Sweet start

An­gus Tse Sui-lun hit the right chord when he de­cided to put his business acu­men to the test, whet­ting the ap­petite of Hong Kong’s grow­ing army of dessert afi­fi­ciona­dos. He says Hong Kong, where Western and East­ern cul­tures meet, helps business grow from

China Daily (Canada) - - HONGKONG -

An­gus Tse Sui-lun may or may not have that sweet tooth him­self, but see­ing how Hong Kong peo­ple have grown crav­ing for desserts is enough to nudge him into throw­ing his hat into the en­tre­pre­neur­ial ring.

He’s now at the helm at Tong Pak Fu Cater­ing Man­age­ment Ltd, hav­ing turned it into a lo­cal brand name dessert house after tak­ing over the restau­rant chain in 2012.

And, Hong Kong, it seems, is still too small a stage for him to act. Tse has set his sights on the main­land’s vast mar­ket, con­vinced it of­fers un­in­hib­ited business po­ten­tial.

“In re­cent years, dessert restau­rants are be­com­ing more and more popular on the main­land. Since Tong Pak Fu is a Hong Kong dessert restau­rant chain that has al­ready gained a rep­u­ta­tion in the lo­cal mar­ket, it could make things eas­ier for us to ex­pand on the main­land,” Tse told China Daily.

Tong Pak Fu cur­rently op­er­ates three stores in Hong Kong — all at prime spots on the bustling streets of Mong Kok. Tse said that to open a dessert restau­rant with around 50 seats in Mong Kok would re­quire a startup in­vest­ment of be­tween HK$800,000 and HK$1 mil­lion, plus a monthly rent in the HK$100,000-HK$200,000 range.

De­pend­ing on the per­for­mance of each store, he reck­oned that to break even would prob­a­bly take one or two years.

Tong Pak Fu is look­ing for other re­tail lo­ca­tions on Hong Kong Is­land and in Tsim Sha Tsui, and plans to open two more stores in the next few months.

The company’s thrust is to bet­ter po­si­tion it­self for the thrust into the main­land.

“We have es­tab­lished a food pro­cess­ing fac­tory in Shen­zhen, although it has yet to start pro­duc­tion. It will be able to sup­ply food­stuff to Tong Pak Fu restau­rants on the main­land,” Tse said.

Be­sides three restau­rants the group al­ready op­er­ates on the main­land, it aims to open seven more stores there within the next six months — in Guang­dong prov­ince. Break­ing even

To get a 1,000-square-foot store with a seat­ing ca­pac­ity of up to 50 peo­ple off the ground calls for an in­vest­ment of about 600,000 yuan ($98,000). Tak­ing into ac­count that rents on the main­land are much lower than Hong Kong’s, and with the av­er­age spend­ing of each cus­tomer at be­tween 30 and 40 yuan, break­ing even could be achieved within 18 to 24 months, Tse said.

He stressed that Tong Pak Fu would also con­sider es­tab­lish­ing fran­chised stores on the main­land.

Tse, now in his 30s, said although run­ning a dessert restau­rant chain was his first business at­tempt, he has been de­voted to en­trepreneur­ship since child­hood.

“I de­vel­oped that pas­sion for business when I was very young. I used to sell toys when I was a teenager,” he re­called.

Be­fore launch­ing his own company, Tse had worked for pub­licly-listed com­pa­nies in the food-and-bev­er­age in­dus­try for about 10 years, and held a se­nior man­age­ment post when he quit. This has given him some lever­age in the field, he be­lieves.

Tse re­signed from his job in 2010 and set up an in­vest­ment firm Sui Sang Hold­ings Ltd with his own sav­ings. The company’s core business in­cluded fi­nan­cial in­vest­ments, and trad­ing in se­cu­ri­ties and other fi­nan­cial prod­ucts and even prop­er­ties.

The company went on to invest in a small food trad­ing firm and a food pro­cess­ing company. In or­der to save trans­porta­tion costs, Tse also ac­quired a lo­gis­tics company, ap­ply­ing his knowl­edge in the in­dus­try to the hilt.

