【Preserving the Taste of Hong Kong】Chan Kun Kee Opens in Sydney, Connecting Two Generations of Father and Son | SBS Cantonese

Thank you for SBS Cantonese News interview on 22 Dec 2023. We have translated the news report into English below. The original interview is here.

The Hong Kong renowned dai pai dong, Chan Kun Kee, has been operating in Sydney for several months. Surprisingly, the person in charge of the Sydney branch is the youngest son of the owner. Having always assisted his father in Hong Kong, this is his first time managing a restaurant on his own. The Sydney branch of Chan Kun Kee strives to bring the taste of Hong Kong through its decor and dishes. If they cannot achieve the authentic flavor, they would rather not sell it. The most satisfying moment for him is when customers say, “This truly tastes like authentic Hong Kong.”

Chan Kun Kee is an established dai pai dong in Hong Kong with over 40 years of history. In July of this year, they opened a branch in Sydney, Australia, attracting many Hong Kong residents in Australia as customers. Due to the high number of customers, they had to temporarily suspend online reservation services shortly after the opening. The owner of Chan Kun Kee in Hong Kong is Hang Chow, while his third son, Hong Ting (Tomy) Chow, is in charge of the Sydney branch. Choosing Sydney as the location for their first overseas branch was coincidental. Tomy had visited Sydney several times and loved the beautiful scenery, laid-back lifestyle, and the friendly and polite Australians. Moreover, he noticed that although Sydney had many Asian restaurants, there were no Hong Kong-style dai pai dongs. This sparked his desire to open a restaurant in Australia. However, opening a business in a foreign country is not easy, especially starting from scratch in Australia. Before opening Chan Kun Kee in Australia, Tomy worked in various restaurants in Sydney to understand the restaurant’s workflow and gather information about suppliers.

Chan Kun Kee in Australia is committed to presenting the taste of Hong Kong in terms of both dishes and decor. One of the difficulties they faced during the opening was sourcing ingredients, especially sauces. Tomy mentioned that whether in Hong Kong or Australia, they prepare their own sauces for the dishes. “Each dish must have the appropriate sauce and seasoning; the sauce is the soul.” However, in Australia, some sauces are not available. Although they found alternative sauces during their ingredient search, if certain dishes cannot truly replicate the taste of Hong Kong, they would rather not sell them and “do not want to compromise just for the sake of doing business.” To control costs and maintain the affordable characteristic of Chan Kun Kee, they have to make some ingredients themselves. Salted fish is one example. Since salted fish is expensive in Australia, but many dishes, such as salted fish fried rice and homemade XO sauce, require salted fish, Tomy decided to make it himself. Although it is not particularly difficult to make, the process is labor-intensive and requires considerable effort. Another challenge they face is finding staff. Tomy mentioned that it is very difficult to find chefs, even if they are willing to train new staff for the waitstaff positions. He candidly admitted that many people who come seeking employment are from mainland China but “they are not suitable.” He explained that due to cultural differences, “they cannot achieve our taste.” Hong Kong cuisine tends to be lighter and less oily, while mainland Chinese cuisine is the opposite. If the difficulty in finding staff persists, Tomy mentioned that he might consider recruiting employees from Hong Kong to work in Australia. In Australia, Tomy is personally involved in every aspect of the business.

 

After overcoming numerous difficulties in the opening phase, running the restaurant poses its own challenges. Tomy admitted that in the beginning, when many of the staff were inexperienced, it took time for them to coordinate. Additionally, all the dishes at Chan Kun Kee are cooked to order, so initially, the operations were somewhat chaotic. The waiting time for meals was over an hour. He expressed his apologies to the customers, but after several months of operation, things have improved. During off-peak hours, they can serve a dish in 5 minutes, and during busy hours, it takes 15 to 20 minutes. Although there were some initial hiccups during the opening, most customers were very understanding. Tomy mentioned that the majority of customers were very accommodating and didn’t mind the delay. Some even personally approached him and said, “We know you’re busy, but you must keep going. We will always support you.” This greatly touched Tomy and made him feel warm-hearted. Currently, 90% of the customers in the restaurant are Hong Kong people, including former residents of the Wo Che neighborhood and alumni from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Many of them visit with their families, seeking to relive the nostalgic flavors of Hong Kong. The most satisfying compliment for Tomy is when customers say, “This truly tastes like authentic Hong Kong.”

Father and son separated by two places, but their bond grows deeper.

Hang Chow, the owner of Chan Kun Kee in Hong Kong, has three sons. Tomy, the youngest son, started working at Chan Kun Kee in Hong Kong since he was 16 years old. He jokingly said that he initially entered the food and beverage industry just out of stubbornness.

He recalled himself at the age of 16, not liking to study and entering the workforce early as a casual laborer. However, he couldn’t find a job he liked. One day in July 2011, he went to Chan Kun Kee by himself, which was still in Wo Che Estate in Hong Kong, and told his father that he wanted to work there.

