Kitchen Sync – Hong Kong’s Food Incubator
Hong Kong’s vibrant F&B scene has seen an upsurge in new and exciting small businesses; running the gamut from artisan bakeries, specialty diet deliveries and make-your- own restaurant meal services, to more conventional restaurant and dining start-ups. But local food entrepreneurs face considerable challenges when setting up their business.
Enter Kitchen Sync, the ‘culinary incubator’; a term that most likely did not exist before being coined by founders Lori and Patrick Granito. In essence, they are to the food industry what angel investors are to tech start-ups. A kickstarter with a difference; providing everything from business planning and development advice, to capital investment and providing a physical space necessary for small F&B businesses to get off the ground. Lori likens it to a benevolent hand-holding service, “to give them the tools to help them grow,” as Patrick says. The inspiration for Kitchen Sync came from the couple’s combined years of experience within the HK F&B industry,
with Patrick working in an executive chef role within the Cafe Deco group and Excelsior Hotel, and Lori running The Bayou, Magnolia and Go Gourmet. Lori was not trained as a chef, nor previously had any experience in running a food business prior to The Bayou. She jokes “Patrick is the chef, while I am the cook”, which speaks volumes about his careful, considered manner and her hands-on approach to business.
In addition to supplying the expertise, Kitchen Sync provides the use of an affordable, safe, and fully licensed catering kitchen for companies to make and test products. Lori cites Hong Kong’s high property rentals and notoriously difficult licensing laws as the biggest hindrance to startups. “Who’s going to test their product and build them a million dollar kitchen? It’s too prohibitive,” she concludes. Lori hopes to pass on their experience of setting up a business by “being able to get people who really want to do something and to just remove that barrier.”
Having watched their own companies hatch, grow and flourish, with some inevitably folding, the Granitos are well placed to help fledgling businesses. Their own approach to Kitchen Sync was an organic process, initially just providing the space. As more people approached them, requesting help in other areas, they began to add other services as the requirement grew. Lori believes starting a business in HK is very easy; “The actual process of starting up a business in HK, means that you can be up and running in three days.” Finding capital proves no problem either. “It’s fun money for some (investors),” as she found out when sourcing capital for The Bayou and Magnolia, Patrick says the company has faced only a few challenges, mainly at its inception, when the company was unknown and demand was low. The Granitos were laid-back and relaxed, knowing that demand would follow. Promotion and marketing have been low-key, indeed, as Lori laughs, they did really did nothing, only relying on word-of-mouth from the businesses they have helped. This includes Little Burro, whom they have helped from concept to operations less than a year ago. Little Burro is now thriving, with two permanent locations and a pop-up about to open. Other businesses include; New York-style bagel makers who started in their kitchen but are currently building their own food factory in Kowloon, a clean eating delivery business and a macaroon company.
Kitchen Sync’s services are now in considerable demand, with as many as “30 people approaching us (recently) with ideas.” With space at a premium, Kitchen Sync believes that they are the only incubator on the scene for the moment, but that there is room for all. The HK food scene is now “definitely moving very fast, much more international, with some big chefs coming to HK like Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver,” says Patrick.
Small food businesses are similarly enjoying a moment, with the increase in foodpreneurs as fertile ground for competition. “It is what you see in Europe and the US, finally coming here.” “It’s really quite an interesting time in HK for food,” agrees Lori, “I think now particularly, people are very passionate about food and think, ‘Oh maybe I can actually do it.” Indeed, she speaks with happiness at the number of local markets and pop-up bazaars being indicative of “people producing something that they’re really proud of.” And what if new businesses encounter difficulties? Her advice is typically relaxed, “Bring out the wine! You go through a lot of tough times and you just have to roll with it.” Take it from one who knows.
Get in touch with Lori and Patrick: email@example.com
Read More interviews with Food Entrepreneurs: