We explore the challenges and triumphs that new business owners have faced during COVID-19, focusing on the large number of new cafés opening in Hong Kong.
BY TIGGER CHATURABUL
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos by Tigger Chaturabul
In the past seven months of a chaotic 2020, more than 25 coffee shops and industry-related businesses have celebrated their grand openings in Hong Kong. While the rest of the world was on lockdown, the city continued to operate despite the threat of COVID-19 and the city’s proximity to Mainland China. Hong Kong’s history with SARS in 2003 ensured a rapid response to the new virus, and its early adoption of masks, social distancing, and cautious hygiene effectively reduced the spread of the virus. While some measures were implemented in F&B outlets such as 50% capacity and party size limitations, they haven’t stopped coffee shops from keeping Hong Kong caffeinated or deterred coffee professionals from opening new businesses in the middle of a pandemic crisis. In this short series, the founders of Contrast, Coffeed, and Good Day Coffee in Hong Kong share the ups and downs of starting a new business when the world itself is turning upside down; today we look at the story of Contrast.
When Contrast founder Tiffany Yeung began communications with her landlord in February about opening a coffee shop in Cheung Sha Wan, they didn’t expect the virus to last very long. Once Contrast opened in June, it looked like the situation was getting better in Hong Kong—until the city was hit by an unexpected third wave of local transmission in mid-July, with case numbers mounting up to over 100 per day, reaching new records for a city that thought it had COVID-19 under control.
Tiffany’s first F&B project was TEAHUB, a creative eatery focused on tea and cakes also in the Cheung Sha Wan district. “After two years of experience with TEAHUB, opening and operating Contrast was much less difficult,” she says. “Even with the ever-changing regulations by the government related to COVID-19, we just have to keep changing our opening hours, anti-virus measures, social distancing facilities, etc., all the time.”
As a business owner, Tiffany appreciates the combination of measures Hong Kong took to prevent the spread of the virus. “(Complete) lockdown definitely poses a huge damage to the society and without government compensation, it would mean many businesses closing down. A better solution would be a combination of measures like immigration regulations, quarantine measures, etc.,” she says.
In late July, the government suddenly imposed an all-day takeaway-only restriction on restaurants, a poorly thought-out measure that received full-blown backlash on the first day it came into effect. Without balancing the restriction with lockdowns in other areas of daily life, workers found themselves eating lunch out on the street in 90ºF heat and heavy rain, with construction and outdoor workers feeling the full impact because they had nowhere to go. The ban was quickly lifted after two days and dine-in parties limited to two per table.
Despite the growing number of cases (again), a visit to Contrast on a Tuesday afternoon is still met with a full house of guests, separated by table dividers and open spaces. Many people tired of working from tiny Hong Kong apartments continue to frequent coffee shops with their laptops, and a new space in Contrast is a welcome addition to a suburban neighborhood with few coffee options.
We will continue with Coffeed and Good Day Coffee tomorrow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tigger Chaturabul tried to be a barista for two years until she realized she was better suited behind the business than behind the bar. She now runs her own copywriting and design studio, Curious Typhoon Studio, that serves F&B and other small businesses in Hong Kong. Her free-range creative lifestyle allows her to spend all her time in coffee shops everywhere.