Mr. Michael Cheung from Hong Kong is a 25-year veteran who has experience in restaurant management and the food industry in Hong Kong. Opened on Hong Kong Island in 2015, “Congteakafe” has become a hot topic for its Western-style menus and stylish interiors that incorporate Hong Kong traditions, and has become one of the most popular shops. The plan is to open a third store in November 2020.
The location that Mr. Cheung chose to expand his business is none other than Okinawa. We asked Mr. Cheung, who founded “Congteakafe Okinawa” in 2018, about his struggles and experiences in starting a business, his current business development, and his life in Okinawa.（September,2020）
Okinawa gave birth to an independent culture of food surrounded by a mixed culture. As a person with a long history in the world of foods and beverages, I consider Okinawa to be a second home. I wish to create a business that can not only benefit the local consumers of Okinawa and mainland Japan, but also introduce the traditions of Hong Kong to Japanese people.
Congteakafe strives to offer gourmet meals at reasonable prices. Although our two restaurants are located in areas with many tourists and wealthy people in Hong Kong, the prices are set at the same range as a local Cantonese meal. We make an effort to provide services at reasonable prices and, at the same time, satisfy our customers by purchasing high quality products from fair trade vendors and local markets.
Another commitment is to incorporate new ideas and trends into our menu without leaving out the culture or traditional foods of Hong Kong. For example, we combine long beloved foods of Hong Kong like Pineapple Bread or soup, with popular western foods, such as burgers or Eggs Benedict into combo menus, and latte is served in traditional vessels.
Hong Kong is a melting pot of many different cultures. We are hoping that Congteakafe can be a place where customers of various backgrounds may find their favorite dish.
Due to the political instability in Hong Kong, I have started to think of what may be the future for Congteakafe and began to consider expanding overseas. Therefore, I spent about a year researching the market of China, Taiwan, and Japan.
I initially focused on developing my business in Taiwan for linguistic reasons, but when I happened to visit Okinawa for vacation, I suddenly realized, “Oh, Okinawa has to be it!”
Okinawa is slightly different from mainland Japan, with a mixture of different foreign cultures and unique food styles. As represented by the Okinawan cuisine, Taco Rice, I felt that people in Okinawa are similar to Hong Kong in that they accept foreign ideas and make it their own.
With similar cultures, climates, living styles, genuine people, and historical backgrounds, I believed that expanding into Okinawa was a chance to strike gold.
After returning to Hong Kong, the first thing I did was discuss how to start a business in Okinawa with the Office of Hong Kong of Okinawa. After submitting the business plan, I was connected to Okinawa Industry Promotion Public Corporation, so I immediately booked a flight to Okinawa.
Since I already had a vision for the establishment, I prepared 20 to 30 detailed questions for the meeting. From our initial meeting, we were accompanied by administrative scriveners that were familiar with restaurant establishment and residence. Thus, the process only took one year from starting the business to obtaining the management visa and immigrating.
We also received support from Okinawa Industry Promotion Public Corporation in terms of living, including my daughter’s education, my Japanese language school, and residence. Additionally, from the start of the business until now, we were introduced to real estate companies, guarantee companies, and were matched with companies in Okinawa.
Just after I graduated from school, I worked at a Japanese bank in Hong Kong, so I was familiar with the work style and culture in Japan. Therefore, starting a business in Japan was not too much of a hassle for me. However, I experienced the language barrier and the difficulty of gaining credibility as a foreigner. Specifically, searching for a property to open the café was troublesome.
The reality is that different countries and cultures perform business in different ways. In Japan, the culture of keeping long lasting relationships weighs heavily. Unlike Hong Kong where real estate agents favor clients who are willing to pay a higher price, Japanese real estate agents tend to favor clients who will reside in one location for a long period of time. I am enjoying life while I wait for a chance to arise.
Our initial business plan was to hire and train staff members from both Okinawa and Hong Kong. However, this plan failed due to COVID-19. Nevertheless, I was fortunate to have the chance to meet with a restaurant owner who serves Taiwanese cuisine in Okinawa.
