aipei is providing a glimpse into what could soon be Shanghai’s hottest party spot as restaurant and nightlife group Cé La Vi opens their China flagship location in the Taiwanese capital last April, with Shanghai set to be their next destination this summer.
Known for their rooftop venues with panoramic views, the Singapore-based brand is banking on Chinese consumers undeterred by a rocky economy as they expand into the region.
“The Chinese are the motor of the world,” said Ravi Thakran, Asia chairman and managing partner of private equity firm L Catterton, at the grand opening ceremony in Taipei. The company first invested in Cé La Vi in 2013 and owns the brand.
Cé La Vi Taipei comprises of a restaurant, cocktail bar, and nightclub with a distinctly Asian flavor, a concept repeated in all their venues. Dishes like seared wagyu beef carpaccio with crispy rice and pickled Taiwanese chilies and creme brulee with passionfruit and guava are available during lunch and dinner, while drinks include a grass jelly milk tea cocktail.
Cé La Vi is also the highest place to party in Taipei. It occupies the entire 1,400 square meters on the 48th floor of Nanshan, a newly built skyscraper in Xinyi District, and the city sprawls out from every window. The iconic Taipei 101 building looms on one side and the mountainous Yangmingshan National Park unfurls on the other.
It’s a selling point that mirrors the Cé La Vi’s other addresses. In Singapore, where they began in 2015, they overlook Gardens by the Bay nature park from the rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands resort. In Kuala Lumpur, the Petronas Twin Towers form the backdrop. Other branches in Hong Kong, Colombo, and Bangkok offer similarly sweeping landscapes, and more openings are planned for Dubai, Tokyo, and other mainland Chinese cities. For Shanghai, they will face Pudong’s luminous skyline from the top floors of the historic House of Roosevelt building at Bund 27.
Whether that formula would work for both Taipei and Shanghai hinges on differing trends. While trade tensions between the US and China have dampened consumer confidence in both regions, Taiwanese spent their way to a historic high at restaurants and hotels in 2017. On the mainland, the market is facing a “consumption downgrade” where locals are tightening their belts.
Jason Cohen, Ce La Vi’s regional group development officer for Greater China and North Asia, said the brand is approaching these two markets separately. For Taipei, they’re targeting a clientele of 90 percent Taiwanese, which is why they entered into a joint venture with local nightlife operator The Loop. For Shanghai, Cohen expects “50 to 60 percent of our business will be tourism driven,” a number similar to their Singapore location, and they’re tackling this alone with the help of a minor local partner.
“I was looking at tourism numbers [for Taiwan] and it’s only like 10 to 12 million a year whereas Shanghai is like 300 million tourists and about 25 million people on the local level,” Cohen said. “Say everyone on the Bund area is competing for one percent of that, that’s still 250,000 people who are eating out everyday, drinking. And if you look at the high end, spending has decreased from an average check of 900 to 820 renminbi. It’s not huge.”
Cé La Vi’s planned location on the Bund also brings other challenges. Unlike Taipei, where rooftop bars aren’t as common, Shanghai can count Bar Rouge, Flair at The Ritz-Carlton, and Vue Bar at Hyatt on the Bund as some venues offering an equally stunning view. Then there are establishments like Hakkasan, M1nt Club, and the outlets at Shanghai Edition hotel that combine restaurant, bar, and nightclub.
But Cohen believed the area’s tight competition would benefit them. “If you look at just the Bund area alone, there are five rooftop bars and 30 high-end restaurants all within a one minute walk of Cé La Vi,” he said. “The good news is that drives a lot of traffic to the Bund. So we know the demographic is there.”
“No one would open in Shanghai and not be scared because there are very good restaurants there,” Cohen added. “We’re definitely scared but it keeps us on our toes.”