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TONG CHONG STREET MARKET

"Insights from Insiders": Food Entrepreneurs in the Making at TCSM

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• Launched in March, the Tong Chong Street Market (TCSM) Mentorship Programme, “Insights from Insiders”, nurtures aspiring food entrepreneurs.
• We catch up with the mentees on their progress towards their dreams.

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Starting a business is no easy task; growing one is even harder – especially in Hong Kong’s competitive F&B industry. To find and nurture the next generation of food entrepreneurs, Tong Chong Street Market (TCSM) launched a six-month-long mentorship programme, "Insights from Insiders", in March to prepare them for the challenges of the industry, while spreading values of inclusivity and sustainability.

With guidance from 12 coaches such as marketing expert Samantha Wong, designer JJ Acuna and Chef May Chow, the participants have since been honing their skills, from branding and marketing, to operation and culinary R&D. You’ll see how much they’ve progressed at this month’s TCSM, but first, let them tell you more about their fruitful journeys and what they’re bringing to your favourite weekday market.

Marvin Gaw, Founder of Holy Gaw

“I’ve been a chef for over six years, but it wasn’t until last October that I opened my own restaurant in Wan Chai. It has always been my ambition to bring Filipino cuisine to Hong Kong; but I wasn’t ready for the challenges that come with managing a business – it’s not just about cooking anymore! So, I joined the mentorship programme to learn from established restauranteurs.

The coaches have been open with sharing their experience with us. Black Garlic’s Chris Cheung, for example, talked about the changes he’d been through since he started in the industry. His story inspires me to focus my energy on the present – I still have big dreams, but it’s more important to do whatever I’m doing now well before moving on to the next step. This way, I’ll never have any regrets even if things don’t work out. Right now, my focus is on TCSM – expect rich Filipino flavours served with cauliflower rice, a healthier rice cauliflower rice alternative!”

Jordan Kostelac and Houston Fung, Co-Founders of NEONOTIC! and Hau About

Jordan: “While we both have a strong business background, F&B is still one of the toughest businesses to get into. We’re exploring F&B as an extension to NEONOTIC!, our cider craft brewery, so actionable advice from the mentors really helps. Like May Chow said, they’re saving us from ‘seven years of mistakes’. It feels like we’ve done more to sharpen our concept since we joined the programme than we had in the nine months prior, such as finally landing on a brand name: Hau About.”

Houston: “We love this name! It evokes curiosity and works as a pun – ‘Hau’ means fermentation in Cantonese, which is key to our concept. We want to educate the public on the health benefits and interesting flavours that fermentation can bring, but in Hong Kong, people tend to associate fermentation with a sour taste. So May suggested that instead of using it as our market-facing feature, we let people discover it through our food. Taking her advice, we’ll focus on local food for our TCSM menu – but there’ll be a fermented element to every item, including a cider-infused dish.”

Pamela Poon, Founder of Sow Vegan and Ovule Bakery

“Though I have taken courses at Le Cordon Bleu, I didn’t have any experience in the F&B industry before starting my private dining studio, Sow Vegan. Four years later, I’m embarking on a new project – a vegan bakery – and it dawned on me that there’s still so much I can improve on.

One challenge was that many found our bakery to be very high-end and unapproachable – I kept asking myself, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ And I found my answer with this programme. During my one-on-one calls with Samantha Wong, she shared detailed research on vegan restaurants in Hong Kong. It showed me that veganism is a tiny market, which means if I want to promote plant-based eating, I need to first talk about things that appeal to a wider audience, such as healthy, homemade food. I’ve also switched the look of our storefront from dark tones to warmer colours to create a homey vibe, which our TCSM booth will also bear, to let people enjoy our baked goods in a cosy environment.”

Hanh Dang, Founder of Măm Măm

“I used to be an interior designer in Vietnam before opening my first restaurant in Saigon. I moved here three years ago, and now, I feel it’s time to continue my culinary dream through my new restaurant, Măm Măm.

Hong Kong and Vietnam are very different. The pace of life here is faster, so people often expect to be served quickly. It’s also challenging to get people to accept new flavours – in my case, authentic vegetarian Vietnamese cuisine. Through the mentorship programme, however, I’m beginning to understand this market better. Kith & Kin Studio’s Rocky Yip inspired me to revisit how I market my brand – how to pique customer interest and convince them to try my food. That led to a revamp of our website, logo and social media strategies. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve gained a lot of confidence from the mentors’ support. I’m also excited to present tasty, healthy Vietnamese favourites such as banh mi at TCSM – I can’t wait to see the response to my recipes!”

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Cam Wong and Jenga Lee, Private Chefs

Cam: “Jenga and I have been doing pop-up dinners and home catering since last year. We both have a day job but we also want to build our network in F&B and improve our craft. This programme allows us to learn directly from many renowned chefs in town. May Chow’s 80-20 lesson was particularly memorable for me: we should do things so that 80% of outputs come from only 20% of inputs.”

Jenga: “True, running an F&B business isn’t just about passion; we also have to consider other things like finance, marketing and trends. What’s great about this programme is that we can ask the mentors many questions and they would inspire us to rethink our approach. For example, we want to introduce sake pairing with pasta sauce at TCSM. It’s an innovative idea, and we’re keen to show people how well sake can go with different kinds of food. But would that limit our customers to sake lovers only? How do we expand this market? These are the questions that we’re still thinking about.”

Come meet and support these aspiring food entrepreneurs at TCSM this month! Find out all about the scrumptious market here and stay tuned to its Facebook page .
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