As we get able to launch CODE’s 30 underneath 30 class of 2022/23, we glance again at CODE’s 30 underneath 30 alumni.


Few restaurateurs have constructed their model with the artistry of BAO. The long-lasting graphics have grow to be a beacon of their design-led hospitality and a signpost of the place to search out a number of the capital’s most scrumptious bao buns.

It’s no shock to study that co-founders, husband and spouse Shing Tat Chung and Erchen Chang, each attended artwork faculty. In reality, it’s the place they met and the place the primary threads of BAO have been stitched collectively. 

In 2016 the pair landed a well-deserved spot on CODE’s inaugural 30 underneath 30 listing. BAO Soho and BAO Fitzrovia have been of their infancy, albeit with an on the spot cult following. The trio, which incorporates Chung’s sister Wai Ting Chung, went on to construct a mini empire with websites in Borough, Kings Cross, Shoreditch and a knockout Rice Error takeaway field to battle by their COVID closures.

As we prepare for the announcement of CODE’s 30 underneath 30 class of 2022/23, we glance again on the couple and the makings of their iconic model. 

The BAO character – a man consuming a bao bun – has grow to be a beloved a part of London’s restaurant scene. What was the inspiration for him and the way was he created? 

The BAO character originated from one in every of Erchen’s artworks that was additionally exhibited in her diploma present, in addition to New York. It was a efficiency titled ‘The right way to be a lonely man’ – and the drawing was a part of the set up – it depicted the right lonely man pose. Quickly after her commencement, BAO was shaped. Our BAO character is an evolution of this character. Erchen was all the time impressed by Japanese B motion pictures – significantly the basic wage man character – a stereotypical man who wore oversize fits, dined alone and had very specific feelings.

Did you each research artwork? 

Sure, Erchen and I met on the Slade College of High-quality Artwork – simply across the nook from BAO Fitz. I went on to review Design Interactions at Royal Faculty of Artwork earlier than we began BAO. While we began finding out in additional conventional artwork functions, we each ended up in the direction of extra the conceptual aspect of artwork. However actually, that fast turnaround of labor, from thought to materialisation (and particularly within the Royal Faculty the place it was three weeks of Temporary – Create – Make – Current, on repeat) was how we flowed into creating BAO, which was very a lot the identical artistic work ethic however on this case with our different ardour – which is meals.

What approach do you employ for drawing?

We do numerous sorts of drawing and illustration. When it comes to the BAO illustrations you see extra generally, it’s all about sketching and re-sketching, and tracing till it will get to the closest kind. I then take it into an Illustrator on the pc to then flip it right into a graphic. Now we have all the unique drawings and much that by no means make it – we must always do an exhibition one time.

Among the different BAO imagery is extra graphic and appears pc generated (I’m pondering of the buildings and the BAO Borough menu footage). Do you fee different artists to do these?

Sure, undoubtedly. We love working with pals and in addition artists and illustrators that we come by. One of many rewarding points is giving a platform for rising illustrators. We take pleasure in utilizing totally different artists in BAO as a result of it illustrates and offers one other sort of interpretation of the world we need to depict. It’s not simply 2D drawings and illustrations. It additionally expands into different kinds and people crafts deserve the identical consideration as you’ll to commissioning an illustration. For instance, we work with our good friend Anna who does hand thrown pottery for our eating places and every restaurant adapts a special fashion.

The artist you’re referencing for the computer-generated graphics is @isometricpixelartist – his fashion is so distinctive and it actually helped give Rice Error the retro gaming fashion we have been after.

The BAO t-shirts have a cult following. How and when did you determine to create merchandising for the model? 

We first had the BAO tote. And it was an arbitrary choice – most eating places and cafes had one. However what adopted was fairly attention-grabbing. We observed that lots of people have been taking the tote overseas and representing BAO, tagging us on Instagram and so forth. It additionally received to some extent the place different folks noticed the BAO bag in several international locations and despatched it to us.

Having merchandise was additionally one other platform to be artistic with and in addition to reconnect to our pasts of style, design and artwork however it’s actually solely now, because of lockdown, that we started to suppose extra about how we may broaden our on-line retail providing. It’s one thing that made plenty of sense from a enterprise perspective, and was plenty of enjoyable too. A few of Erchen’s new items embrace restricted version riso prints, in addition to teapots. That is one thing we’re constructing day-after-day.

All the brand new t-shirts are restricted version, so as soon as they promote out they’re gone. The Weeping Sake is sort of a enjoyable one – we’ve launched two to date: the 15% and the 20% Tears. Because the tears improve, the man will get older and older and sadder. Now we have additionally given a handful of personalised t-shirts to the employees which have stayed with us for a really very long time (what we name BAO Originals). Erchen attracts the member of employees with a really previous BAO Man holding one another. It’s nice.

The BAO web site has journey guides – do you see yourselves as vanguards of the Taiwanese expertise and the way typically do you go there to analysis and immerse within the meals scene?

