BOOM chats to Larry Tang , the man behind Hong Kong’s health revolution at Locofama and now Sohofama.
Organic food has been, of course, a watchword for health minded consumers for decades, but it’s only really been on the agenda in Hong Kong these past few years. While Locofama, and its new sister restaurant Sohofama, are by no means the first organic restaurants in town, they are among the first to marry healthy lifestyles with cutting-edge design.
For Larry Tang, founder of Locofama and co-founder of Sohofama, healthy living came rather late into his consciousness. “A few years ago, my father got sick and I started to do a lot of research into how to be healthy, and it all seemed to come down to nutrition, stress, rest and exercise. Around the same time, I was looking to get out of my job in advertising and branding, and I was thinking about what to do next. I realised though that the projects that always caught my interest were to do with sustainability and the environment.” That realisation led to an initial idea of building a business around brand consultancy for eco-businesses. “You know, I think two years ago, being healthy had a pretty boring image. You know, brands always used the same combination of colours and logos.”
However, a trip to Sydney where Tang saw the range of organic businesses thriving there, as well as a serendipitous rental opportunity in Sai Ying Pun led to the development of Locofama. “At the time, I was living in Sai Ying Pun and it wasn’t easy to eat healthily there. There was just Grassroots Pantry, which is vegetarian, and La Rôtisserie, where they have free-range chicken. At the same time, I was travelling a lot and found myself in this organic restaurant in Sydney that had an organic store attached to it. And I thought this would be a great idea for Hong Kong.” One day, walking down Fuk Sau Lane, Tang saw a ‘For Rent’ sign. On a whim, he called up the landlord, the rental price seemed decent and within two days he was the proud tenant of a space in a cul-de-sac. Two weeks later, the same landlord contacted him to see if he was interested in the space next door, and suddenly he had three units. The only thing left was to figure out what to do with the spaces.
“I just sat there for a few days, watching traffic and footfall. From the start, I didn’t want to compete with Grassroots. I wanted to work together with them to make the whole street into somewhere you went to get healthy food. They had the restaurant, and I figured a café and a store worked really synergistically with that.” After consulting with friends and chefs, they came up with the idea of fresh organic bites, ‘with a lot of variety so there’d be something for everyone’. Tang worked carefully though, developing the idea over five months behind opening. Since then, with a bit of help from his background in branding and marketing, he has turned Locofama into one of Hong Kong’s great eco-success stories. “Ultimately, all we really wanted was for more people to try organic food.”
This impetus to bring healthy food, with flavour, to Hong Kong was what led Tang to Sohofama. “We were looking for a space in Central, because we thought that anyone who’d trek all the way to Sai Ying Pun would already have tried us, and we wanted to reach out to more people.” A chance customer mentioning PMQ led to meetings, which led to G.O.D.. “I didn’t really want to go through the tender process for PMQ, but we went for some meetings anyway. We really got on though, and somehow they introduced us to G.O.D.. They had already submitted their tender but their F&B partner had dropped out, so they were looking for a new partner. We met with their management team and immediately we realised we had a good synergy, because their ethos is about promoting local culture and we’re intent on helping local farmers (that’s where the name comes from, by the way).”
From that point on, Tang says that it was true collaboration. Douglas Young, CEO of G.O.D. was involved at every level, from naming the dishes to plating the food, from mood board to design, even though the creative director on the project was long-term Locofama collaborator Thomas Sgambetterra. “It was really important for [Young] that this was an authentic Hong Kong experience. He really didn’t want some expat version of a Chinese restaurant.”
Sohofama’s hope is that their customers come away with something more than just a good meal. For example, the organic farm project on their terrace will provide guests with a hands-on look at what they’re eating.
But most importantly, Sohofama provides diners, especially local Hong Kongers, who might never have thought about organic food with a chance to experience it as something more than just ‘bland and vegetarian’. “It’s why we wanted Sohofama to be a Chinese restaurant really. For instance, my dad likes the beef at Locofama, but he won’t go for the pasta dishes,” explains Tang, “but he loves coming to Sohofama. And that means a lot to me.”
Address: G/F, Block A, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central District
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