Ting Ting Liang is the founder of roller-disco restaurant and bar RIINK and cocktail bar ROXIE. She arrived in Shanghai in 2009, and it was love at first sight. She tells of the ups and downs of starting her own businesses and her plans for the future.
Shanghai’s Food and Beverage Industry Superwomen
In celebration of Women’s Day, this series is an ode to the resilient and passionate women in the food and beverage industry.
Featuring eight interviews with chefs, bartenders, owners, and entrepreneurs, these women share how they got their start, challenges they’ve faced in recent years, their achievements and dreams, and what they’re working on now.
It is my greatest honor to have interviewed these exceptional women and to be able to share a small piece of their amazing journey. Cheers to all the women moving and shaking in their industries—you do you, girl!
Ting Ting Liang, Founder-Operator of RIINK and ROXIE
From Enschede, Netherlands. Founder of RIINK and ROXIE, operations.
Born and raised in a small city on the border of Netherlands and Germany, fate brought Ting Ting Liang to the shores of Shanghai. It was love at first sight.
Having grown up in restaurants all her life, it was clear that Ting Ting was not destined for a desk job. She explored all the wonders of Shanghai nightlife, affectionately referred to by her as the “late night fairytale.” She traded the office for the bar, and ended up working at Inferno, “Shanghai’s one-and-only-metal-bar” on Yongjia Lu (the original), before eventually partnering in the business.
Then, after no few tailspins, she took a leap of faith and opened ROXIE in 2015 and hasn’t looked back since. In 2018, she co-founded RIINK, which is perhaps Shanghai’s only roller-disco, complete with restaurant, bar, and roller-skating circuit. The steep learning curve hasn’t deterred her—she has her bearings and will continue to chase the dream.
Can you tell me about your background and how you got your start?
Ting Ting: My parents were always working in restaurants—I was basically born in between shifts. They’d let me do easy jobs in the kitchen, like piecing together satay meat on sticks, peeling onions, etc. I liked the challenge even at a young age.
I studied hard, but it wasn’t always easy for me to focus on things that I didn’t find interesting. In 2009 through an exchange program, I got to stay in Shanghai for a year. I got a taste of Shanghai F&B and the freedom of being away from the home. I loved Shanghai instantly and wanted to come back after graduation, and so I did.
After my first desk job, I had the desire for some “action.” Bartending sounded like a fun job, and it was. It came more naturally than expected.
I started getting familiar with the liquid side of things. I soon realized it was more than just pouring drinks. It was very satisfying. It was instant and intense. I wanted more. My curiosity took me to all corners of the Shanghai late night fairy-tale.
I fell in love with Shanghai. But like any relationship at some point you have to come back down to earth. That’s when ROXIE happened. (ROXIE has the XIE for xiexie.)
Before ROXIE I was burning through money, and hit low points of not be able to pay bills on time. The switch to open ROXIE was a hard decision, but I had nothing to loose. Still feeling defeated on my hands and knees, we hung up the ROXIE logo and opened. I could not lose sight on things. I wanted it all, and therefore I had to give it my all. Now I realize how much of a learning curve it was.
Why did you decide to open RIINK, and why rollerskating?
Ting Ting: While operating ROXIE I started to imagine a place where people can do something more then just drinking and dancing. I wanted more for the scene. I wanted to use what I knew, and that was skating.
Years before opening, I asked my sister to bring back my skates from home because I missed it. But you can’t go on the streets here, as the traffic is too crazy. Back home, skating was my escape—the feeling is amazing, and the faster you go, the lighter you feel. It’s an emotion I couldn’t get from anything else. That’s what I ultimately wanted to share.
RIINK was born in 2018, and is turning five this year. And damn, three of those years were during Covid.
How’d you go from Inferno (co-owner at one point) to ROXIE and RIINK?
Ting Ting: Many things happened the last 12 years. I just kept on working. It’s kind of in your blood, you know? Especially when you were basically born in the kitchen. You just don’t stop working.