We discussed whether we could collaborate in making products together. He had equipment for refrigerating so I provided him with the know-how of making frozen goods in return for developing sales channels. As a result, we now have a total of 13 major retail stores that sell our original product in Okinawa.
The menu consists of four dishes, including Paiko Fried Rice and chicken wings flavored with sweet sauce, all of which are popular in Hong Kong. After receiving advice from a partner company, we are selling “Hong Kong Masamune (an authentic Hong Kong taste).” I want to develop the business alongside the people and community of Okinawa, so I am actively integrating ingredients produced on-island into Okinawan products.
Now that I have a food truck, I am planning on selling Hong Kong style milk tea as a mobile vendor. This will be my very first shop in Japan. The milk tea will be completely made from Japanese ingredients and the tea leaves will be bought from local companies with an original blend. As for the milk, I found sugar-free condensed milk from Hokkaido, and I am confident that we can reproduce the Hong Kong flavor.
Although milk tea originally came from England, Hong Kong takes pride in evolving the beverage into what it is today. Milk tea is such a popular drink in Hong Kong, and we would like to have people in Okinawa enjoy the beverage as people in Hong Kong have.
We have also manufactured original cups with our company logo on it. In the future, I would like to increase the number of food trucks and form a team, as well as begin serving coffee brewed from roasted coffee beans.
In addition, we are planning to sell our products to mainland Japan in collaboration with a vendor in Osaka. If we send all the goods at once to Osaka, it will be a win-win situation for both the customer and our company because the delivery fee will be cheaper for both of us.
The company in Osaka was originally a rental car company, however, due to the impact of COVID-19, they shifted to product sales. Since they already have many customers, if all goes well, we can be a model for restaurants in Okinawa. Furthermore, the recognition that Okinawan foods have in the country, paired with an involvement with a wholesaler should allow our products to become highly competitive. I hope that Okinawan restaurants can be a successful example when expanding into the mainland market.
After comparing Hong Kong, Okinawa, and Japan, I think Okinawa is by far the best place to live. The income is not much different from mainland Japan, but the living cost is cheaper. The houses are nice and clean along with kind neighbors. Most importantly, I can live safely and relax, which have shown through the change in my personal and daughters’ feelings.
My daughters are currently attending an elementary school in Chatan, and thanks to the language support, they were able to pick up Japanese very quickly. Before COVID-19, my eldest daughter has been going to karaoke with her Japanese friends, and my younger daughter has been walking to school.
Seeing a child walk alone in public may be considered normal in Japan, but this is unimaginable in Hong Kong. I trust that having this business opportunity in Okinawa is better not only for my own future but also for my family’s future. Now, we consider Okinawa to be our second home. I am thankful to be able to live in such a great place and will work effortlessly to further develop this business here in Okinawa.
Even back when I was living in Hong Kong, I personally thought that applying a foreign business model with no adjustment for the sake of convenience and rationality is not right. The important thing is to figure out how to collaborate with the people and companies in the area. For this purpose, communication is crucial to understanding the traditions, culture, and the way people think in the area.
Comparing your own country or company to that of Japan or Okinawa is unavoidable. If you are coming from a different country, you should spontaneously modify your business and think of ways to further improve your business.
For this reason, obtaining the correct information is also important. Since all businesses are on a case-by-case basis, relying on only information from people you know is not enough. Therefore, I recommend receiving adequate information from Okinawa Industry Promotion Public Corporation.
|Congteakafe Okinawa Co., Ltd.|
|Head office : Mihama, Chatan Town, Okinawa Prefecture|
|TEL : 070-3802-9240|
|Established : October,2018|
|Representative : Michael Cheung|
|Number of employees : 1|
|Description of business : Production/sales of Hong Kong style frozen bentos and foods, sales of Hong Kong style light meals and drinks in food trucks|
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