"A Penny for Oyster Sauce” 65 Years of Unwavering Commitment to Operating a Single Store
The local catering sector is often characterized by "short-term gimmicky" and "trend-jacking", with restaurants coming and going within a short time like musical chairs. Restaurant owners, after making a fortune from their first store, either expand rapidly, or sell the business then start a new one. Mak Man Kee Noodle Shop (MMK), however, seems to defy the norm by stressing "one and only store in the world, since 1958". The second-generation owner of the family business, Dr. Lesley Mak, explained that the reasons behind the business are both pragmatic and sentimental, inheriting her family’s value.
Persistence through Half a Century
"We had almost picked a lease space in Tsim Sha Tsui to start a second store, then COVID hit and the plan was suspended. We launched a frozen food brand ‘HAMUI’ later, which takes up a lot of my time, so the new store now ranks low on my agenda. While many of my cousins are growing their side of the family business steadily, I am on my own, so I would rather focus on running a single outlet. Looking back, it might be the reason we survived the pandemic."
"My parents were involved in every single detail of the noodle shop. They taught me to ‘do unto others as you would have them done unto you’, so I have to make sure the food that I provide is of good quality and value. This also relates to the new store opening issue, as I might not be able to oversee the food quality, which is unacceptable by my standards."
Rumor has it that the oyster sauce on MMK’s menu is a special homemade recipe, so it costs an extra dollar on the bill. Lesley clarified, "The traditional noodle shop uses lard oil to cook fresh vegetables, and they believed it was good enough. So my parents initiated an extra 50 cent charge for oyster sauce on vegetables, hoping to remind eaters that it is actually not necessary, on a ‘pay-at-cost’ principle." Employing 5 staff to handle vegetables in the kitchen, MMK uses fried lard oil to make it tastier. Lesley emphasized again that the extra cost is not because of some secret recipe for their sauce.
Crowned with the Michelin Bib Gourmand award for six consecutive years, MMK has stepped into the frozen food business during COVID. "About 6 or 7 years ago, we ran a ‘HAMUI’ campaign to spotlight our forte: a full tiger prawn in each of our wontons. The HAMUI characters, a girl in a prawn mascot and her friends, appeared on many of our marketing materials, like red packets and desk calendars, hammering home the message. Therefore, it comes naturally for us to use the HAMUI brand when we make MMK products available to the mass market as COVID Strike. The brand now carries products like satay beef and Chinese-style beef tenderloin, with the adorable HAMUI characters trying to appeal to the common household."
One Code that Shows It All
MMK applied the GS1 barcode to its packaged products since its debut, facilitating the listing process on retail and online stores such as Hung Fok Tong and HKTVmall. At the same time, consumers can easily scan the "1QR" (a QR code powered by the GS1 Digital Link standard) on the package to read the products’ details, the latest promotion, and visit the e-shop.
About 30 staff members with an average age of 65 are working in the MMK shop and production line. The fact that they might not be able to pick up new technology and a new way of doing business has made Lesley give up introducing an online food delivery platform, besides the food quality and delivery issues. She believes technologies like 1QR are much simpler, even for the elderlies.
Appreciating that employees are the greatest asset, Lesley has never laid off any of her staff during the crisis, and has allowed them time to learn and adapt to the evolving business environment. This kind of human touch is what keeps customers coming back, even for those who have emigrated to foreign countries. MMK’s care for employees, pursuit of quality, and commitment to customer service are the fundamental reasons that the company has been recognized as a "Consumer Caring Company" by GS1 Hong Kong.
As the pre-packaged food market soars, Lesley has been trying to develop new products such as pork bone flounder fish broth and noodle pastry, which, however, have yet to meet the high standards set. As she keeps trying, Lesley is planning to launch traditional mooncakes in the Mid-Autumn Festival and working hard to expand the sales channel to online stores in Mainland China, because she knows that time-honoured brands from Hong Kong and Macau are very popular among consumers in the Greater Bay Area and other parts of China.
Lesley believes that the most pressing issue confronting SMEs today is a lack of skilled labor. She is grateful for her teams of loyal and capable staff, who have built a strong foundation for her to transform the business in these changing times.
As the saying goes “Keeping a business running is way harder than starting one”, Lesley has been working tirelessly and meticulously in the past 20 years to sustain the priceless inheritance passed down from her parents. Her advice to the F&B industry peers is: quality, faith and agility are the essences for keeping business evergreen.