In conversation with Ryan Chetiyawardana AKA Mr Lyan
We chat to true Urban Adventurer Ryan Chetiyawardana AKA Mr Lyan – awarded the worlds best bartender in 2015, founder of much loved London establishments White Lyan, Dadelyan, Cub and soon to be Lyaness, now spreading his wings internationally with the Lyan Brand for Super Lyan Amsterdam and Silver Lyan Washington D.C.
Exciting times ahead for you with three new sites this year including Amsterdam and Washington DC! What prompted you to choose these locations?
It’s really exciting! We’ve been thinking about projects outside of London for a while, and needed the right spark, so having tested the waters on small scales through talks and pop-ups, it’s exciting to be getting the plans in place for permanent fixtures. And that’s how Amsterdam and DC came about really; I had visited both for talks and didn’t really know what to expect of the cities but totally fell in love. I’m always excited to get a feel for the culture through the people and the food and drink, and both seemed like there was an amazing excitement that we could authentically become part of. I also love capital cities as there’s an amazing energy and sense of collective betterment to them.
It’s crazy to look at how demonised White Lyan was when it launched, but everything it looked to challenge started to become commonplace
Can you tell us about a memorable turning point in the business?
So many! Some were key markers such as an award, or an event with the team, or launching the books or products, but I think the sustainability article on White Lyan was an important turning point. I had been doing talks on Sustainability for years, with very little pick up, and White Lyan had burst out of the gates as this seemingly heretic monster, but then the Guardian broke the article in 2013 about how we had challenged the idea of waste in food and drink operations, whilst still maintaining excellence and it went crazy – not only did it demonstrate that we weren’t doing things for gimmick but as something we cared about for the industry and public as a whole, and it shed light on a topic that has now spiralled to become very mainstream.
What’s been your greatest mistake and what did it teach you?
I make lots of mistakes! But I also really value them – I wouldn’t change any of our hiccups. I suppose I’m a trusting person, and have always been fortunate to surround myself with passionate people who really put the effort in, so it was a huge learning to realise that not everyone shares this – particularly when dealing with a corporate client – and that people will take advantage of your sense of pride in your work if you’re not clear up front. I have been taught from experience to value your worth – despite friends and mentors trying to point that out to me without the hard lesson!
What’s been the biggest change in the industry since you launched your first bar?
The changes have been so rapid! It’s crazy to look at how demonised White Lyan was when it launched, but everything it looked to challenge started to become commonplace (including bottled cocktails, alternative ingredients, sustainability, language around cocktails, techniques etc) and the same became mirrored with Dandelyan and spurred the evolution into Lyaness. But I think the biggest change has come from the consumer perspective – it’s becoming much more commonplace to see drinks as about being beyond what’s in the glass, and about socialising and getting together in the way great food and drink is so encouraging of.
You’ve become somewhat of a brand yourself. How important is design and branding to you when launching a new venture?
It’s a huge part – but also because it’s based on my experiences and background. The brand aesthetics reflect the ethos of the company, and what I was excited to change in the world of food and drink, and with this, it’s based on authentic pillars – my drawings, writing and doodles, and my sister’s creative direction. I’m a believer that any creative endeavour is about clear communication, so it was really important our values and outlook were consistent with what we stand for – so coming from this personal perspective is a hugely important point.
What’s the best reaction anyone’s had to your business?
It’s lovely seeing the words of support that come out, and the reactions that people leave in comments, reviews or to the team – but I had a lovely moment in a restaurant (not ours) where a couple introduced themselves as I was leaving, and mentioned that they are planning their wedding drinks around my book, and that it had made it really easy for them to take the stress out of their day and ensure it still ticked the stuff they loved. Not only was that a perfect illustration of what the book was designed for, it was lovely that people cared about what we do in a manner that they would fold it into something so personal to them.
One for the road, you find yourself at the eve of the apocalypse, what would be your final drink?
It’s definitely a journey; a Martini with some fried chicken and some caviar, Champagne with some dim sum, then Guinness, some ice cream and a healthy nip of Bowmore 1964 Fino Cask – all surrounded and shared with the good company of people and animals.
Follow Mr Lyan and his ventures on Instagram – @mrlyan