AT the age of 23, Davis Yu already has three restaurants under his name. The young entrepreneur recently sat down with Hieu Chau to talk about his career, love for food and appreciation for fashion and culture.
At the age of 23, Davis Yu has established himself as a household name within the worlds of business and dining in Melbourne. With three restaurants under his name – and additional eateries to come in the near future – Davis admits it was always a challenge for him to get to where he is today but that he thrived from the challenge itself.
It wasn’t always a success story. On my first project, I had six chefs that I had to get rid of because I couldn’t afford them. I don’t think (my success story) has been as glorified as it’s been made out to be, but it’s been tough and it’s been a lot of hard work.
“It wasn’t always a success story. On my first project, I had six chefs that I had to get rid of because I couldn’t afford them. I don’t think (my success story) has been as glorified as it’s been made out to be, but it’s been tough and it’s been a lot of hard work,” he says.
And that hard work has certainly paid off.
Prior to his success as a young entrepreneur, Davis had aspirations to become an Olympic skier and had no formal training in business.
“When I was in Year 12, I wanted to do skiing but at the same time, I had to enrol into university. I enrolled into architecture at the University of Melbourne and was also enrolled into photography at RMIT, but I never showed up to any of those classes because I wanted to do skiing instead,” he says.
A series of skiing-related injuries, however, would ultimately decommission his professional skiing career. Davis then took up a Master of Arts in Gastronomy at the University of Adelaide.
“The course (looked at) why we eat, the way we eat, how food came to be how it is today and the whole industry behind it,” he says.
‘The business of creating people’s pleasures’
Seated at a café close to his lifestyle and design studio Maison Davis, Davis explains he had just returned home to Melbourne from a business trip in Japan.
“I just love culture and I think that culture is really important, especially with what I do. I love figuring out why people do what they do because through hospitality, it’s a pleasure business – it’s the business of creating people’s pleasures,” he says.
His passion for food, an insatiable appetite to taste and discover, is also quickly apparent.
I’ve always loved food from all different places – I don’t like one more than another. Growing up in Melbourne, our food selection is so diverse and I wouldn’t really say that I have a type of food that represents me – I just need everything!
“I’ve always loved food from all different places – I don’t like one more than another. Growing up in Melbourne, our food selection is so diverse and I wouldn’t really say that I have a type of food that represents me – I just need everything!”
“At Touche Hombre, we’re doing a bay bug taco. It’s brand new and is essentially a crispy bay bug that’s been deep fried and made with jalapenos and mayo. It’s really simple. At Louie, our restaurant in South Yarra, we have a freekeh salad – it’s got beautifully grilled peaches, zucchini flowers and freekeh. It’s really nice and fresh. And at Claremont Tonic, we do these crispy oysters that are kind of like a New Orleans-based crispy oyster sandwich but with an Asian twist.”
In addition to these unique dishes, Davis believes his restaurants have an indelible sense of “realness” to them which sets them apart from the competition.
“Look at that over there,” he says, pointing at a wooden plank sitting against the wall of the café.
“That’s a found object and I think a lot of our places have these found objects in them.
“(When I design a restaurant), I don’t want to design a place that’s new. I want to create places that make people feel almost like as if they’re stepping into the set of a movie. I want you to feel like these things have been here for quite some time and that it makes you feel comfortable. I think people in Melbourne react better to places that feel more nostalgic and for that ‘realness’,” he says.
‘Jeans, always wear jeans’
Though he may be well-known for his entrepreneurial pursuits, Davis also considers himself to be a creative soul.
When he was completing his VCE, he had the opportunity to have his photographic work exhibited at Top Arts – a yearly exhibition highlighting the very best work Victorian students have to offer.
More recently, he was invited to be an ambassador at the Loreal Melbourne Fashion Festival.
“That was fun! I’ve always loved taking photographs. I’ve got an online diary where I take all these photographs,” he says.
Like his restaurants’ design and selection of food, Davis says he likes to keep things simple when he goes out.
“If I break it down, I’ll just have some kind of a jacket on, a t-shirt or a shirt, pair of jeans.
“Always wear jeans! And a cool pair of shoes.”
When we spoke, he was sporting a cool leather jacket, t-shirt and a pair of washed out skinny jeans, and stressed that one should feel comfortable in their clothing.
“There are so many clothes out there that may look cool but are horribly uncomfortable.”
‘That spark of happiness’
When you’re trying to reach success it’s going to be a (struggle). It’s going to be stressful, maybe even horrible, but you still need that spark of happiness that’ll keep you going. If you want to succeed, look after your body, look after your soul, work hard and be passionate about what you do.
With such a busy schedule, one has to wonder how Davis manages to keep such a cool attitude about his professional life. He advises students that the key to success and maintaining a collected demeanour, is happiness.
“When you’re trying to reach success it’s going to be a (struggle). It’s going to be stressful, maybe even horrible, but you still need that spark of happiness that’ll keep you going. If you want to succeed, look after your body, look after your soul, work hard and be passionate about what you do.”
He also advises other aspiring entrepreneurs to hire people who are more talented than themselves.
“You want to hire someone who’s better than you and smarter than you. Some people don’t want to hire people better than them because they’re afraid (that they’ll look bad) or that the other person will take their job,” he says.
Advice worth heeding, from a 23-year-old who already has three restaurants under his name.