I grew up in a household that was not very expressive, so I wanted to show and express myself in a safe and comfortable way. I consider myself to be very blessed to be able to express myself by creating experiences for many people. It’s truly gratifying.
All venues have something in common. I have always learned to make a place presentable and always be ready to serve. It’s about balancing quality products and quality service. Making costumers happy is important.
What challenges did you encounter in the last three years? How did you overcome those challenges, and what learnings can you share?
Ting Ting: The last three years have been a non-stop roller-coaster. During Covid, we had to decide if we wanted to open a new location (from RIINK West Bund to the now RIINK Shankang Li).
2021 was a good year. Everything seemed to be going well, and in a sense, it was a bit unbelievable. I think last year (2023) topped everything, and not in a good way. It felt like playing a video game that kept on returning you to the previous levels with more obstacles. Every-time you overcame a level there were more challenges for the next.
Everyone pretty much had the same challenges: cost and no solid income for a good half-year, while the other half was feeling insecure. I feel for all business owners, not only our industry. But I hope we’ve at least learned from it and can be proud to have survived.
I tried to stay as realistic as possible and focus on taking care of those working with us. Our team has done an amazing job getting through it together. In bad times you support each other and be more caring, which sometimes can mean the world to some. One can only handle that many changes and still be OK. The unknown was the worst.
In celebration of powerful women, what does the idea of “power” mean to you?
Ting Ting: Power to me can be translated as “fuel.” Everyone’s drive is different but your real fuel is the thing that makes you outlive everything. The more you understand what that fuel is, the more you can control it.
What’s the most important piece of advice you could give to aspiring chefs/entrepreneurs/people who want a career in F&B?
Ting Ting: Know yourself, your limitations (trust me, you have them), and your deepest desires. Keep learning everyday. Be a nerd about the products or service you provide. You need to be a nerd about the details, and sometimes the thing you obsess about is what others find equally important. Take care of your body and mind, as you’ll need it.
I know you’re a big metal head. If you were to throw a metal-themed roller skating event at RIINK, what would the playlist sound like in three songs (or more)?
Ting Ting: Me and Martin were thinking about it. Disco Inferno, get it?
[Editor’s Note: Martin Aamodt is the founder of Inferno and the guy who brought Mikkeller to Shanghai.]
I always sneak in some metal music at both bars. Haha!
I’d do Money for Nothing (Dire Straits), Paradise City (Guns N’ Roses), 17 Girls In A Row (Steel Panther). Seems like a good start and end. Anything in between can variate from hair metal to nu metal.
The melodic and hardcore stuff could be done in “Volume 2: Disco Inferno.” Metal heads are shy, so we need to take it slow.
Now I’m getting excited! Damn it, Rachel!
ROXIE is an LGBTQ-friendly bar, and you’re pretty tight with the community. Have there been any changes in recent years?
Ting Ting: The venue itself has grown into something beautiful, and the crowd is comfortable with themselves. It’s a chill vibe, a place that welcomes all. We have never given into the stereotype nonsense. We want to serve the mixed crowd. A good crowd equals to good vibes. ROXIE is a part of me, the team, regulars, and passersby. It represents a pride that not only my team and I carry but also one that the community carries.
Moving forward in 2023, what do you expect for the market and business? And do you have exciting plans?
Ting Ting: I feel like I’m always working in my own bubble. Yes, there are exciting things I want do, but it takes time. Life goal: Do awesome things, and find the right time to do the right things.
What would your next dream project be like?
Ting Ting: To build up what we’re working on is always the dream. I’m very loyal to what we do and what we believe in. Like cutting raw diamonds, it takes some effort.
Anything else you’d like to add or say?
Ting Ting: There is always a bright side to things even if you don’t find or see it immediately. Just remember it’s there.
Address: Bldg 18, Shankang Li, 358 Kangding Lu, near Shaanxi Bei Lu 康定路358号18栋, 近陕西北路
Hours: Daily, 11am-1am
Address: 2/F, 359 Kangding Lu, near Shaanxi Bei Lu 康定路359号2楼, 近陕西北路
Hours: Daily, 6pm-2am