Tag Archives: China

Swallow cloud at Cloud 9

He has a vision to revolutionalize the Chinese fast-food scene.

At Cloud 9, it is fast-food with service – making it a hybrid of casual eatery and fast-food chain.

Serving Taiwanese fare and its signature ‘wonton’, Cloud 9’s Chinese name, “吞云小莳”, plays on the word for this well-known snack loved by many around the globe. “Swallowing cloud” (吞云), alludes to the white, translucent dumpling that looks like white fluffy clouds in the sky while the last word of the name, “shi” (莳), puns on the sound for food (食). The word lends it a poetic touch, conjuring images of leisurely plant cultivation. It is this clever dash of sophistication that makes the brand appeal to China’s growing class of white collar workers.

Well, they seemed to have lapped up Cloud 9’s formula. Within 2 months of its opening, 6 of its 12 stores had reaped a profit. So looks like Cloud 9 is on track to meet its target of opening 42 outlets this year. It currently has 12 outlets inShanghaiand plans to expand to Beijing too.

So who is behind this dynamic chain? Helmed by Singaporean Chris Tay and financed by global venture capital firms such as Qiming Ventures, Hotung Investment and Mitsui Global Investment, as well as renowned entrepreneurs such as former DBS Bank and Singapore Airlines chairman Koh Boon Hwee, and NASDAQ-listed 51Job.com founders, Mr Norman Lui and Mr Michael Feng Yunlei; Cloud 9 has a strong management team with 80 years of combined experience in the F & B industry.

Starting a new brand in the cut-throat food industry in China doesn’t faze Chris at all.  He has honed his entrepreneurial skills since the age of 21 from food to IT industry. The intuition that he has developed for the food industry started way back inSingaporewhere he once operated the Billy Bombers restaurant. Backed by experience at Yoshinoya inBeijingandChina’s fried chicken chain, Dico; he is an old hand in the China market.

Perhaps what sets Chris apart from other F & B owners is his quest to find that elusive, formula for Chinese fast-food. As the nature of Chinese cuisine does not translate that well into fast-food, relentless research and development (R & D) is required to perfect that transition. Cloud 9 has been committed to its R & D efforts since its inception, working to perfect its menu from time to time.

Besides the menu, Cloud 9 has also managed to simplify the food preparation process to less than five steps. With an outsourced central kitchen supplying the food as either end product or half-finished product, staff at the outlets needs only reheat or prepare the food in a few simple steps before they are ready to be served. Only simple tasks like cooking rice and making soup are done at the outlets.

Chris has no qualms paying top dollar to rope in talent as he believes getting the right person is the key to rapid expansion. Its ability to adjust to changing market conditions with lightning speed attests to this nimbleness. Changing its menu 3 times within a month is something a lesser team would not be able to achieve. Having assembled an A-team also enabled it to open 8 outlets at an incredible speed within a space of 7 months.

Believing that a swift set up rate of outlets and staff training is instrumental in lowering operating cost by as much as 40%, Cloud 9 hopes to increase its turnover from S$32.1 million to S$42 million when all its planned 42 outlets are up and running by this year. In fact, it hopes to multiply to 220 outlets by 2015. This would significantly bring down the current set up cost of S$200,000 per outlet.

Cloud 9 aims to be able to list in either Taiwan or New York in 2015. Cloud 9 is the group’s first brand. Its parent company, YPX Cayman Holdings, aspires to build a multi-brand, multi-concept group of casual F & B chains in China. If their Midas touch continues, this would no doubt become a reality.

The lament that there is a dearth of home-grown entrepreneur can take some comfort in the likes of Chris Tay. Perhaps their success stories would be an inspiration to budding business owners out there and fuel a wave of entrepreneurship. Seeing Chris’s tenacity, one can’t help but makes you root for a fellow Singaporean. I look forward to “swallowing” more “clouds” in China in the near future.

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Filed under Bites & Brews/Blings & Wraps/Chill, Serious Stuff

An ancient Roman City In China?

An ancient Roman city in China?

A Roman descendant in China? Inconceivable?  

Cai Luoma or “Cai, the Roman”; has ruddy skin and green eyes.

Song Guorong, has wavy hair, six-foot frame and strikingly long, hooked nose.

Are they descendents from the ill-fated Roman army led by Crassus that suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Parthians in 53BC?

Historians are split over the matter due to insufficient conclusive proof. Looks like the tiny village of Zhelai in Yongchang County, Northwest China’s Gansu province is tossing up more than Caesar salad.

Its ancient name, Liqian (Li-chien), is believed to be a transliteration of “Alexandria”. The theory goes that the 10,000 soldiers taken prisoners by the Parthians at the battle of Carrhae eventually made their way to modern-day Uzbekistan and were later enlisted by the Hun army.

It seems that these men later settled down to build the town of Liqian. One of the earliest mentions of them came possibly from the “fish-scale formation”, described in Han Dynasty history annals. In a battle between the Han empire and the Huns in Western China, a troop using the “fish-scale formation” was noted. It was a reference to the Roman “tortoise”, a phalanx protected by shields on all sides and from above. This troop was later captured by the Chinese and was said to be the forefathers of Liqian.

In 1957, Homer Hasenflug Dubs, professor of Chinese history at Oxford University published his book entitled “A Roman City in Ancient China” asserting the above theory. He has been accused of being overly presumptuous and jumping to too many conclusions.

Sceptics were doubtful as Liqian was established in 104 BC, half a century earlier than the proposed arrival of the said Roman soldiers. Moreover, the Huns themselves consist of Caucasians, Asians and Mongols. And even if they were really from the missing Roman troop, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re Romans as many soldiers were recruited locally since the empire covered a huge area. So anything goes.

To add to the confusion, the area where Yongchang is situated was a trade hub along the ancient Silk Road, where people of different ethnicities gather.

But then, how does one explain the presence of ancient Roman tombs in the area? Even though archaeologists have pointed out that these tombs were dated to the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25-220) and therefore had nothing to do with the Roman legions, somehow the fact that these tomb owners were of Caucasian origins can’t be disputed.

Moreover, how do you explain the fact that these residents of Zhelai obviously look more Caucasian than Asian? Could DNA help to unravel the mystery? Life sciences researcher Xie Xiaodong and bio-chemist, Ma Runlin, are among those that have collected blood samples of the villagers of Zhelai. So far, the research has yet been completed and the theory remains inconclusive.

So if these villagers are not descendents of the ancient Roman legions, who were they descended from?

And what happened to the contingent that went missing in the tragic battle?

Hmn, wonder when we would be able to solve all this mystery….

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Filed under Quills/Way Of Life/Ancient Tales