Although he is the boss’s son, Tomy openly stated that the job is not easy. “I have to do everything, from cleaning the refrigerator to clearing the drains.” He was also very dissatisfied at that time, questioning why he had to do such hard work. But he knew that the old employees in the shop were all betting that he couldn’t last for three months, which ignited his fighting spirit. He persisted and gradually found pleasure in his work.

Tomy’s talent in cooking has also gained recognition from his father, Hang. Hang, who was interviewed together, described his son as having a sensitive palate and being skilled in his work, able to do the work of ten people on his own. He even straightforwardly said, “If I hire someone, I would want to hire someone like him.” He holds his son in high regard.

When his son wanted to start a business abroad, Hang said he would definitely support him. He magnanimously said, “I said, give it a try. If it doesn’t work out, then come back.” The Hong Kong shop serves as his son’s backing.

But now, the operation of the Australian store is gradually on track, and the father is also happy that his son can bring the flavors of Hong Kong to a foreign country. He mentioned that he understands his son’s emotional attachment to Australia itself and his desire to start a business there. He jokingly said, “My son probably won’t come back to Hong Kong.” When asked if he was reluctant, he candidly admitted, “Even if I’m reluctant, there’s nothing I can do.” As a father, he will definitely support his son, and he feels gratified that his son is making progress.

Hang also mentioned that with his son opening a business abroad, there are many things he needs to consult him about, which increases the opportunities for communication between father and son and deepens their bond.

He described his son as always being persistent in his creations. In Hong Kong, sometimes he didn’t quite agree with his father’s approach, saying, “If he liked to listen, he would listen; if he didn’t, he wouldn’t.” But now he feels that his son has grown a lot in Australia, and his attitude is no longer that of a carefree young man in Hong Kong. Instead, he takes responsibility for everything and has become a serious and hardworking person.

Tomy also admitted that when he was in Hong Kong, he often relied on his father. He said, “Whatever it was, my dad was always there to support me, and whenever I had any problems, I would turn to my dad to solve them.” But now, he has to take matters into his own hands and personally handle everything, from designing the store, finding suppliers, to cooking by himself.

He mentioned that compared to Hong Kong, where he only needed to work in the kitchen, in Australia, he not only needs physical labor but also mental effort. It’s actually quite challenging, but because he truly loves the food and beverage industry, he can strive and persevere.

In addition to Tomy, Hang’s second son also came to Australia to help at Chan Kun Kee. Tomy mentioned that when they first opened, they faced manpower issues and it was difficult to find chefs. Without hesitation, his second brother said he would come to Australia to help him. Tomy said his second brother had to leave everything behind in Hong Kong just to assist him, and he believes that not many people can do that.

Initially, his second brother worked as a floor staff at Chan Kun Kee in Hong Kong, but in order to help his younger brother share the workload in the kitchen, he spent three months learning from his father in Hong Kong, mastering some basic cooking techniques before coming to Australia. Tomy mentioned that his second brother has been continuously learning since coming to Australia and is now capable of taking on significant responsibilities in the kitchen.

With both sons currently in foreign countries, father Hang described himself as having “sacrificed multiple sons.” However, because his youngest son couldn’t find enough manpower in Australia, he mentioned that he had no choice but to let him go. But he candidly stated, “I won’t let my eldest son go, otherwise, all three sons would be gone.”

In 2019, during the anti-extradition bill protests in Hong Kong, Chan Kun Kee, being perceived as a pro-establishment establishment by some netizens, was questioned whether Hang was worried about the impact of the events on his sons’ businesses abroad. He firmly stated that he wouldn’t be worried, clarifying that he himself didn’t have any political stance. He said, “I’m just doing business, and I’m happy to serve anyone who comes to eat.” He also emphasized that he and his sons must work hard to prepare good dishes because “the most important thing is to be able to enjoy the food ourselves before we can sell it.”

Although there were reports suggesting that Chan Kun Kee in Australia had plans to open branches in Melbourne in the future, Tomy clarified that it would be difficult to do so at the moment. Since all the dishes at Chan Kun Kee are prepared upon order and emphasize the skills and on-the-spot performance of the chefs, it is challenging to open a new branch amid the difficulty in finding chefs. He admitted that there are no plans to expand to other states or even open branches in other areas of Sydney.

However, he revealed that they are currently planning to expand the existing store by renting the adjacent space. The main reason for this expansion is to accommodate more customers and reduce waiting times. He expressed disappointment when seeing customers unable to find seats and leaving with disappointment.

Apart from expanding the store, Chan Kun Kee in Australia has also applied for outdoor seating, hoping to provide customers with the experience of outdoor dining reminiscent of Hong Kong’s dai pai dong (open-air food stalls).

Although the menu at Chan Kun Kee in Australia currently offers fewer dishes compared to the Hong Kong branch due to ingredient availability and manpower issues, Tomy, who has always been passionate about developing new dishes, is confident that the menu in Australia will eventually surpass that of Hong Kong. One of his goals is for Chan Kun Kee in Australia to become a renowned and long-established eatery, just like its counterpart in Hong Kong.

Scroll to Top