Mr. Bao - Sydney CBD
The customer demographic in any food business transforms with varying attitudes and lifestyle patterns of your target customer groups. Do people want to pay excessive prices for a working lunch hour? Does your customer actually have time to sit down and eat your food? Are they very strict with their diet and nutritional requirements? Does their mindset follow exactly when they utilise social media - instantaneous, exciting and easy to access? Do they want to queue up? Do your clients want their food orders prepared fresh after they order, instead of sitting on food warmers?
When you open your cafe or restaurant, your biggest liabilities and costs are in venue rentals and staff costs. How do you as a business owner ensure that your aimed for margins are kept rolling? There are only so many hours in a day when your paying customers are present to depart with their cash. How do you motivate any of your customers to return regularly to your business? You have regulations to comply with, quality of food to maintain and ensuring the set profit to cost ratio is always achieved. Cash flows are significant to pay providers, staff and the Government. The centre of a city is where thousands of your potential customers arrive by the train or bus load every business day.
Welcome to Mr. Bao, an interesting business model based on the key pillars of turnover, reputation and a simple menu. Using the soft white dough of a Taiwanese bun, they offer several variations of what to eat with these Gua Bao- whether it is Japanese karaage chicken, Chinese crackling pork, Aussie fried chicken or braised pork belly. Their offerings can be eaten under 5 minutes, on the run and serve just right for the middle of the day in a large city. They give the buns an appealing adjective - pillow soft. They have done their homework at various market stalls before committing to a physical site. You can see the boys and girls prepare the buns before your eyes - giving assuring transparency. They share their site at York street in Sydney with another two businesses, instead of carrying on the burden of rent for a full shop. They are near a popular bus stop.
Critics can bring up the fact that most Asian run food outlets are chock a block, have small spaces and at times likely to give rise to risky customer interfaces scenarios. The most important person on the ground in such businesses is the one taking the orders and money upfront. At Mr Bao, the staff are mostly Gen Y. They ask for your name like at Gloria Jeans, and the order slip then goes to the bun preparers. Now the food served does not take rocket science to dish out, as it reminds me of an Asian version of KFC or MacDonalds. Once a person gets going with putting the main ingredient inside each soft pillow, it becomes automatic, repetitive and perhaps boring to do so for so many hours. The idea is to push out as many dishes ordered as fast as possible. The challenge is to ensure quality in every one of the hundreds prepared each day. I saw an elderly woman staff controlling the issue of the fried stuff or braised pork - and if she is happy, things go well. When our orders did not come within the expected waiting time, it can be not nice, especially when you have to go back to the work place in a short time - and if you have to keep asking at the counter.
Aussie society still values the patience in lining up to order but expectations are raised after you have paid the money. The full menu is displayed on a small board on the wall. There is not much seating.
There are no clumsy soups to carry on take away. People are standing all scattered near the order line. There is a healthy level of background noise, not just from the Mr Bao outlet, but also from its neighbours sharing the joint and also from the street. So what was once sold by mobile vendors or in street markets back in Taiwan has entered inside the shop. I am reminded of the Vietnamese pork rolls going hipster as in Wollongong's Bakery Boys along lower Crown Street.
The owner-founders Angeline Lee and James Pham do understand their target market very well. They focus on their product, do not over complicate and aim for a quick process to satisfy the hunger of many people who do not want to spend much. I am also reminded of the Mamak model accordingly. James Pham's family has run a bakery in the thriving suburb of Cabramatta, south-west of Sydney city centre, for many years.
What James and Angeline has added value to the Bao is to introduce an array of pan Asian ideas to accompany the soft bun. Whether as obvious as crispy tofu, as well known as Singapore crab or as standard as tempura prawn, each offering comes in a petite size and with a yummy taste. My preference is for the crackling pork - I have yet to try their braised pork belly. Drink choices are limited but echoes the sentiment of the owners in not over indulging at this stage of the business.
Mr. Bao's buns can be found at Shop 3, 56 York Street, Sydney, in the block between adjacent King and Market Streets.
This York Street outlet is open on weekdays from 11am to 3pm (Thurdays and Fridays they are open till 9pm) and on Saturdays from 11am to 3pm.
They also maintain their presence at the Bondi Farmers Saturday markets from 9am to 1pm. These markets are sited at the Bondi Beach Public School at the northern end of Campbell Parade near the beach;
at the Brewery Yards Sunday markets from 10am to 4pm, at 28 Broadway, located opposite UTS in Central Park in Chippendale. Only on the first and third Sundays of each month.