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The House Wins: The Social House Is Re-Opening

SmSh talks to Bryce Jenner about bringing back The Social House at their Fumin Lu location...
2023-02-20 19:00:00

Many of you know the name Bryce Jenner. If not from living in Shanghai for decades, or because of a pretty big article we did almost a year ago... this man is one of those "Made in Shanghai" blokes that have been part of defining this city's history for many expats here.

He sent us a message on Friday, to let us know his once short-lived flagship (Beast of the East Social House), was coming back from the dead in force. Yes, that once raging Canadian inspired Social House is coming back, and thankfully this time, it's just called "Social House" (the previous name was fun, but a mouthful).

We called Bryce up to get the story behind the place's re-opening.

SmSh: So... what happened with Beast of the East?

Bryce Jenner: We opened early 2022. When we opened Social House we were low on cash-flow, because we put a lot of money into renovating the space. But it did VERY well as you saw. We were only open for two months, and if we had had the full month of March, would have been profitable. That's not an easy thing to do with a place that size, in that amount of time. Man, it was a rush, and people loved it.

But we were only open for two and half months, and then "the LOCKDOWN" came, and it was an EXPENSIVE venue to run. We had over 230 staff that we had to pay across the group, but for this place, the rent was huge compared to our other venues. We were building the group, but then everything just imploded.

Overall, our cashflow wasn't as strong as we wanted going into the lockdown. When it happened, kind of thought "ya know, when the lockdown finishes... it's not gonna be like 2020 when there was a post-lockdown boom. I can't see things coming back very quickly".

I made the tough decision to not re-open the Social because it was such a high cost to operate it, so we would have lost a ton of money during 2022, so I decided to walk away from it. It was the sacrificial lamb [of the True Legend Group], gotta kill that one, to save the rest of them. We didn't close it because of a popularity issue. I just knew it was gonna be a long time before things got better, and rather than have this project suck the rest of the group dry during a tough year, it was a CEO decision for me to close it.

SmSh: And what brought about the idea to ressurect The Social House?

BJ: I thought a lot about things. Some things personal, some things economic, conversations with partners.

First, I'll start with the part where people might think I'm crazy. I'm taking a leap of faith here. I'm betting that the government and their policies are gonna be prioritizing opening things up, promoting business, and getting things back on track as fast as possible. They are going to do everything they can to get fully open, to expand flights into the city, to get the economy burning hot again.

"I figured that if you're gonna build something on a wave, you should do it when it just starts to form."

Second, this is also hugely personal to me. I was one day lying in bed, almost asleep, and I thought what the fastest way is to get from A to Z, and I thought "opening the social house" would be a great idea. I gotta get back on my horse and fire things up again. I want to be a pillar of strength. But these past two years have felt real tough. Made some mistakes along the way, but I learned. This is going to help me come back to town and help me get my mojo back. It's not all about the money, it's about a real sense of accomplishment. I built it, it was beautiful, and it worked great. Then I shut it down. So... I gotta do this. It was a good concept. I mean, it IS a great concept, and I'm gonna run with it.

I reached out to a bunch of investors, found the investment money, will cost me about 3m RMB to set-up, as well as pay our deposits, and equipment, andeverything. Negotiated with landlord, got the good terms, and he's pretty happy to have us come back in (which anyone will tell you, it is always good to have a supportive landlord).

Beast of the East Social house, it wont be called that again, because we are shutting down the brewing co, and concentrating on the venues. It will just be "The Social House".

SmSh: Can you introduce the place for people who might not have heard of it?

BJ: We have these things called "Social Houses" in Canada. It's where the idea comes from. Shanghai doesn't have one of these, but it deserves one. It's not just a restaurant, or a bar, or a lounge, or a dance club. It's a space that transforms itself for anyone there, and throughout the day. You can go in the morning, just sit and hang out, have breakfast. Our lunch times were doing great, people would chill afterward, we had people having tea and business meetings in the afternoon, those types that need something more casual, but still nice. People would come for dinners and stay until we turned up the music and the dancing started. And we kept the kitchen open late, so yea, you could drop by and order food at midnight (whether you needed a break from drinking, or just had late night munchies).

My chefs who were with the group, I told them to go wild, and they created a new menu with great food, but with highlights from our other venues like Big Bamboo and Pistolera, plus a great management team who put their energy behind the project. People loved it.

SmSh: How on earth did you manage to snag the same space, after 9 months?

BJ: This was pure luck, I was NOT planning on re-opening the space.

I gotta tell ya, for awhile there I was thinking damn, where am I going to go, am I gonna stay in Japan, am I gonna go to Canada. There was some thought about going to Ho Chi Min which is on fire like Shanghai was 15 years ago. But I've lived in Shanghai for 23 years, it's my home, and we went through a lot of bullshit the last few years, especially in the last 10 months, but still... it's the greatest damn city in the world.

We were quite surprised that it's still there, after 9 months that we closed the space. My staff took videos, and I said "holy crap, the place is exactly how we left it". How many people get to take a proven concept, and then open it up in the exact same place? How do I come back to where I was pre-COVID... and I thought "well...strangely enough that venue I left, that I built and was beautiful and it was my baby... its... its still there and waiting for me.

SmSh: For having been in F&B for over two decades in Shanghai, what do you think is the temperature now that zero Covid is out?

BJ: My guys on the ground though where telling me things, and I was listening. More and more of my guys and gals on the ground were all saying "the energy is back... there is an energy in the city, it's there, Shanghai is gonna be exploding again". My staff have been saying that there's traffic now, lots of people in the streets, swarming all over the place. "We can feel this ECSTATIC energy, just something you can really feel coming back". That it's becoming the Shanghai that we know and love, ya know those of us that have lived in Shanghai for awhile, we know what this energy is.

So I'm doubling down that this government is going to drive the economy. I'm very bullish, and was talking to one of our partners saying that historically the spring for F&B is really strong. But I said this spring is very special because it's not just Spring weather, it's the new dawn. We've had ten months of staying in, and a couple years of COVID before that, and now things are coming back. This isn't a regular spring. There is this pent up "want" and people are going to be out enjoying themselves like they used to. So I knew we HAD to open something like Social House.

"This is the spring that is the dawn of a new age for the Shanghai"