Having been away from his home country Germany for 13 years and in Shenzhen for seven years, Jerome Wertz said he does not miss his home at all as Shenzhen is the place he now calls home.
“Not a single day since my arrival [have] I missed my home. I miss my family and friends, but that’s about it. My home is Shenzhen,” Wertz told Shenzhen Daily walking in the Sea World on a sunny afternoon after a brief bit of rain.
Wertz, co-founder of Baia Burger Concept in Shekou in Nanshan District, came to Shenzhen in 2013 when he and his business partner opened their first restaurant called Baia Restaurant, Bar & Grill right next to the Minghua cruise, a centerpiece of the Sea World development in Shekou.
A hospitality management major in college, Wertz’s career in hospitality started in 2006 when he joined Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts in Washington D.C. in the United States, taking charge of the Rooms Division Department.
Over the following seven years, his career with Four Seasons took him to Australia and Malaysia before he finally settled in Shenzhen as an entrepreneur.
Always on the lookout for new adventures and ready to push himself for something exciting, the former hotelier decided to walk away from a safety net and become self-employed.
“I didn’t end up here [in Shenzhen] by accident. I always wanted to move to Shenzhen since my first visit in 2007. My goal was to establish a food and beverage business and to create a startup company, so we needed a place where everything has a startup mentality. Shenzhen was giving the right ground for what we had in mind,” he said. “Shenzhen is an innovative and advanced city full of opportunities. And I think other countries can look how things are being done in Shenzhen. This is such an exciting place, especially for young people, for entrepreneurs and for everyone with dreams.”
When Wertz first came to Shenzhen to pursue his dreams, the 40-year-old only took with him some clothes, daily necessities and a computer. After seven years, he owned four restaurants — three in Shenzhen and one in Koh Tao, Thailand. Besides his three restaurants, he also ran the Baia Academy teaching Western table manners to Chinese kids and adults at schools, hotels and cultural exchange events.
Over the past years Wertz has witnessed a lot of changes in Shenzhen. “Seven years ago if I told taxi drivers a stop they wouldn’t understand apart from some simple English like ‘Bye Bye,’ but nowadays I’m surprised that some taxi drivers and convenience store workers can speak basic English and more and more people are trying to communicate in English,” he recalled, adding that life for expats in Shenzhen also becomes much easier with a lot more options.
“Back then there were not so many dining and shopping choices, but now you can find all kinds of food and brands. It’s no different from shopping in Hong Kong,” he said.
Wertz’s business is experiencing a hard time amid the COVID-19 crisis — he had to close two of his restaurants, lay off employees and cut down payments. However he has noticed some positive signs of economic recovery in the city.
“It’s terrible what the virus has done to China and the rest of the world, but these days I can feel a new wave of excitement and opportunities since everything is moving again. The crisis gives us an opportunity to regroup and stay focused.”
Wertz told Shenzhen Daily that the May Day holiday was a turning point for his business and the city’s dining industry as a whole thanks to the government policies.
“Our restaurant was all full during the three-day holiday. The government helped out big time with vouchers and coupons and encouraged people to go out and support restaurants, that’s also when I regained confidence that things are going to move in the right direction,” he said.
The restaurateur revealed to Shenzhen Daily that they are planning to further expand Baia Burger Concept in Shenzhen next year and even grow their presence in other cities in China when the virus crisis is over and everything goes back to normal.
During Wertz’s breaks or when he is not at work, he often goes to the Sea World waterfront of Shenzhen Bay to enjoy a moment alone while running, cycling, or simply gazing into the distance where a fleet of yachts anchor, which reminds him of his home in Europe.