|An American tempts the taste buds of Shanghai's trendiest area|
Camden Hauge poses in front of Egg, one of the venues she's founded in Shanghai (COURTESY PHOTO)
As the name suggests, Shanghai-based Egg is a small cafe that serves a mostly brunch-oriented menu: avocado toast, truffled eggs, hash browns… and sometimes China's very own hotpot. Its owner is 30-something Camden Hauge, an American born in New Jersey. She arrived in China 10 years ago, and has since taken the Shanghai food and beverage scene by storm, opening 12 venues—cafes, restaurants and bars—in the metropolis' colorful downtown area.
Outside the box
Egg is located close to the intersection of Xiangyang and Changle roads, where traditional small eateries offering homemade Shanghai noodles and Western cafes gather. Opened in 2015, it's especially wellknown for its tasty brunch—more than a meal, it offers a social experience very popular with young Chinese people. "We offer all-day dishes, a combination of whatever people crave, but mostly focused on things that can be classified as 'breakfast,' hence the name Egg," Hauge said.
Hauge once worked as a strategic planner at an advertising agency based in London, the UK. The company offered to send her to its Shanghai office and she first set foot on Chinese soil in 2012. Originally coming for a three-to-six-month stint, she fell in love with the city and its diversity. So she committed to a longer contract.
"There's this mentality that you can make anything happen at any time of day. And there's so much energy, verve and innovation because of that. That's the best thing about living in Shanghai," she elaborated.
Aside from Egg, she opened other concepts, including celebrated yet now-shuttered natural wine bar Bird and sister cafe-bar Bitter; Lucky Mart, a Japanese-style bar that also offers snacks; and LA MATCHA, a multi-venue concept offering matcha-based drinks and desserts. She is also the founder and creative director of SOCIAL SUPPLY, an "experiences agency" which organizes pop-up dinners and culinary festivals.
With its assorted menu, Egg attracts both Chinese and international customers. That speaks to how local and global palates integrate in Shanghai. In recent years, the city has unveiled measures to make it easier for foreigners to obtain visas and other permits to create startups in the city.
In Hauge's eyes, Shanghai has changed a lot over the past decade. The past few years, except for those tainted by COVID-19, have witnessed the boom of its food and beverage industry, as Chinese and people from all over the world alike started dabbling in outside-the-box combinations of local and global techniques and flavors. "People's dining experiences are much more elevated and interesting than ever before. This is pushing our market to be better," she said.
People dine at Egg during a pop-up event of SOCIAL SUPPLY, an agency which organizes pop-up dinners and culinary festivals, on November 3, 2022 (COURTESY PHOTO)
The China connection
Opening a restaurant had been a long-cherished dream of Hauge's. Even as a young child, she already displayed a clear interest in cooking. After working at the advertising company's Shanghai office for about two years, she became determined to realize her dream. She started a community-building Shanghai Supperclub series and through that met several like-minded people.
When Hauge first came to Shanghai, Western restaurants were not as common as they are in the city's landscape today. According to her, some places served a good cup of coffee, but none of them were doing full-scale table service for food. "In 2012 and 2013, other than large chain cafes, there were only three locations that had an espresso machine," she reminisced. So she decided to develop a space where people could meet friends or work.
Egg is run with a lean team of around 10 full- and part-time Chinese employees. Chef Jason Yan has been by Hauge's side since the eatery first opened its doors. Together, they have created a range of unique meal options.
Every season, the cafe changes about two thirds of its menu. The rest, i.e., the fan favorites, remains on the menu. Hauge wants it to cater to as many tastes as it can. "Since Shanghai is such an international city, we decided to incorporate many different flavors and styles—whatever tastes good!" she explained.
Though avocado rarely makes to the dining table of Chinese families, Egg's take on avocado toast, one of the first served in Shanghai, has always been a best-seller. Another star product is its jianbing eggs benedict, a traditional eggs benedict with a twist, featuring the crispy wonton, chili sauce, and sliced scallions found in the classic Shanghai street breakfast pancake. Hauge aims to provide patrons' taste buds with fresh experiences. One of Egg's most popular salads, for example, is the warm veggie hotpot salad, which combines the quintessential salad with the aromas and numbing spices of regional Sichuan hotpot.
Since Egg first opened, some of Hauge's friends have staged a weekly pop up there—the Thursday night Chefs Table dinners. "They create intimate long table meals for around 10-20 diners, featuring different guest chefs and menus," she said.
The bustle is back
From around April to June 2022, the spread of COVID-19 infections led to mass lockdowns in Shanghai. A tough time for many local brick-and-mortar businesses, including Egg—which was forced to suspend operation during that period. It resumed business in early July last year, and weathered many difficulties until this year.
As China adjusted its COVID-19 response and lifted many restrictions in early last December, the nation began to regain its original hustle and bustle. Shanghai, too, is slowly bouncing back, with offline sectors gradually recovering.
From Hauge's perspective, a full-fledged resumption of business is something that will take time. "It was a rough year. The COVID-19 spread made it very hard for businesses to survive in 2022, especially as many of our venues don't do delivery. We were lucky to have our team back and be able to open the doors once again," she said.
Moreover, as many people got COVID-19 or were afraid of contracting it, they didn't go out even after restrictions had been eased. "This was a bleak holiday season—our worst Christmas and New Year holiday across all the venues since they opened," she said.
But loyal customers are rooting for Egg. Xiong Rui, a bank employee in Shanghai, is one such regular at the cafe. On the last day of 2022, after recovering from COVID-19, she finally went there for a brunch she'd been missing for a month. "There were many customers, making it a bit crowded in the small space. The food was as good as ever," Xiong told Beijing Review.
The pop-up events initiated by Hauge's friends have also brought Egg back to life. And instead of closing the doors a little early because of the cold weather right now, and the subsequent decline in foot traffic, the cafe has created new dishes to cheer up its clientele's winter mood. In late December, it began offering hotpot from Guizhou Province, a mountainous region where food is packed with sour and spicy flavor. "I'm a Guizhou local. The hotpot here is very close [in flavor] to that in my hometown. It's surprising to get this at a Western brunch place," a customer by the name of Rose commented on Chinese restaurant review platform Dazhongdianping.
"I am guessing business will continue to be slow until after the Chinese New Year holiday [from January 21 to 27], but I hope we will see a stable and hopefully decent spring after that," Hauge said.
(Print Edition Title: A Savory Space)
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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