From Funky Monkey co-founders Dipen and Zita’s first jobs in the F&B industry in Hong Kong, to Dipen representing Hong Kong in international bartending competitions, to the inception of their well-loved Nepali F&B brand, the pair see this city as a land of opportunities, a stepping stone, and a second home.
Gurung Dammarsing (Dipen) and Zita Ghale founded Funky Monkey in 2016, putting down roots in the heart of Hong Kong’s Jordan district. Having quit his job as a construction worker not long after returning to Hong Kong in 2003 as a teenager, Dipen ventured into the food and beverage (F&B) industry, starting as a humble barback, then a bartender, eventually working his way up into managerial and supervisory positions. Having accumulated years of experience in a variety of positions in the industry, the pair finally opened Funky Monkey’s Jordan location in 2016, and made their mark with depictions of the eponymous Funky Monkey hand-painted by artist Malcolm Golding.
Like any other restaurant, Funky Monkey’s first few months were not easy. First opening in Jordan, an area with a significant Nepali population, Funky Monkey was immediately designated as a community space for friends and family. But marketing a cuisine unfamiliar to those brought up on local Hong Kong food was a bit of a challenge for Dipen and Zita.
To bridge the divide between culinary cultures, Zita thought to offer momos — Nepali dumplings that those well-acquainted with Shanghainese xiaolongbao, Japanese gyozas, and all the other regional varieties of meat and vegetables wrapped in dough would recognise. Funky Monkey’s signature momo platter consists of dumplings seasoned with spices such as ginger, turmeric, and cumin, then steamed, fried, and lathered in sauce, offering a variety of flavours. But of course, there is a lot more to Nepali food than just dumplings. From there, Zita, who takes charge of both Funky Monkey’s business operations and culinary creations, introduces dishes such as chatpate, a snack mix of dry noodles and mixed vegetables, and aloo dum, potato with Nepali spices. The signature dish at Tung Chung is the Chatamari Pizza, a beloved Nepali Street food with Mozarella cheese, marinara sauce, minced beef with herbs, topped with an egg.
Funky Monkey’s cocktails also pay homage to the pair’s roots, created by Dipen, they make use of imported whiskey and rum from Nepal, as well as spices typically used in Nepali cuisine.
Restaurant owner Dipen speaks from decades of F&B experience when he explains how he chose each of Funky Monkey’s iconic locations. First, there’s the neighbourhood hangout: a calculated gamble that paid off, miles away from where locals flock to the city’s latest bar concepts in Central’s Soho district, yet free from competition, and in the centre of Jordan’s thriving Nepali population. Soon after the restaurant and bar had made a name for itself, opening a second location on Tsim Sha Tsui’s Knutsford Terrace, with a focus on drinks and cocktails, appealing to the district’s shoppers and office workers, eventually leading up to the opening of their Tung Chung branch earlier this year. “It’s a newly developed district,” says Dipen, who manages the Tung Chung branch, while Zita takes the helm at Jordan and TST. “There’s the airport and Disneyland, so when COVID goes down, business will boom.”
Behind the success of Funky Monkey is, of course, the barbacks and line cooks who prepare the mise en place, ensure the bar is stocked, and get the venue ready for service each day, each location having different opening hours and routines. When asked about how employees at Funky Monkey are trained, Dipen doesn’t waste time sugarcoating his answers. Every night ends with empty glasses and smiles on faces, but F&B is hard work: “behind the drinks and the running around, it’s really hard working here, you know, garbage barrels and all.”
As if the high competition in Hong Kong’s F&B scene was not enough, Funky Monkey has had to deal with staff shortages and decreased foot traffic resulting from the pandemic. Dipen and Zita emphasise that starting in the industry is no walk in the park, and as such, requires an ironclad work ethic. That said, they make sure employees are trained properly and equipped with the skills to grow and excel, which is why an applicant’s skills are never treated as Dipen and Zita’s first priority — former Funky Monkey employees who are now working in management positions at hotels can attest to that. Of course, it’s all part of improving and growing, for both the business and employees. “This is F&B,” says Zita. “People can’t stay here forever.” But at the end of the day, they are family. Zita and Dipen are proud of everything they have accomplished, and recognise that they themselves have played a part in former employees’ success.
On the topic of leaving a place that once raised and nurtured you, Dipen and Zita were close to moving to the UK prior to the conception of Funky Monkey, but decided to make a last ditch effort to bring a piece of Nepal to Hong Kong. Underlying founders Dipen and Zita’s business savvy and knowledge of Hong Kong’s districts is a devotion to the city. Born in an army camp to a father who was in Hong Kong’s British Gurkha Army, Dipen’s roots are in Hong Kong just as much as they are in Nepal. Five years down the line, with three branches across Hong Kong and their signature lager ready for sale, things have come full circle: Funky Monkey is in talks to take the restaurant and bar to the UK.
The restaurant and bar is launching their own signature product, the Funky Monkey Stupid Lager, on 15th August. Originally starting with his own personal brew, Dipen collaborated with local craft brewery Hong Kong Beer Co. to actualise his lager, and enlisted the help of Malcolm Golding for the label’s design. The beer combines the warm notes of ginger with honey and fresh lychee, using fresh ingredients in the brewing process, the perfect complement for a warm summer night and delicious Nepali cuisine.
Address: G/F, 17 Wai Ching Street, Jordan, Kowloon (click here for more locations)
Opening Hours: 12pm to 10pm