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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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