiar feeling that was the composite of the many people and parts and moments that made it special. I feel extremely blessed to have managed the life cycle of a business from start to finish. It was a painful, thrilling process and one I’ll always be grateful to Shanghai for. It’s strange and wonderful to have experienced the formative decade of my twenties in China, and thanks to it I’m a lot clearer about the kind of person and professional I am and want to keep evolving into.

There are so many things I love about Shanghai, it’s still a city of stories, surprise, and opportunity. Everyone’s on the move juggling jobs and projects and passions. Social and professional circles are so much less stratified, you can reach out to people across industry or age or income divides; your friends come from everywhere and do everything. I just think that’s unparalleled in other global cities.

From a distance, this was always the glitzy city of dreams and before making the move I pictured myself getting gobbled up.  But that’s the funny thing about Shanghai, in a city that feels like it could swallow you up whole, there’s actually a lot of room to swim.

**

Catch the next Unravel, a live-story telling event around the theme 'resolution' next week. More details here.

And next Saturday, Hatchery is hosting an event called Taste Tomorrow a panel on food and innovation, speakers include: Austin Hu, Nat Alexander, Kim Melvin, our very own Chris St. Cavish, and more. Details here.

VENUES MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE:

  • Hatchery (Coming Soon)

    • Business
    • Xuhui
    • Address
      627 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Sinan Lu
      淮海中路627号, 近思南路
    • Phone

    Read more

  • Elixir / Wulao Hotpot

    • Dining
    • Hot Pot
    • Xuhui
    • Address
      2 Hengshan Lu, near Taojiang Lu
      衡山路2号甲香樟花园内, 近桃江路
    • Phone
      5456 1489

    Read more

  • La Vite (Wulumuqi Zhong Lu)

    • Dining
    • Pizza
    • Italian
    • Address
      No 2, 247 Wulumuqi Zhong Lu, near Wuyuan Lu
      乌鲁木齐中路247弄2号, 近五原路
    • Phone
      6415 7858

    La Vite is small and cozy. The decor is quaint with quirky touches like light fixtures made from wine bottles and colorful plates and bowls. The menu is a small selection of pastas, pizzas and cold cut plates. They also offer a fair selection of Italian wines. Read more

  • Pelikan

    • Dining
    • Fusion
    • Design Standout
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      225 Xikang Lu, near Beijing Xi Lu
      西康路225号, 近北京西路
    • Phone
      6266 7909

    Chill Scando / Nordic restaurant with beach vibes and incredibly comfortable couches in Jing'an, by long-time Shanghai restaurateur Craig Willis (Mr Willis, Henkes, Bang, La Strada; former Wagas chef). The focus here is shared plates, gourmet coffee, Gin & Tonics,... Read more

  • This venue has now closed

    District

    • Nightlife
    • Bars
    • Cocktails
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      284 Yuyuan Road, near Wulumuqi Bei Lu
      愚园路284号, 近乌鲁木齐北路
    • Phone
      152 2105 7136

    Tidy little neighborhood beer bar just north of The Wall that was set up by a Midwestern import with backing from the company that distributes Duvel in China. They have eight beers on tap, four Belgian and four American craft brews, plus a decent menu of American pub... Read more

  • Fudan University

    • Education
    • Schools & Universities
    • Hongkou
    • Address
      220 Handan Lu, near Guoshun Lu
      邯郸路220号, 近国顺路
    • Phone
      6564 2258

    Read more

  • The Bull & Claw (Fenyang Lu)

    • Dining
    • BBQ & Steaks
    • Seafood
    • Address
      110 Fenyang Lu, near Fuxing Zhong Lu
      汾阳路110号, 近复兴中路
    • Phone
      3356 7608

    Bull & Claw is back in that expansive, three-story mansion on Fenyang Lu used to be El Patio. It's a real nice location. Top-of-line terrace. It's cozy but not cramped, and whoever redid the interior... Read more

  • Liquid Laundry

    • Nightlife
    • Dining
    • Bars
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      KWah Centre, 2/F, 1028 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Donghu Lu
      淮海中路1028号, 嘉华坊2楼, 近东湖路
    • Phone
      6445 9589

    Popular gastro-pub / lounge by serial restauranteur Kelly Lee, the woman behind Sproutworks, iiiiit, Boxing Cat, and Cantina Agave. This one has a fully-functional brewery and they usually have a dozen of their brews on tap, which change constantly and can get quite... Read more

  • This venue has now closed

    Little Catch (Wulumuqi Zhong Lu)

    • Dining
    • Shopping
    • Seafood
    • Address
      247 Wulumuqi Zhong Lu, near Wuyuan Lu
      乌鲁木齐中路247号, 近五原路
    • Phone
      6405 6630

    Neighborhood fishmonger on Wulumuqi Lu dealing in fresh and frozen imported seafood. It's run by two sisters from Hong Kong who are three generations deep in the seafood game. Their poke bowls are a classic lunch option. Those are around 55rmb. They also stock some... Read more

  • Nosh

    • Delivery
    • Sandwich Delivery
    • Salads
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      Delivery only
    • Phone
      3469 0668

    A foreign-owned concept specializing in sandwiches, salads, quiches and smoothies, Nosh is known for simple, fresh fare using quality ingredients. One of the healthier take-out options in town. Available for delivery in Puxi and Pudong. Read more

  • Hai Di Lao Hot Pot (Changshou Lu)

    • Dining
    • Hot Pot
    • Late Night Dining
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      468 Changshou Lu, near Changde Lu
      长寿路468号, 近常德路
    • Phone
      6277 0701

    Hai Di Lao is a ridiculously popular recent transplant from Sichuan. They've made a killing by offering nice, sleek dining rooms that look much more expensive than they are, an extensive bar of ingredients from which to make your dipping sauce, and over-the-top... Read more

[Shanghai Famous]:

Shanghai Famous is a weekly SmartShanghai column focusing on people out there in the city makin' the scene. They're out there around town, shaping Shanghai into what it is, creating the art, culture, and life around us. We asked them what's good in Shanghai. We asked them what's bad in Shanghai. We asked them to tell us more, more, more about their wonderful selves.

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