Managing Director, Tai Ping Koon
Andrew Chui’s great, great grandfather worked as a chef for an American trading company where he learned how to cook western cuisine. Eventually, he branched out to open his own restaurants and moved across the border to Hong Kong. Now, five generations later, there are four locations serving the same “first generation fusion” of Chinese-style Western food.
There’s a sense of nostalgia upon entering a Tai Ping Koon Restaurant, its walnut wood interiors and leather accents strongly suggest a bygone era. At the Causeway Bay location of his family’s iconic Tai Ping Koon Restaurant, Andrew Chui explains that the signature mural adorning the wall was commissioned for the opening in 1971 and is by the same artist whose colourful water fountain can be found in Central’s Statue Square.
The design and interiors, much like certain items on the menu, have not changed since the restaurant first opened. The international sounding names of dishes hint at the multicultural influence of the trading port where Tai Ping Koon first opened. Historical figures such as Dr. Sun Yat-sen, Zhou Enlai, Chiang Kai-shek. were some of their earlier customers in Hong Kong.
The recipes are notable for the ways in which Western food were adapted to suit the Chinese palate, particularly the addition of soya sauce in most dishes. “Only a few people back then knew how to cook proper Western food and if you served it to Chinese people, they wouldn’t appreciate it and simply not eat it,” he explains. “So if he had opened an authentic Western restaurant, he would not have succeeded.”
“If we change anything – the menu, the interior design – it will no longer be ‘Tai Ping Koon’ for our customers. Some of them, including plenty of celebrities, have been coming here for generations.”
“Our staff know our regular customers, including what they will order to eat or drink.”
The four locations still operating in Hong Kong look similar and feel familiar but the clientele in each varies. In Yau Ma Tei, their oldest, there are many regular customers and also celebrities who prefer some privacy whereas the Tsim Sha Tsui branch is more popular with tourists. The Central location attracts financial types and the occasional Hollywood star such as Matt Damon but in Causeway Bay, the restaurant has the greatest mix of tourists, locals, regulars and families because of its surroundings.
“If we change anything – the menu, the interior design – it will no longer be ‘Tai Ping Koon’ for our customers. Some of them, including plenty of celebrities, have been coming here for generations. Our staff know our regular customers, including what they will order to eat or drink.”
This rapport with customers is a memorable part of the Tai Ping Koon experience and the family goes to great lengths to ensure they hire staff who are older and more reliable. Staff quarters are provided above most of their locations so they can feel well-rested and taken care of.
The family has been approached to franchise the restaurants in the region but have turned down all offers so far to avoid diluting what they do. “We are not making maximum profits,” he says. “For us, keeping traditions is most important.”