Interview with Cafe O
What inspired you to launch the first Cafe O shop? I fell in love with the vibrancy of the Australian café scene during my travels. At the time, companies such as Starbucks and Pacific Coffee were expanding rapidly in Hong Kong, but we saw a gap in the market between conventional coffee shops such as these and sit-down restaurants where you could enjoy a fresh prepared meal in a relaxed environment. Identifying this gap helped us to develop the Cafe O concept; focusing on preparing a higher quality of healthy cuisine and fruit blends and smoothies than the chain coffee shops, whilst serving the customer via in-store or ‘OtoGO’ take-away in faster time than a restaurant.
How many shops do you now operate?
We currently operate three Cafe O shops – one in Central on 2 Arbuthnot Road; one at 284 Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan; and another on 33 Bonham Road, Mid-levels. We also run four kiosks at popular food courts that serve our products. We are actively looking for more sites. Our newest Cafe O will open this June in Admiralty MTR Exit A.
What is the Cafe O philosophy?
The philosophy is deliciously wholesome; naturally! At Cafe O, we create nourishing food for the body & soul using only natural, fresh & pure ingredients for a beautifully balanced body and lifestyle, all at an affordable price.
How long does it take to open up a new shop?
After selecting a new location, it takes one month on average to construct, staff and open up a new Cafe O.
We look for second tier spaces where Cafe O can really compliment the local neighbourhood and community, whilst staying ahead of the pack. For example; we entered Sheung Wan and Central as they were developing into the more diverse business and entertainment hubs that we all enjoy today. Cafe O in particular thrives near family and health & fitness conscious diners – areas with gyms and yoga studios so people can come after a workout to refuel or unwind.
Where do you source ingredients from?
We utilize a wide range of reliable suppliers from around the world, who all supply clean, healthy and cleansing foods. This includes ensuring that all our animal products are free range and that our harvest produce comes from non-genetically-modified grains and seeds. Our selection is then updated on a seasonal basis for monthly promotional meals – so customers can sample fresh international flavours and exciting dishes, in addition to the normal Cafe O menu. We also listen to our regulars and add upcoming health-food trends into the mix. For example, we are now really pushing the health values of our high alkaline juice drinks and quinoa salads. Maintaining a diet rich in alkaline foods has been shown to improve immunity and increase weight-loss. People like the idea that their local café looks out for their wellbeing. This strong focus on global culinary influences and commitment to superfood ingredients keep them coming back.
What are the biggest challenges that you face when running Cafe O shops?
Finding the right people to staff our shops is a challenge. Turnover in the food & beverage industry is high. We look for people who share our brand values and can communicate the virtues of Cafe O to our customers.
How do you promote Cafe O?
Cafe O utilizes a broad selection of promotional platforms to get the attention of the Hong Kong foodie market.
For offline marketing, we run coupons and our ‘IOU’ Card – a membership program that rewards frequent customers with menu discounts and convenient cashless transactions. These IOU cardholders then receive exclusive news and offers via email to keep them informed and entertained.
Online, we engage through social media, primarily our Facebook page www.facebook.com/cafeohongkong and Twitter www.twitter.com/cafeohk . We also partner with local tech startups like Locaclick, the Entertainer and VenueHub to incentivize more mobile users to check us out. As a smaller player, thinking outside the box to create a buzz is key.
Any recommendations for someone who would want to open up a coffee shop in HK?
Location is important, but it’s perhaps more important to have belief in your core concept. The restaurant industry is really competitive, so identify what makes you special, who your customer is and put in place the tools and staff necessary to consistently deliver on your vision and mission. At same time you can be adaptable to emerging foodie audiences and trends, and maybe even set a few trends of your own.
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