“We want our customers to enter the restaurant surrounded by music, privacy, food and also the feeling of warmness and friendliness,” said Alice Wong, the owner of Chef’s Corner, a restaurant located in Taipa Village with a distinctive style.
The restaurant takes a different approach from its neighbours, primarily concentrating on private parties and dinners, but also offers souvenirs, takeaway food and beverages. Other unique points include an indoor garden and an art exhibition space, located on the shop’s second floor. The space is also used for workshops and events on topics including painting and cooking.
With only one table to serve per night, Ms. Wong advocates the niche market that she and her three other partners are targeting, as well as their intention to promote and conserve local traditional culture.
“We think we should focus on a niche market and our market is only a private kitchen,” said Ms. Wong. “We discovered that other private kitchens do not have much difference with normal restaurants out there, only having fewer tables.”
Initially, she recalled, the opening of the restaurant was to test the skills of the four cooks and, out of luck, the father of Ms. Wong provided the old house for them to start their business.
The furnishing of the place, she points out, was completely undertaken by the four owners albeit on a tight budget, leading them to design a space they deemed ideal for both customers and chefs.
“We thought a garden in the middle of the place would lighten up both our mood while we cook and customers’ – we also wish to have music and sunshine while we cook,” declared Ms. Wong.
After operating for almost four years and without investing much in advertising, Ms. Wong disclosed that most customers who come to the private kitchen are locals, although currently a significant number of customers come all the way from Hong Kong.
“As long as we provide the services that the customers want, they will recommend us to others and this is already a kind of advertising,” she said, noting, however, that they do not want to promote more because their intention is to recreate the environment of the old days.
Trying out different things
Ms. Wong said the provision of takeaway coffee during the daytime and souvenirs were only introduced later in order to diversify content.
“We found out that it’s not enough for us just to sell souvenirs and do the private kitchen,” she said. “[We also] found that a lot of tourists pass by and many of these tourists would like to find a place to sit down after shopping, which also led us to sell souvenirs – like cooking utensils or food […] they are basically two different segments.”
The souvenirs, on display on a shelf at the entrance to the restaurant, were mainly collected by the owners while they were travelling in other places but the shelf has also attracted attention from suppliers. However, the owners aim to introduce their own products first, and only later gradually include products from other suppliers.
“Our internal agreement is that we have to work on our private kitchen first, since we need to make it perfect. After gaining enough experience we can put our finest products on the shelf,” Ms. Wong said.
When asked about the difficulties encountered in the business, the owner admitted that different opinions among owners had posed challenges, and that a period of time had been necessary to make the needed adjustments among the business partners.
Nearby casinos have also created an impact on their restaurant business, she says, noting that “casinos are able to provide free meals in high-end restaurants for gamblers”.
In terms of government support, Ms. Wong revealed that people from the Administration had approached them and suggested applying for subsidies, but they chose to go their own route.
“We chose not to apply because there would have been more restrictions and control by them,” according to Ms. Wong. “We’re not running a big business; what we’re trying to do is to support the government rather than want the government to support us.”
The second floor of the restaurant provides a place for local artists to exhibit their artworks as well as a place for them to sell, while also providing a space for customers to relax over a cup of coffee.
Apart from supporting local artists, the intention of creating such an artistic place is to enable tourists to know that Macau is not only about gambling, and encouraging a positive image of the city, Ms. Wong points out.
The restaurant owner also said that aside from the physical offerings, the true experience of a traditional dining culture is what they aim to provide customers with, especially tourists.
“There are these Taipa House Museums nearby for tourists to look around, but they would not be able to experience the exact culture by just looking at the dummies in the houses,” Ms. Wong remarked. In addition, for Ms. Wong, the main goal of the project is not earning money, which is a side effect of their efforts, but enjoying her work and feeling satisfied.
Today, the four business partners have already retreated from the daily management of the restaurant, leaving it with the parents of Ms. Wong and five employees.
The next step for the space, as revealed by Ms. Wong, will be the introduction of souvenirs consisting of local art features.
5 Rua São João, G/F, Shop A, Taipa (near Temple of Pek Tai)