We attempt return annually. Generally even twice if we’ve a selected analysis merchandise. Erchen is from Taipei – so it is sensible to try to return as a lot as doable but additionally essential when it comes to meals and re-immersing in Taiwanese tradition. Taiwan is effectively referred to as a meals vacation spot in Asia – nonetheless after we began there wasn’t a lot schooling round Taiwanese delicacies – so we felt it was essential to coach Taiwanese tradition not solely by the eating places, however with guides. While Taipei is extra explored – it may be exhausting to search out guides for the opposite cities in Taiwan – which is one thing we’re engaged on. Nevertheless, though the main target may be very a lot Taiwan, we don’t limit our inspirations to only right here. Café BAO (which was resulting from open this 12 months in King’s Cross) is closely impressed by Western fashion cafes in Asia – particularly Kissatens. So we’ve an Osaka information lined up that showcases a few of these older fashion eateries. Shifting ahead, we not solely need to have guides, however eating places performing as a illustration of an space. We attempt to create eating places as our interpretations of sorts of consuming tradition (Grill tradition, Western fashion eating, Streetfood and so forth). And that’s represented by our travels and thus guides.

Lockdown has created each difficulties and alternatives. Your Rice Error model was an instantaneous hit – how did you determine what it ought to be? 

As quickly as we began to see gross sales dip close to Chinatown, we knew we wanted to suppose severely about making a supply providing. Supply was all the time one thing we had thought of, however we’d by no means actually settled on the small print. As issues began to escalate with COVID-19, we knew we wanted to sit down down and be artistic.

The primary concern with supply was that we didn’t really feel BAO was fitted to journey. When you’ve ever eaten a Traditional BAO in one in every of our eating places, you’ll perceive how the thought of sending one off on the again of a motorbike might be nerve-racking. We hated the thought of issues turning up in a manner we wouldn’t be pleased to serve them in a restaurant.

Then we began pondering past BAO. We’d all the time had this concept about making a restaurant with rice because the core product. There’s an award-winning grain of rice we use in all our eating places that comes from a spot known as Chi Shang in Taiwan. We’d typically talked about doing one thing with it on an even bigger scale – whether or not that was a restaurant idea or a pop-up, we weren’t positive. We took that little seed and grew it into Rice Error.

And the way did you determine the title and design – and create it? Even the directions have a really particular person look and manner of explaining. 

The title was surprisingly simple – Rice, as a result of rice was the core product, and Error as a result of the entire state of affairs felt like an error. It felt fairly a becoming title for a model born out of a catastrophe. Certainly one of our ethos at BAO is to even be unconventional – so Error felt proper.

The subsequent step was to create the emblem and a little bit of a model essence. I all the time suppose it’s greatest to start out from right here, as if it’s performed proper it will possibly actually inspire the remainder of the journey and get folks behind the thought. We wished one thing daring and sharp and it actually complimented the bamboo packing containers that we sourced. All of the packaging in Rice Error is biodegradable.

I then received began designing the web site and handed it over to our pals at Twelve Studio who reworked it into a completely purposeful web site, prepared for orders. We have been blown away with the reception Rice Error received in its first few weeks and are trying ahead to seeing which course it would take post-lockdown. We’ve had a global visitor chef sequence too, which has been nice – and components of the proceedings go to St Mungos.

Extra lately there may be Name Suzy, which once more had a central character absolutely shaped. Is she based mostly on anybody in actuality? 

Sure and no, however Erchen did joke that it seemed like my mom when she was youthful… so possibly it was unconscious. My dad and mom did personal takeaways so it does make sense. The start line, nonetheless, was extra the title Suzy which was taken from lazy susans – one thing that’s related to the previous Chinese language eating places we really feel nostalgic about. From Suzy we wished to kind a personality that may grow to be the emblem.

And that picture of somebody on at a counter answering phonecalls is synonymous to the Chinese language takeout. Name Suzy additionally has that ring to it – I suppose much like ‘Name Saul’. So Name Suzy – in your Chinese language takeout wants.

With the theme of the Chinese language takeout we wished to make use of the American fashion takeout packing containers – they’re form of a cliché – however we love that. And we wished the design to be a bit extra vibrant and nearer to the brilliant colors of Taiwan. For Name Suzy we didn’t work with anybody else. So the illustrations have been drawn by Erchen. And the graphics and packaging have been performed on the pc by me. Pictures that was used within the packaging was additionally performed by us. We don’t usually do this form of factor ourselves resulting from a heavy workload, however at occasions like this its is sensible to do these items ourselves. It’s fortunate in a manner – as a result of it enabled us to launch Rice Error and Name Suzy shortly. In a standard state of affairs (if we needed to pay a designer and so forth) it most likely wouldn’t have come to fruition – or a minimum of not as shortly.

Please inform us: the Bakery Items field within the BAO equipment – is he holding a bao bun or is he trying unhappy?! 

Each – he’s holding a BAO bun and he’s unhappy, however he’s proud that he has made that BAO.


Shing Tat Chung and Erchen Chang featured in our 30 underneath 30 class of 2016. CODE’s 30 underneath 30 class of 2022/23 listing can be introduced on Wednesday 7 December.

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