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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

TELL EVERYONE

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[Shanghai Famous]:

Shanghai Famous is a 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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