Since 2014, High Street Hospitality Group (HSHG) has created exceptional food and service experiences throughout Greater Philadelphia, New York City, and beyond while supporting local purveyors, ethical sourcing, providing fair wages, and giving back to the communities they work in.
Ellen Yin, Co-founder and Owner of HSHG, has been a trailblazer in the food and hospitality scene for over 25 years. She and her team operate some of the country’s most celebrated dining establishments, including a.kitchen + bar, Fork, High Street Philly, The Wonton Project, High Street Provisions in Philadelphia, and High Street on Hudson in Manhattan. She is a multi-year nominee for “Outstanding Restaurateur” by the James Beard Foundation Awards and is a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Ellen is involved in several community-centric organizations, including the Sisterly Love Collective and the Independent Restaurant Coalition, and sits on the Board of “The Philadelphia Award,” among others.
We caught up with Ellen to learn more about her hospitality and restaurant industry journey, what prompted her to start the Wonton Project and her experiences as an SBN member. Check out our interview below.
How did your journey in the restaurant/ hospitality industry begin?
Like many others in the industry, I got my start working at a neighborhood restaurant in high school, which happened to be a French restaurant considered one of the best in New Jersey. While working there, I remember falling in love with the diversity, pace, and energy of the restaurant scene. After that moment, I wanted to focus on making a mark in the hospitality industry by creating innovative, equitable, and sustainable concepts that keep the industry moving forward. Fork, which we opened in 1997, was based on a business plan I had created while studying at UPenn.
What prompted you to start the Wonton Project, and as you celebrate its one-year anniversary, what can we expect?
I was inspired to start The Wonton Project to help fight discrimination against Asian Americans following the violence in Atlanta last year. I knew I had to do something but I’m a restaurateur, no chef. One thing I feel confident in making is wontons, especially my mother’s recipes. So, with the help of Fork and High Street’s chefs, I was able to convert my mother’s beloved wonton recipe into one that can be executed in a restaurant.
Community has been at the heart of what I do for the past 25 years.
And while I haven’t always leaned into my Asian roots as a restaurateur, I am proud to have found a way to give back to the AAPI community. Going into the project’s one-year anniversary, I hope to expand our menu, continue to host powerful collaborations, perhaps consider a full-time ghost kitchen operation at High Street Provisions, and keep raising money for AAPI charities worldwide.
As a SBN member, can you share more about the benefits of membership? In what ways does SBN assist your business?
The benefits of membership are being able to network with other like-minded entrepreneurs in the business community. Additionally, educational programming and discussion are great. The networking and educational opportunities are vast, and I always appreciate connecting with other local business owners.
Can you share an experience that solidified your commitment to triple-bottom-line principles of people, planet, and profit?
There isn’t one experience that solidified my commitment to triple-bottom-line principles. However, from the time Fork opened, we always felt that the most valuable assets were our team members. At Fork we have always considered the environment and doing well by those standards would draw guests who have common values.
As an Asian American business owner who uses your business as a force for good, do you have suggestions on how the business community can better support other Asian-owned responsible businesses?
The best way to support other businesses in your community is by frequenting them of course, but if you have a platform where you can give others a voice via partnerships and collaborations even better.
You’ve accomplished many things over the years. Can you share what’s been the most rewarding for you?
I love to see our team members grow. Fork has been open since 1997, so our family tree is quite large and so many former team members have gone on to such wonderful things from awards to opening their own concepts in Philadelphia and beyond.
To up-and-coming local independent businesses, what is one piece of advice you would give them?
My advice would be to go in with a solid knowledge of and passion for the industry in which you are starting your business. You’re going to be working long hours and a lot of roadblocks/hurdles will pop up over your tenure. It’s imperative that you love it, or I could foresee someone burning out quickly.
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