In 2012, Sui Sang Hold­ings took Tong Pak Fu into its fold.

“After the takeover, we did some trans­for­ma­tion and brand re-pack­ag­ing. We closed a few stores that didn’t per­form very well and brought in new prod­ucts,” Tse said.

The turn­ing point came when he re­al­ized that Hong Kong peo­ple love desserts, par­tic­u­larly after din­ner.

“I al­ways no­ticed there were long queues at our stores after 8 pm, but the restau­rants were usu­ally empty for most of the day and this is a huge waste of re­sources,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Tse, a ma­jor up­grade of Tong Pak Fu’s menu is in the cards. He plans to in­crease the va­ri­ety of Western food like spaghetti, lasagna or even steak, so cus­tomers can have lunch or even din­ner at Tong Pak Fu, and the company’s rev­enues will thus go up.

Since Sui Sang Hold­ings owns food trad­ing and pro­cess­ing com­pa­nies as well as a lo­gis­tics firm in Hong Kong, Tse said they pro­vide a good syn­ergy ef­fect with Tong Pak Fu restau­rants, and Sui Sang may ac­quire more cater­ing firms or restau­rant chains in fu­ture.

Tse is up­beat about the group’s main­land ex­pan­sion drive, and is con­fi­dent that Hong Kong’s dessert restau­rants have won recog­ni­tion from main­land cus­tomers.

“You can see that Hui Lau Shan and Hon­ey­moon Dessert are do­ing very well on the main­land. Although Tong Pak Fu is just a starter, hope­fully, the day will come when we’ll emerge as a dessert brand that peo­ple can com­pare us with Hon­ey­moon Dessert and Hui Lau Shan,” he said.

Tse ad­mits that be­ing an en­tre­pre­neur is more dif­fi­cult than in­vest­ing in fi­nan­cial prod­ucts, as there are a lot of new things to learn and many new prob­lems to solve on a daily ba­sis.

“But be­ing an en­tre­pre­neur is very ful­fill­ing and it gives me a great sense of ac­com­plish­ment by know­ing that my restau­rants are get­ting bet­ter and I’m able to keep so many em­ploy­ees on my pay­roll,” he said.

Tse’s company now has more than 100 em­ploy­ees, and he’s con­stantly dis­cussing with con­sul­tants about how to scale the heights and nail any prob­lems that might arise.

“I barely have time to eat and only sleeps three to four hours a day,” Tse groaned. “I know that many young en­trepreneurs in Hong Kong are work­ing as hard as I am, yet many of them still fail to get their own business on track.”

“I con­sider my­self very lucky and business is my pas­sion, Maybe, that’s what keeps driv­ing me for­ward.”

Tse urged young peo­ple in Hong Kong who aim to have their own business sealed some­day to be well pre­pared and get things or­ga­nized.

“Of course, they need to start sav­ing money as early as pos­si­ble as it’s not easy to get fund­ing the minute you come up with clever business ideas.” Po­ten­tial risks

Young en­trepreneurs should also try to make cap­i­tal ar­range­ments be­fore­hand, and an­a­lyze po­ten­tial risks and be aware of their own abil­i­ties, he said.

Tse stressed that the ma­jor chal­lenge one faces in start­ing a company in Hong Kong is the high costs, in­clud­ing rental and la­bor costs. But he ar­gued that peo­ple need to know that Hong Kong is still the place to do business and a place where Western and East­ern cul­tures meet.

Hong Kong peo­ple are ex­posed to di­ver­si­fied in­for­ma­tion and cre­ative ideas from all over the world while also hav­ing a deep un­der­stand­ing of the main­land, said Tse.

“Young en­trepreneurs in Hong Kong should seize the ad­van­tages of the city’s unique eco­nomic and ge­o­graph­i­cal po­si­tion and closely mon­i­tor business op­por­tu­ni­ties on the main­land.”


It’s desserts galore at Tong Pak Fu — with a wide va­ri­ety of desserts and drinks that are tai­lored made for those with the sweet tooth.


One of Tong Pak Fu’s trendy lit­tle stores in Mong Kok.

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