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We ask the business owners behind three of our neighbourhood's eateries — Black Garlic, Honbo and Roots — to share with us the inspirations, sweet moments and rocky roads of their entrepreneurial stories so far.

Michael Chan, founder of Honbo 

‘Before I started Honbo in 2017, I studied in Canada and then worked in America, where burgers are a big deal. When I first returned to Hong Kong, I couldn’t find a simple, classic American cheeseburger anywhere — that’s when I decided to open Honbo. I knew we had to use a potato bun and that we had to grind our beef fresh each day, since these are the two main ingredients of a burger. The thing about burgers is that the recipe for a great one is already out there, and it’s simple, but no one wants to put in the effort to get it right — and I was determined to put in the work.

First, it was the potato bun. The story behind the potato bun is that since there’s such an abundance of potatoes in the States, they have to be used for something! So bakers make mashed potato and mix it with flour to make bread. These make great burger buns because they give a subtle sweetness, and it synergises with French fries. We started to make potato buns ourselves, since we couldn’t find them in Hong Kong. The second thing we focused on is grinding our own beef, as most burger shops in Hong Kong use pre-ground beef. We don’t want that, because you never know what’s inside pre-ground beef, and the flavour profile is hard to adjust. So we started importing our own beef from Wisconsin. We butcher whole cuts of meat ourselves and then grind it fresh every day. And I guess the rest is history!

We’re still here — our five-year anniversary is coming up in March 2022, and I guess we’ve accomplished what we intended to: to bring a good, classic American cheeseburger to Hong Kong.’

Chris Cheung, co-founder of Black Garlic

‘My first venture in the F&B industry was a sandwich eatery, Bread & Beast. My goal was to promote a sandwich culture with a product that was unique to Hong Kong. After operating the brand for a couple of years, I came to realise that many of our lunch customers ate rice as their daily staple most days of the week. There are many variations of “sauce over rice”, but unfortunately, they mostly sacrifice nutrients for low price and convenience. So my co-founder Daisy and I set out to create a concept that would help office folks eat better by serving the type of food they identify as comfort food, but that’s made thoughtfully and well.

We came up with the name Black Garlic because it embodies the philosophy of everyday, ordinary ingredients that can turn into something amazing if you’re willing to give them time and love — both of which are rare to come by in urban life today. In order to re-create the original comfort food, we based our menu on age-old family recipes from all around Asia, hoping that it would evoke nostalgic memories, and also help our customers rediscover the simple delight of enjoying a lunchbox, like the way we used to when we were kids at school.’

Stephanie Wong, founder and executive chef of Roots Eatery 

‘If life is an adventure, I would sum up the start-up life as ten of them combined. The start-up life lifts you, it breaks you and if you persevere, you’re like the phoenix that emerges from the fire.

Did I know the full extent of this intense lifestyle before getting into it? Probably a little bit, but in no way was I actually aware of the waves of challenges that would keep coming. But I’m still here, and the love of sharing food, something that’s deeply personal to me, has kept me going — that, and the love for creating something from scratch and having that connect directly with people.

Roots opened in December 2018, and what has ensued over the three years since is pretty self-explanatory. There were a few particular moments that captured our hearts and gave us the energy to continue. During multiple lockdowns, when we were sometimes forced to close, regular clients kept coming back, kept calling and waited patiently until we reopened. We had no idea they constantly came looking for us until we saw them again and they expressed their relief that we were indeed still in business. We had no idea of the impact we had, and it was endearing to hear it directly from them. As much as we know our mission, those were the moments that gave everything meaning to continue and carry on doing what we love.’