It’s all about the claypot soups, Spam noodles and pineapple buns for restaurateur, Howin Chui

“They don’t actually have pineapple in them, but you’ll see why we call them that,” he quips.

And they do look good. Consisting of buns with a bumpy, pineapple appearance, contrary to their name, they’re actually filled with 5-star runny eggs and Spam. An upgrade on the old Hong Kong favourite, Spam is a big favourite there.

Howin provides these and other popular Hong Kong dishes at his mini cafe concept chain Kowloon Cafe, in Sydney. Since opening the first branch of Kowloon Cafe, Howin’s success with his business partners has led to the opening of 2 more in Sydney and the sister business, Ni Hao Bar.

The journey

Howin started his career as a promotor of Hong Kong-themed nightclubs, responsible for the success of live concerts from the likes of big-named artists, including Snoop Dogg and Chris Brown.

He has always had a passion for Cantonese culture and providing it through the entertainment and hospitality industries.

He turned his hand to food after noticing that there was a lack of restaurants offering Cantonese cuisine, which he always remembered and loved.

“Chinatown has plenty of restaurants for Chinese cuisine, karaoke entertainment, but there was very few eateries providing Hong Kong dishes,” he recalls.

“People often think Hong Kong food falls under Chinese food, but it has a cuisine all of its own, and that’s what I wanted to bring out and share.”

With the growing population of people from Hong Kong and the popularity of Asian food, Howin wanted to specialise in dishes that were not yet known in parts of Australia.

Howin spotted the opportunity and jumped on it and Kowloon Cafe was born.

With the success of the first branch then opened a second in Sydney and both cafes have grown a solid name.

Howin is pleased with what the business’ achievements, but it has involved taking calculated risks. After spotting the industry gap with Hong Kong cuisine, Howin went by his instincts around what would work.

“With my background and knowledge of Hong Kong culture, I simply took the chance to try this business venture and went on my gut instinct.

“I’ve been fortunate that the business has taken off the way it has and I recognise that I am lucky.”

But it’s come with its fair share of challenges, too.

During the repeated lockdowns, Howin and his partners had to, like many other businesses, come up with other ways of bringing income into the business when people couldn’t travel out.

They started delivering food, but quickly realised this wasn’t profitable enough with the commission charged from food delivery apps and the distance radius wasn’t stretched far enough. They came up with a new idea using social media to target new customers and reach out offering special deals.  This idea gained more traction and meant that Howin and his team could target a wider population and reach more customers.

“It was hard at the time, like it has been for many businesses,” Howin recalls, “But we had to make it work.”

Parental influence

People are often curious as to how Howin switched from the nightclub scene to food, but his background makes it clear.

Howin got his first taste of the industry from his parents, who ran the first Chinese restaurant in a Sydney district after moving to Australia in the 1990s.

From being exposed to managing a restaurant, helping customers and working with food, Howin naturally felt drawn to the industry.

He started his career promoting Asian nightclubs across Sydney, which made Howin realise how much he wanted more of the hospitality industry to be the main part of his career.

His creativity, combined with his upbringing around Cantonese cuisine and the intricacies of Hong Kong culture makes Howin passionate about what he is delivering through his restaurants.

Gathering Ideas

Howin gets his ideas for new menus and dishes from perusing through social media, looking at new plates, what other restaurants are doing and finding out what;s popular and, overall, what sounds most delicious!

“I’m always looking at Instagram, going through images of food and that will give me an idea for new dishes that might work,” he says. “My wife thinks I’m just sitting on the couch and not working, but I actually am!

“It’s how I do my research!” he says.

Most of all, Howin finds out what customers are most fond of and what they come back for.

What keeps Howin going are plans to grow and develop the Kowloon Cafe name, creating new Cantonese-inspired food and to open more branches across Sydney and further out.

“I want to keep surprising people with new dishes and flavours, but also keeping traditional Hong Kong tastes alive.”