With the feast ordered, our conversation turns back to Arnault’s French roots. ‘I come from a small village in a wine region of the south of France called Corbières. It was a great place to play as a kid, but I found it deadly boring as a teenager — though nowadays, I love it again.’ Arnault was 22 when he arrived in Hong Kong on a programme that allowed him to escape France’s compulsory military service. ‘I had an interview for my first job at a bank. No fun. During my interview, I made up some serious story about the future of Hong Kong, the economy blah blah blah and a couple of weeks later, I got a letter in the mail — yes, I am old! — and I came here. I landed at Kai Tak airport during Chinese New Year in 1996. 26 years later, and I’m still here!” he laughs.
Fast forward to the very first kapok in Tin Hau, on a street with super cheap rent and nothing much going on. It was Arnault’s first small project, but he found himself enjoying being at work in a way he never thought was possible. So, when the opportunity came to move into Starstreet Precinct, he went for it. He remembers that the owners of the cha chaan teng next door to what’s now Pici were sceptical of the Frenchman moving in across the street. ‘For some reason, they were convinced I was going to open a burger shop!’ It’s unclear to this day why they thought that, but Arnault does in fact have F&B dreams. ‘I like to be in a business that makes people happy. And I really believe that good ice cream in summer makes people really happy! So I’ve been dreaming for a while now of creating my own ice cream brand and opening an ice cream parlour.’ Maybe this is in his DNA: even as a child, Arnault dreamed of one day opening a candy store. As a teenager it was a bookstore, and as a young adult, he imagined himself running a record shop. ‘I guess Kapok was bound to happen, really,’ he reflects.