Power couples of Hong Kong’s F&B scene

Working with your spouse strikes most as a bad idea, but not always. Stephenie Gee learns from three power couples in the city’s F&B space who are making it work

Laura and Agung Prabowo, Penicillin, Lockdown and Dead&

Laura and Agung Prabowo’s relationship has always been marked by a shared adventurous spirit. The Indonesian-born couple first met as competitors at a flair bartending competition in 2000. Laura (née Natalia), with a background in tourism, took first place in the female category, while Agung, who’d been set on making working in bars his profession since the age of 18, won the male category. So it’s hardly a surprise that since moving to Hong Kong nearly a decade ago, the Prabowos, who just last month celebrated their 17th anniversary, have asserted themselves as game-changing innovators in the city’s bar scene. Namely, with the opening of the city’s first closed-loop sustainable bar Penicillin; Lockdown, a speakeasy-inspired space that pays tribute to the trying times Hong Kong faced during the pandemic; and the cheap and cheerful dive bar Dead&. Three establishments which, even among the city’s wealth of award-winning bars and in the face of the pandemic, remain some of the city’s most revered.

“Our goal is to survive in this industry and continue to build our reputation as a leader in sustainable and innovative bar concepts,” Agung says. “We want to continue to develop new bar concepts, as well as expand our offerings within our existing establishments. We’d like to also, potentially, scale our successful model to new markets to further promote our commitment to sustainability and innovative mixology.”

Their success, he says, is owed in part to a clear division of labour: “We find fulfilment and success in working together. Though starting a business with a partner-slash-wife can indeed present unique challenges, as it connects both personal and professional aspects of your lives, establishing clear roles and responsibilities has helped to minimise misunderstandings and ensure that each person’s contributions are valued and understood. So Laura and I always focus on the area we are strongest in. She loves to be on the floor, taking care of the back office and paperwork, while I enjoy spending my time on the cocktail program, concept and ideas.”

Still, as all couples do, they find their fair share of things to disagree about. But it’s not the presence of conflicts that defines a relationship; it’s how they are navigated. In the case of the Prabowos, those rare moments of disagreements serve as opportunities for growth and understanding when resolved not as a “me”, but as a “we”. Because, at the end of the day, a solid relationship, romantic or otherwise, is predicated on good communication and above all, respect.

“We have differences in opinions on business matters so decision-making can sometimes be a pain in the ass. And it can definitely lead us to conflicts, as it can be challenging to separate professional disagreements from personal dynamics,” Agung admits. “But when we learn to communicate effectively, actively listen to each other, and express our thoughts and concerns constructively, these come together to significantly strengthen our relationship. The key lesson we’ve learned from working together in a business setting is the importance of effective communication. Clear, open and honest communication is essential for navigating the complexities of a business partnership, especially when working with a romantic partner.”

What really is the oil to their business machine is keeping the love alive. As a couple that owns and runs multiple businesses together, Laura and Agung are together almost every waking moment so determining where work ends and life begins becomes somewhat tricky. Dedicating the time and energy to key into what the other one needs is what keeps them both satisfied and showing up as their best selves at home and at work.

“It can be difficult to take breaks from the business and find time for personal activities without discussing work-related matters. But it’s important to set boundaries for separating work-related discussions from personal time to maintain a healthy balance and reduce potential strains on the relationship,” Agung says. “Laura and I are unique, and our journey of working together has provided us with numerous opportunities for both personal and professional growth.” Two really is better than one.

Alexandra Leung and Kieran Gibb, Monogic

Alexandra Leung and Kieran Gibb first met in 2017 on Tinder. Gibb, tired of being tucked away in the back office of a data management firm under fluorescent lights, had been spending some time travelling and stopped by Hong Kong for 10 days before heading off to Tokyo. He and Leung began messaging online and, as he left, it began to fizzle out. He returned, more permanently, 10 months later. The pair matched, again, and it was instant chemistry. They met up every day for two weeks before Gibb started his new job and then, Covid happened.

While many spent quarantine gorging on Netflix, Leung and Gibb had other ideas. F&B groups across the board were shedding staff and the restrictions on restaurants and bars had driven many of their favourite venues out of business. So the two got to talking about what they could create off the back of it – something that would truly make a difference. Many conversations, decks and meetings later, Monogic, a digital marketing agency and consultancy specialising in restaurants, bars and food services, was born.

“By assisting restaurants to digitise and operate remotely to continue to serve their customers despite the hardship, we hoped we could help our beloved F&B community while helping make the public’s experience of Covid-19 less uncomfortable,” Gibb says. “After all, Hong Kong is a foodie’s city.”

Since Monogic’s founding in 2020, the couple has seen countless milestones and gratifying moments, from making sustainability more enjoyable with the launch of Breer and Maxim’s BOB, and helping Tomacado make their first foray into the Hong Kong market, to opening their Singapore office. But with highs come lows. “There was a brief period in February and March 2022, the ‘fifth wave’ of Covid that was by far the worst. Everyone got sick, there was widespread fear and people weren’t leaving their homes. The market had become so bad that we had to provide relief to many of our clients, tired of a three-year battle in a tumultuous market, to make sure they would get through it. Payments were getting so behind that, for a while, we almost believed that Monogic might not survive either,” Gibb recalls.

