Growing up in a Hong Kong district full of bars and pubs, the nightlife scene is no stranger for saan’s new bar manager, Joe Lai. Nicknamed MoJo, Lai moved to New Zealand alone at age 17, finishing his final High School year at Tauranga Boys before starting a bachelor’s degree in business at AUT.
“I realised that’s not what I wanted, so I moved on to Whitireia, Auckland Campus Polytechnic and studied a Diploma in Hospitality management,” said Lai.
Lai started working weekends as a glassy before the manager started training him at the bar, solidifying his love for bartending. Since then Lai has gone on to work at establishments including Bungalow8, Bar Twenty One, No1 High St, MooChowChow, Blue Breeze Inn and now saan in Ponsonby.
“The most challenging part of my job is trying to perform my very best while loads of people are demanding lots of things. Although after doing it for a while, a busy night no longer stresses you out,” said Lai.
Recalling one of his bar disasters, Lai told the story about a time where he was doing a ‘waterfall’ where you pour multiple cocktails at the same time, trying to beat his record of 11 by trying to get to 13.
“My left hand slipped and you can picture the rest.”
New drinks are developed through a combination of talking with friends and experimentation, whether they are talking about cocktails or not, ideas pop up and can often lead to interesting creations. Travel is a good source of inspiration and is something Lai is looking at doing.
“I’m keen to travel around a bit, explore new places, meet new people and learn from them. And you’ll probably find me in a bar or some hospitality venue,” said Lai.
While Lai’s experience is behind the bar, it has not stopped him from building interest in the business of hospitality alongside possibilities to experiment and learn the food aspect of the job.
Lai explained that being humble is of the utmost importance, always being willing to learn and not thinking you are an expert just because you have access to Google.