Hunan-style hospitality hits San Francisco

Updated: 2013-12-27 12:57

By Chang Jun in San Francisco (China Daily USA)

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Hunan-style hospitality hits San Francisco

The new Leader Hotel in San Francisco opened on Dec 19, an historic building bought and renovated by the Hunan-based Leader Group will feature a luxury boutique restaurant and hotel geared towards making Chinese travelers to San Francisco feel right at home. Han Shasha for China Daily

A new luxury restaurant and boutique hotel, owned and operated by China's Leader Group from the late Chairman Mao Zedong's home of Hunan province, announced last week that it's now open for business as the latest practitioner of hospitality from Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"The 10 luxury suites are designed to meet the unique needs of high-end Chinese business travelers to San Francisco," said Zhou Wenyu, president of the Leader Group, who flew in from China to be at the grand opening last Thursday of the Leader Hotel, or Li Da Ren in Mandarin.

Historically, the four-story Victorian-style Payne Mansion in Lower Pacific Heights, which survived the notorious 1906 San Francisco Fire, was last registered as a private clubhouse for events. Since the Chinese group bought it last year, the gold-gilded building has undergone substantial renovation and reconstruction.

Leader Group paid about $7 million for the property itself, according to Ben Chen, president of the Chinese Enterprises Association of North California, adding the facelift done by the Oakland-based architects Dinar & Associates cost another $4 million.

The renovation, including construction of an 8,200-square-foot hotel and 9,500-square-foot restaurant spiraling into two levels, took about a year to complete. The basement will have two private dining rooms and the kitchen; the street level above will feature opulent upscale dining rooms.

Patrons will be able to indulge their taste buds with crisp and spicy Hunan-style dishes, said Zhou, adding that spices and pickles will be shipped from there directly. The chef is from Hunan also and will rigorously train the local hires.

"We just want to make sure every dish of ours is of authentic flavor and the service is up to par," said Zhou.

Yuan Nansheng, consul general of China's Consulate General in San Francisco, hailed the opening of the Leader Hotel and said it's a beneficiary of the strong US-China economic exchanges. "Thanks to the continuous growth in bilateral trade, we've seen more and more people involved in the unprecedented two-way business interactions," said Yuan.

Statistics from Chinese Customs indicate US-China trade volume in the first half of the year reached $244 billion, a 5.6 percent increase over the last year.

As people travel on business to the US, they need the comfort of a cozy place to stay and home-style food, said Yuan. "I congratulate the Leader Group on their concrete efforts to make this happen here in San Francisco," he said.

Zhou created the Leader Group in 1995, with agricultural produce transactions as the core business from the beginning. Located in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province, Zhou helped spearhead the company's expansion into real estate, hotels, urban landscaping and capital management.

Financially, the Leader Group has grown into a medium-sized private company with a five-star hotel in Changsha, a seedlings detoxification center in Xiangxi and several venture capital projects in Beijing.

In June 2012, the group decided to test the US market and established the Yorbarn (USA) Corporation, a subsidiary of Leader Group's core member Yorbarn (China) Investment.

Since then, Yorbarn (USA) has been actively looking for boutique hotels in good locations to acquire. They specifically targeted the West Coast and set their sights on San Francisco and Los Angeles. The new Leader Hotel is the group's first project in the US, said Zhou.

"As a newcomer to our CEA family, the people from the Leader Group are very, very ambitious," Chen said. "With a handsome amount of money in hand, they are searching for any growth opportunities in the US now."

(China Daily USA 12/27/2013 page11)