This shared experience has only strengthened their bond. “I believe the greatest advantage is that you’re genuinely working for the same interests. I think while outside partners provide an incredible amount of value for entrepreneurs and businesspeople, there can sometimes be a disconnect between ambitions,” Leung explains. “Running a business together with your spouse is a hugely rewarding experience, for it’s a collaboration where you elevate one another and jointly benefit or surpass obstacles. There’s a common belief that hardship brings people together, and I assure you there’s plenty of hardship in starting a new business and trying to grow it.”

But the truth is that not all couples are suited to working together, Leung continues. Values are the most important yet most unmalleable component of a relationship and a great team comes from sharing the same values in life towards ambition, tenacity and equity. “We share many of the same goals because of our similar values. We are both ambitious and tenacious. And we believe that together we can create immense value – for our clients, our teams, our families and ourselves. The goal we share is to realise this to the very best of our abilities,” she says.

And they’re well on their way. “2023 was a really exciting year of profoundly positive investments in vast areas of F&B. And as we move into 2024, our strategic initiatives are taking shape as we continue to invest in support resources for the food and beverage industry in Asia,” Gibb says. “The recently established Singapore hub is merely a prologue to a larger narrative of growth and regional connection. We hope that work this year begins to shape what is poised to become a beacon for culinary entrepreneurs and investors seeking to navigate and thrive within the bustling markets of Asia.”

Anne-Sophie Pic and David Sinapian, Pic Group

In an alternate universe, Anne-Sophie Pic is staking her claim in the luxury world. As a managing director at, perhaps, Cartier. Or a stylist maybe, for some of the biggest names in popular culture. At least, this is what a young Pic once thought she’d be doing today.

Except this is not an alternative reality. In the world we actually live in, Pic is the most decorated Michelin-starred female chef in the world. The kitchen is where she does her best work and the truth is, really, that even if she wanted to get away from it, she probably couldn’t. Born in Valence, France, into a lineage of Michelin- starred chefs, Pic has cooking embedded in her genes.

It took a while for her to get around to exploring it, though. Keen to break away from the family legacy, Pic undertook studies at the ISG Business School with her sights set on a career in the luxury space. That was until an internship at Moët & Chandon, where a manager encouraged her to look at her roots. “I realised that my calling was to stay by my father, Jacques Pic, and to learn how to cook by his side. So, I decided to go back,” Pic recalls.

In 1992, at 23, she returned to her family’s restaurant, Maison Pic, in Valence. Her apprenticeship was brutally interrupted by her father’s sudden passing, just three months later. Her older brother, Alain, took over the reins of the kitchen while Pic worked the front of the house. But it was tough. The business nearly failed and it lost a Michelin star in 1995.

Then, in 1998, her brother left. Pic, alongside her husband David Sinapian, whom she met on a train back to school from Valence to Paris, took over the management. Nine years later, in 2007, the third star was reinstated. Fast-forward to today and the couple now run an empire of nine establishments between Valence, Megève, Paris, Lausanne, London, Singapore and Hong Kong.

“With my husband, we always strive to push the boundaries,” Pic says. “Opening restaurants worldwide is a way for me to cultivate my creativity as I always discover new landscapes, new ingredients and cultures. I strongly believe that interactions foster creativity, whether with my team or local partnerships. It helps cultivate the audacity and boldness that are the key to my creative process.”

Sitting atop Gloucester Tower in Landmark as one of the dining destinations of Forty-Five, the group’s latest opening, Cristal Room by Anne-Sophie Pic, is a three-way collaboration between the famed chef, the storied crystal maker Baccarat, and local hospitality outfit Leading Nation. Pic’s protégé, Marc Mantovani, serves as the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, taking charge of executing in detail the culinary doyenne’s penchant for aromatic and textural complexities. On the menu you’ll find the iconic family signatures, like the wild sea bass and caviar first created in 1971 by Pic’s father. The locale proves to be influential too, with plates like the Yunnan Chinese pea served with geranium rosat leaves, sake lees and Ossetra caviar.

“Dedicated to restaurants and high-end F&B experiences, our goal for Pic Group is to curate dining experiences emphasising a unique dialogue of food and drink, and served with the utmost professionalism, generosity and attentiveness. Because these are the values that we cherish,” she says.

Collectively, the group now counts a staggering 10 Michelin stars. But success didn’t always seem so sure. With no formal culinary training and a family legacy to live up to, Pic’s first couple years were difficult. “I had to show that I deserved my place. However, it also provided me with the freedom to express my vision and cultivate my own identity. Collaborating with my husband, our shared goals led us to grow the group, reflecting our identity and sharing our values worldwide,” she says.

To this day, the couple maintain the same roles they have always held: Pic is the doer, and Sinapian is the thinker. It’s what she credits to their success. “Running a business inevitably comes with its set of challenges, but our complementarity makes it easier,” she says. “Since the beginning, we’ve tried to combine our respective knowledge and qualities, and we’ve learned that the best results come when we respect each other’s space. Mine involves the creative aspect, the combination of flavours, the knowledge of products and the creation of dishes mirroring my culinary identity. Meanwhile, David steers the helm of the group, exploring new concepts, new trends, and employing his talents to propel the group forward. We always strive to keep our minds open and listen to each other. We have our own way of thinking that enhances and cultivate our mindsets. For us, succeeding is like raising children – it takes two, no matter the terms.” Call it a labour of love.

Also see: A-to-Z guide to auspicious eating

In this Story: #dining