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
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.