Tung and his café Photo: Billie Feng
Near the north end of the hutong south of the famous Yinding Bridge (银锭桥) in Beijing’s Houhai (后海) area, there is a home-like café called Café De SOFA (沙发咖啡馆), offering Western and Taiwanese style food and beverages. Although the three-storey café appears to be small from outside, it has ample space to offer a relaxed and cosy environment inside, along with its specialties of cheese tea and steamed rice with red-cooked pork.
The recipes of the food and beverages in the café were developed by its owner Vincent Tung (董孟浩), who said, “I prefer to make my things as unique as possible. For example, I made my own flavorings, such as pesto and sauces, rather than buying them from suppliers. I don’t like copying what other people are doing, but I enjoy being copied,” he grinned.
Inside his café Photo: Billie Feng
Tung comes from Taiwan and has lived in Beijing for more than 10 years. In addition to running his own café, tasting food in various restaurants all over the city is part of his work. By writing blogs on the Internet, he has become a fairly well-known gourmet in the local food circle and is affectionately called Dan Dan (蛋蛋, which literally means eggs) by his friends and fans. “Now that I am recognized as an expert, the food offered by the chefs in my café must meet the requirements set by myself. I must be strict with my own café before making comments on others."
Competition in Beijing’s food industry is becoming increasingly fierce and businesspeople are thinking about ways to maximize their profits. However, Tung doesn’t consider himself among those who are just focused on profits. “Many restaurant and café owners don’t know much about food or beverages. They sacrifice the quality of their products in order to make more money. It is a totally wrong practice. The profit of a cup of coffee in my café is lower than other cafés because I use coffee powders exported from abroad, which are more expensive than the domestic ones,” Tung said.
Cheese tea, one of the speicalties in Tung's café Photo: courtesy of Vincent Tung
Opening a café was one of Tung’s dreams. His interest in making food started very early. When he was a small child, he lived with his grandparents in a village in the middle part of Taiwan. People in the village were relatives of army retirees from all over China. “The village was like a miniature Chinese mainland. They brought their own cooking styles there so I could taste food from all over the country,” Tung recalled.
When Tung was in college, his elder brother was hired to manage several restaurants in Taipei. Tung enjoyed doing part-time jobs in those restaurants. He started as a waiter which gave him the chance to learn to do everything from the bar counter to the kitchen. “My brother was very successful at that time so I wanted to become somebody like him,” he said.
Tung studied business in college, so his brother was opposed to the idea that both of the two brothers work in the food industry. “My brother said he wasn’t sure about the future of the food industry in Taiwan so he wanted me to find a job in a business- or computer-related company after I graduated from college.” Tung followed the advice and found a job in a company in Taipei.
Steamed rice with red-cooked pork offered in the café Photo: courtesy of Vincent Tung
Started with five people, the company grew bigger and set up hypermarkets for electronic products in many cities on the Chinese mainland. Tung was with the company for 12 years, and worked his way up to the position of senior manager and learned a lot about how to run a business. “But the dream of opening a café or a restaurant never got out of my mind,” he said.
Tung quit the company in February 2009; two months later, he opened Café De SOFA in Beijing. “When I worked for the company in Beijing, I did some market research on restaurants during lunch hours every day, so I could open the café soon after I left the company,” he smiled.
Tung’s Café De SOFA has been running for over five years. Although the space of the café hasn't expanded, it has been patronized by people from all over the world, including celebrities. “I have many regular customers and I really enjoy seeing the smiles on their faces when they dine in my café,” Tung said.