KILO LOUNGE & GRAIN TRADERS
Originally born in Puerto Rico, Javier has been in Singapore for 13 years and has dreamt of working in F&B ever since he was a little boy. Javier opened his first restaurant, Banh Mi, at the age of 28, and then started Raw Kitchen Bar.
He created the Kilo group of restaurants three years after that, starting with the original outlet in Kallang, which later grew to include Kilo Orchard, Kilo Lounge, and Kilo Bali. Now, his company, Series of Intentions, also includes Camp Kilo Charcoal Club and Grain Traders.
A core idea forms the undercurrent behind each venture: of creating a place that feels like home, a place where people from all different walks and circles of life can come in and feel comfortable.
So introduce yourself!
My name is Javier Perez, and I am the founder of Kilo, the concepts under Kilo and Grain Traders.
Why did you decide to come to Singapore?
What brought me here was my now wife who is a really good friend of mine before we were starting our own company together. She was living in the Philippines, and I was living in Thailand.
Looking around in South East Asia, Singapore came up as an option because she had family here and so we checked it out and fell in love with it.
How has it been living in Singapore?
Singapore has been great for us and now we’re trying to see where to go from here. I think the opportunities, which Singapore has set the foundations for, are now giving us the opportunities to potentially go abroad and internationally expand.
With that, we both have been quite set on moving; not because we don't like Singapore but just primarily now because of our daughters. We really want them to have a different context and perspective when it comes to living in different places.
Tell us about the company?
Kilo started as just a place where my wife and I just wanted to entertain friends. When we first started Kilo, we only had 8 tables. Kilo means we wish to communicate with you and so it came from the thought of the nautical flags and sending a message without giving it to people so literally.
What’s been the vision for it?
For many years we never talked about this until about 2 years ago when we started really putting out what Kilo meant. But it was really a place to show people good music, people and food.
Our vision has always been about how do we take culture and how do we extend culture through what we do. For me, the 6 pillars of culture are art and design, literature, fashion, architecture, music and food.
I think there’s a massive lack of an underground music scene here in Singapore compared to other cities but Kilo seems to be the only place bringing in all the best DJs. From Snakehips to Tourist to Peggy Gou! How do you book these guys, especially at the very beginning stages before the brand was established?
A lot of that has to do with our team, and in the early days for Kilo Lounge, we would decide who we would bring in and would work with some friends here and there. Over the course of the last 2 years, I can't personally take any of that credit, it has primarily been our head booker QH– she has a really great network of people. She actually used to date Bonobo.
We are very lucky to have her on our team as she has been with us for more than 2 years. We met through Joshua (Co-founder) who is apart of Collective Minds.
So what do Collective Minds do?
Collective Minds is a collaborative events and talent agency. Over the past year, the majority of big acts have been brought in through them, but now I guess a lot of our connections come from reputation.
What was your first move in starting the business?
When we started in 2006, it was a pre-digital age, so it was all about people spreading the word. I started with a Vietnamese restaurant called Banh Mi then from there I had a restaurant called Raw Kitchen Bar for 3 years then finally we opened Kilo, which is now 8 years old.
How did you meet Josh, you co-founder and do you find all your skills complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses?
Josh was introduced to me through mutual friends and he wanted to partner up together. At that time, I didn't really have a solid idea, but the first thing that happened was when a nightclub approached me to do the consultancy work for their menu. Although I wanted to do it, I didn't have the bandwidth to do so. I contacted Joshua, and that was where we first started working together.
We finished the consultancy after 2 months while he was not getting paid or getting paid very scarcely almost like an intern. That was almost 7 years also, so I made him my partner 5 years ago. From him joining, the birth of different things came along, and I always had different ideas: for example, I had the idea of Grain Traders three years before it launched and Kilo six years before. The lounge took on a different form completely: what I saw was doing great acts but then it morphed into this underground clubbing, which is great but I didn’t see that as my initial vision.
Even though my first thought was this really great, live music venue, it morphed into something else, and now I am fine with it. So Josh was the one who sparked off the lounge in the sense of bringing in the DJs and this whole new world. Now I have taken a step back from Kilo and have given Josh the responsibility to lead Kilo operationally, but I am still involved in the overview and making sure everything is working financially. Now Josh and I understand each other more, so the reason I have extracted myself but not totally disconnected from Kilo is that I need some breathing space to focus on Grain Traders and what it could be since I feel that we have a global brand on our hands.
Your wife is also involved in your business. You seem to have the role of the creative, design-oriented person, whilst she heads up the finances, structure and administrative details. Do you think this model works, where you have one creative and one business minded or do you think people can and should be trying to be both?
I think that if you have both it is a benefit and a blessing. Not everyone has the aptitude to be creative and have this vision but also simultaneously having a financial foresight for it.
Your other business, Grain Traders, is all about healthy comfort food. It is very different from the music underground scene, so have you found it difficult diversifying into this industry?
No, because I don't see any difference in it. I think that if you get very literal and specific then, of course, there are differences, but at the end of the day, it goes back to the whole thing of exploration and education. It goes back to nourishing people and giving people things that are good for them.
“Food and music are both great for you and all of these other things that we need to nourish ourselves as human beings, so I don't necessarily draw a distinctive line between the two industries as there are common denominators where there are things that connect and overlap.”
- Javier Perez
As far as the business, it is completely different because you have to think about catering to several hundred people a day as opposed to Kilo's different atmosphere. I think it is great when we have moments where you see people that are coming here for a great lunch and then all of a sudden they are here at night. I have seen people in 3 of our venues all in the same day.
3 June, 2019