Cafe, bookstore, gallery: Hong Kong’s Ztoryhome is a place for people to feed their soul

Read on and you will learn that the drink has its origins in the maker’s childhood, one that was “filled with the scent of tea, Cantonese opera and my cravings for soda”.

At Ztoryhome, there is a story or intentionality behind everything – and that is because “feeding your soul” is its guiding mantra, from the menu and interior design to the books and art on display.

The interior of Ztoryhome in Sai Ying Pun. Ztoryhome is an offline extension of the online storytelling platform Ztoryteller. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

As one might expect from its name, every aspect of the cafe, which soft opened in late March, is modelled after the concept of home and storytelling – it is a place where people can immerse themselves in a book while sipping a cup of tea.

Ztoryhome is an offline extension of the online storytelling platform Ztoryteller, which was created by Alice Lee Hoi-yee in 2017.

At the time, Lee was a full-time art director who also ran the social media accounts for a company magazine. She began Storyteller – as it was first named – after meeting a group of budding creatives through an illustration class.

“They loved illustration a lot, but their daytime jobs were totally not related to drawing or the creative industry,” Lee recalls.

Art books published by Ztoryteller include Ztorybook, a bilingual bedtime storybook, and Alone Together by Mateusz Kolek, which features illustrations inspired by Hong Kong and Tokyo. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

When she asked why none of them were pursuing their passion as their profession, they all told her that they felt it would be difficult to start and sustain a living doing creative work in Hong Kong.

Hoping to give her fellow illustrators exposure to a wider audience and wanting to help them land more work opportunities, Lee began to post their drawings on Storyteller.

In 2018, Lee brought something of Storyteller into the real world when she opened a bookstore called Cabinet of Stories in an old tenement in Hong Kong’s Central district to serve as a place where busy city dwellers could relax and flip through books.

“When I first started this company, I totally didn’t expect that I would need to do anything physical, because seven years ago, I used to be a person that hated designing something in real life,” Lee says.

Lee began Storyteller – as her online platform Ztoryteller was first named – after meeting a group of budding creatives through an illustration class. Photo: Xiaomei Chen
This changed when she thought about what Storyteller’s legacy would be if social media were to disappear. “I started to realise that the texture of books, the real interaction with people, is something that social media and the virtual world can’t replace.”

With that in mind, Lee changed the name of her platform to Ztoryteller – the “Z” being a nod to the z-axis, which is a dimension used when designing something that is 3D.

The name change was indicative of a new beginning – Lee deleted over 2,000 posts on her Ztoryteller account on Instagram, leaving only one post up to explain the rebrand.

In 2023, given that she was already hosting pop-up exhibitions and events at Cabinet of Stories, Lee decided to open a physical gallery space in Sai Ying Pun.

Lee opened Ztoryhome after closing her bookstore and her gallery. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

However, Lee pivoted again after a few months as she realised that she did not want to enter the mainstream art world and that everything she had accomplished through Ztoryteller was centred on healing people through stories.

So, at the end of 2023, she closed both the bookstore and the gallery in favour of opening Ztoryhome – an amalgam of its predecessors, with the added element of food and drink.

“We wanted to build a place [where people] can relax, heal and also take a moment to connect to [themselves] through stories of food and art,” Lee says.

She envisioned the place as one where people could go to “feed their soul” and feel as comfortable as if they were at home.

Indeed, the pet-friendly Ztoryhome, adorned with wooden accents built by Lee’s dad, exudes a welcoming, cosy atmosphere.

First, there is a cafe section – “the kitchen” – which serves up comforting noodle dishes such as a cold soba set and a tangerine peel duck leg udon.

Other menu items include seasonal cakes and drinks, such as the aforementioned “A Light Boat Leaves” as well as the citrusy “Lost in the Mountains, Unaware of the Heart”. The cafe has collaborated with Hong Kong singer Moon Tang to deliver “Getaway”, a hot French rose tea named after her latest song.

For each cup of “Getaway” sold, Ztoryhome will donate 50 per cent of the proceeds to a local organisation helping stray cats. The cafe itself is home to a recently rescued cat.

The book corner features a ceiling-high bookshelf complete with a low sitting nook. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Guests are asked to remove their shoes to enter the Japanese-style sitting area, just as they would when entering a real home, and the book corner features a ceiling-high bookshelf complete with a low sitting nook for guests to curl into.

In the “Cabinet of Stories”, named after the old bookstore, picture books are a focus because of how accessible they are to most people, Lee says.

Notable books include Ztoryteller’s own bilingual bedtime storybook, Ztorybook, and Alone Together by Mateusz Kolek, which features illustrations inspired by Hong Kong and Tokyo.

“We believe that children’s literature is actually very inspiring and, especially for busy people in this city, we don’t have time to finish a book with [a lot of] words, so a picture book is a very good start,” Lee says.

“You just need to take 10-15 minutes, and you can already finish a book and get some inspiration for your life.”

Items for sale in Ztoryhome. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

If visitors are in need of some fresh air they can step out into “the garden”, an outdoor area which leads upstairs to the gallery, known as “the living room”.

Although Lee has no experience running a restaurant, food and drink was always going to be a key part of Ztoryhome because of its ability to reach people beyond the art world, Lee says.

“Even if you are not [that] interested in art and culture, it’s OK,” she says, adding that food and drink can be used to bridge that gap.

That plan has proven to be successful – despite the lack of formal advertising, Ztoryhome has been packed every day since mid-April.

It has already held a number of events, including a tea workshop, a dinner in collaboration with the French May Arts Festival and an exhibition in collaboration with the non-governmental organisation Redress – all before the official grand opening in July.

“I really want to get close with the mass audience, instead of just reaching out to the niche collectors’ market,” Lee says. “If we use food and dining as a starting point to reach out to them, then it’s easier for us to attract them to go upstairs to see more.”

Ztoryhome, 118 Queen’s Road West, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong


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