If you have been residing in Hong Kong for a while, you have probably come upon one of Candice Suen Sieber and Aaron Suen’s restaurant ventures. The brother-and-sister team has their hands in many of Hong Kong’s delectable pies. If you have ever had a Triple O burger, Yo Mama’s frozen yogurt, or GROM’s gelato, you are already familiar with Bite’s delectable and indulgent brands. The site was co-founded by Candice Suen-Sieber to bring famous beverages and food options to the Hong Kong market, and we spoke with Candice about the benefits of owning your own company and the significance of being a team player.
When a groundbreaking restaurant opens, competitors often jump on board, hoping to make a quick buck. That has not interrupted the siblings’ forging a fearless path through Hong Kong’s food scene. The siblings have a public image for being ahead of the game, with their fingers on the pulse of Hong Kong. They have made a name for themselves by introducing cool and hip brands and concepts, often being among the first in Asia to introduce a novel trend, such as burgers, frozen yogurt, superior sandwiches, and, most recently, gelato.
Bite, their parent company, is a family-run business that prefers casual, welcoming, and comfortable dining establishments over high-end restaurants. The duo’s mother, who worked in real estate and found their first location in Pacific Place, is responsible for the company’s existence. Through her business connections, she knew the owner of the Triple O’s space. She refers to her brother as a “visionary” and claims he is the company’s creative force. She claims to be in charge of operations and numbers and that she is not the most talented chef in the family. According to her, cooking something a little more exciting than a boiled egg is a challenge.
Candice Suen as a restaurateur
Do individuals fantasize about walking the floor of their restaurant, refolding an out-of-place napkin while smiling at a happy couple? Or walking through the kitchen on a Friday night during service and experiencing like your team is performing a perfectly choreographed dance? Opening a restaurant is appealing; who would not want to spend their days surrounded by food? However, becoming a restaurant owner is complex, and running your own business brings challenges every day.
It takes a lot of risks, drive, and a commitment to excellence ethic to succeed as a restaurant owner. It is one of the few industry sectors where encounter trumps education; the best way to learn the skills needed to become a successful restaurant owner is to work in all aspects of the industry over time. You should understand how to manage a kitchen, and customers, tend the bar, serve food, clear tables, and wash dishes before you start. That is on top of general store owner tasks like bookkeeping, accounting, and costing.
And Candice Suen takes a lot of risks before being in the field of the food business. “I can’t even cook, so that’s kinda funny. Foodie people invite me to places and think I can chop and Stuff – I definitely can’t. I can’t even do eggs! I fell into it. I did my MBA, worked in New York at Diane von Furstenberg’s studio, and returned a few years later. I left on a Friday, and I was already pitching Triple-Os on a Monday. Our families had talked it over – because it’s really a family business, family money and all that – Triple-O’s is from Vancouver, where we’re from.” Candice explained.
Candice Suen’s businesses
Candice selects her family’s Triple-White O’s Spot franchise, a semi-legendary Vancouver burger-house chain. Seven years later, with more than five Triple O’s on her list, a chain of Yo Ma Ma frozen-yogurt shops – which she co-founded with her brother spreading across the town, and numerous additional foodie ideas in the works, the vivacious Suen now heads a fast food empire with plans to expand not only locally, but also regionally.
Being in their family’s franchise business, they knew about the business’s background. Candice shared that their parents and family knew Triple-O “And I grew up with it. It was one of the first stops off the plane. There are so many people from here who go to Vancouver, either immigrants or traveling at Chinese New Year to Whistler, and when they get off the plane, they go straight there and have a burger.” Candice shared.
When starting a business, it is usual to know its competitors, target markets, and location. Being in Hong Kong is a bit hard to franchise restaurants that are new to their sight. “Any new concept can be a bit difficult, especially regarding location. Food-sourcing and that kind of Stuff is a shoo-in. I mean, this is restaurant city. Most of the Stuff is imported, but not from head office – they only give us gravy and the sauce. The beef is from Australia and the chickens from Brazil – we try to get the best ingredients. It wasn’t too difficult. Getting the right location is always difficult, no matter what you do. We opened our first one with Swires at Great in Pacific Place in 2003, which is still the best-seller, and now we have six outlets. The seventh we’re working on right now, at Elements.” Candice explains.
“Jump in, jump in. My philosophy is, look, if you think you have a great product and you think you have a unique product in your sector, and it doesn’t break you, jump in. Go for it. And after Triple-O’s, it was so easy. I have a food specialist on staff, and I went up and down California, tasting at every yogurt store along the way – because I can taste something, but I can’t explain why I like it or what I don’t like about the texture – and he figures that out.” She added.
The success of Candice Suens’ business
Candice Suen saw the progress of her business that made her decide to take over other places with her successful and worth-the-money business. “We opened Star Street a year-and-a-half ago, and now we have four. And traffic-wise, IFC is the most successful. People get off the ferries and get hot when they get in. Tai Koo Shing opened last month, and I have a few more that’ll probably be next year, and we’ll see how it goes.” Candice shared.
Some say that Candice should branch her restaurants abroad, knowing that it can add to their list. Candice answered: “Some people have come to talk. It depends on where, but I prefer to have a local partner because you don’t know local customs unless you live in a place. You might say, “Yeah, this mall’s busy,” but it’s a mistake that’s always made. You think, “Why did they put that there?” Because they didn’t know better how people think, where they’re going to go, whether it’s convenient, and what your market is.”
The majority of the restaurant’s decisions came from Candice. “Yeah, they’re all up to me. Toppings are really easy to change. If it doesn’t sell, there’s always something I can switch it to. You hear from people – “Oh, you should only have this or that” – and I’ve listened to them and done it.” Candice explained.
Candice also decided to create a more prosperous food business, “Stuff’s cooking. It’ll be food because I already have all the resources, but I don’t tell anybody. Even with Yo Ma Ma, I didn’t tell anybody until I opened the doors. It’s just one of my jinx things!” Candice shared.