Finding balance is the mantra of this mama’s business and way of life!
Starting a business in Hong Kong is never easy and definitely not after becoming a mum. More so, an F&B venture comes with a unique set of problems, such as the city’s high rents, the need to keep up with changing tastes, etc. Janet Tsang has faced these challenges successfully for the last three years, co-founding one of the city’s most successful healthy dining options, Fete Up, with her husband, Wei Kwan Chan. We speak to her about how she manages a busy work schedule with the demands of two young children.
When did you move back to Hong Kong and why?
I’m a Hong Kong local but I went to the UK to study when I was 15 years old and met my husband, Wei Kwan, when I was doing my Masters there. He is Singaporean and after graduating, I went to Singapore to work before we came back here seven years ago when I was pregnant with my son.
Prior to setting up Fete Up, what did you do?
I was a research cum sales manager for an organic farm in Singapore. After coming back to Hong Kong, I was a stay-home mum while doing some part-time sales work for a health product company.
Why did you decide to set up Fete Up?
Four years ago, Wei Kwan and I were very much into fitness. We went very strict about our diet and workouts. Of course, our bodies changed dramatically, and friends (especially fellow-mums) started asking what we had done. After sharing our experience, most of the time our friends said, “It’s impossible for me because I need to eat out every day.” Another comment we always heard was that though there were healthy eating-out options, they were mainly salads, and as Asians, they were not used to eating salads regularly. Another complaint was that healthy food is always tasteless!
Taking in all the responses, we realised there was a big demand for healthy Asian food that is tasty. And we were lucky at that time our partner and executive chef, William, got posted to Hong Kong at that time to manage the business/first class Qantas lounge at the airport. We discussed things and came up with the concept of our business; to provide healthy, balanced and tasty Asian-style meals that are reasonably priced. Being a Singaporean and having worked in several Michelin-star restaurants, William has the ability to create tasty dishes using herbs and spices, which also increase the nutritional value of the dish.
What has the journey been like – from a small takeaway to having three branches?
Wei Kwan and I had no experience in F&B before we started the business, so starting it was a challenge for us. Again, we were lucky that our initial team, with three professional and talented chefs, was amazing so our business grew fairly quickly.
Expanding the business has not been easy either, especially financially, as we expanded last year in June, just as the protests started. Another area that we have to improve continuously is Human Resource Management, as the number of our employees increases. We also have to keep making adjustments to our menu and business strategies to stay competitive and ensure that our food quality is consistent, while staying true to our values and concept.
What are the plans for the future?
We have just revamped our whole menu to make it even healthier and affordable to more people. We are also relocating our Sheung Wan branch to Central. We have also started working with gyms to come out with ready-made healthy meals. Also, we are going to merchandise some of the seasonings and sauces of our signature dishes so the public can bring our dishes back into their kitchen easily. Another plan in the future is to bring Fete Up into Singapore.
Given the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing measures, how has the business been affected?
The business has definitely been affected since our biggest target audience is the office crowds. Therefore we introduced a new menu. Adjustments are also being made so that we can target a wider market. It’s a tough time but also a good opportunity for us to fine-tune our business strategies.
F&B is probably one of the most difficult businesses in Hong Kong. Add to that, the pressure of staying abreast of health and wellness trends. What have been your challenges and learnings?
The biggest challenge is cost control and expenses. As rental and labour costs in Hong Kong are high, we have to take actions to keep the business healthy, which is hard. Another one is constant change and uncertainty. We have to stay alert and react quickly otherwise we will quickly be eliminated.
We also have to keep researching on the latest health trends and update our knowledge. I was in the Medicinal Chemistry field during my undergraduate and postgraduate courses, which is a huge help in this regard. Our partner/executive chef has just finished a nutritional course, which is another reason we changed our menu.
Daily interactions with customers is an important part of our business, as it helps us understand the needs and preferences of the consumers in the market. Another part of our research involves following trends in the market for which we rely on media channels like Sassy Mama and Sassy Hong Kong!
How easy is it to work with your husband? Do you involve your children in your work?
It is good to work with my husband as we are able to share a common goal, and constantly have ideas and topics to discuss. We understand what the other is going through, and this makes us closer than ever before. We are a good team business-wise, as Wei Kwan is a number person and I’m better on people skills. We complement each other’s strength and weakness.
We don’t usually involve the kids but, occasionally, we bring them to the stores and also during events where they help as excellent promoters!
With two kids under seven, what’s your mantra for work-life balance?
Having a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old while running a business is not an easy task! And this is the reason why I wanted my own business in the first place – so that I can manage my own time. Not only me, but everyone with kids will need some time for their family, so all our outlets are closed during weekends and public holidays. I truly believe in the mantra of our business – life is all about balance.
What do you most enjoy about living in this city? Do you like bringing up your kids here?
Hong Kong is a very efficient and convenient city. There are a lot of opportunities here. It is quite child-friendly. There are a lot of places like beaches and hiking trails that are suitable for kids. One of our favourite activities is taking them out for bicycle rides on the weekends.
Who has most influenced your parenting style?
My parents have the most influence on my parenting style. I copy the habits and rules that I liked or found useful after I grew up, and never do those that I hated when I was young!
How similar or different are your children?
Both my children are very outgoing and friendly towards others. They are never shy. However, my son (the elder one) is very simple and innocent, while my younger one is more cheeky and always takes advantage of her brother!
What do you enjoy most about being a mum?
It’s magical to have two little humans who love me unconditionally, and knowing they feel the happiest when they are in my arms is priceless.
What is the most challenging thing about being a mum?
Having patience, especially after a long day’s work! It’s very easy for me to lose temper with simple mistakes that children often make. I have to constantly remind myself to calm down and keep my cool.
After a long day, what’s your favourite way to unwind?
After putting the children to bed, I love spending a bit of “me time” in the bathtub to relax before heading to bed.
What are your top three tips for entrepreneurs in Hong Kong? Any particular advice for those in the F&B space?
- Less planning, more action. There is no perfect business plan, as most things usually don’t go according to plan. Just start and make adjustments along the way.
- Calculate your numbers to see if it makes sense before committing to any long term contracts. This is even more so for those in the F&B space as it is one of the most capital intensive businesses.
- Open your ears and listen. People always say they wish to start their own business but do not have any ideas. Ideas are everywhere, you just have to listen to what most people complain about every day, and you will find a need to be fulfilled.