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There are many pluses from moving to Hong Kong, not least of course that I am very close to the main travel retail action. Hainan is just a 90-minute flight away, Macau only a short ferry, hovercraft, or road journey. Or they will be once restrictions ease between here and the rest of China, hopefully in the not too distant future.
But even the COVID constraints cannot prevent another big plus – the chance to catch up with the very sizable travel retail community here. Ok, dinners are off the agenda at present (in-dining stops at 6pm) but that leaves plenty of time to meet for lunch or coffee and to catch up on how various individuals and companies are coping with the crisis and on how they see the months ahead.
Last week I had a very pleasant lunch with my long-time industry friend Luke Chang, now Vice President of China Duty Free International here in Hong Kong and Deputy General Manager Celine Qiu. Luke, Celine and the team are responsible for China Duty Free Group’s (CDFG) international development (including Hong Kong and Macau) and are doing an excellent job of it, currently of course under difficult market conditions. Driven by its remarkable success in Hainan, China Duty Free Group was the standout travel retail performer of 2020 and even better days lie ahead in 2021, at home and abroad.
I first worked with Luke way back in 2002 when my then start-up company partnered with CDFG and King Power Group in running the inaugural China Travel Retail Summit in Beijing. That unforgettable event was held at the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square and the Gala Dinner under the stars at the Great Wall of China. I remember both occasions as if they were yesterday and I can vouch that Luke, who seems ageless, is working every bit as diligently and professionally as he was way back then. He is a popular and much-respected figure in our industry and I am delighted to see how well his career has progressed over the past 18 years.
Speaking of King Power, yesterday I lunched with Antares Cheng, Group Managing Director and Founder of King Power Group (Hong Kong) and now also Chief Merchandising Officer at King Power International in Thailand. I have known Antares even longer than Luke. We met in Cannes in the 1990s when Doug Newhouse and I were working together at Duty-Free News International and Doug wrote (and I edited) a major report on the then young and fast-rising Hong Kong travel retailer.
Two and a half decades on, Antares is going stronger than ever, now heading a much-diversified group that embraces Chinese liquor, duty paid and duty free retail, inflight shopping, restaurants, bakeries, French wine, and fashion and accessories.
We dined at Antares’ brilliant Moon Thai restaurant in Sheung Wan (if you like great Thai food this is for you), together with my wife Yulim and King Power Group Marketing & Communications Director Karli Cheng and Operations Support Manager, the irrepressible Judy Yan. Karli is Antares’ daughter and besides the first-class job she does with King Power, she also has a young and unique business under her own wing.
It’s called Arte by Padaria and is the product of a passionate group of foodies and bakers who decided that the appreciation of cakes should not only be about the taste, but about the ‘tango’ between the taste bud and visual senses. You can see one of them below, just below I devoured most of it (top tip: if you get heartburn whenever you eat birthday cake, remove the candles).
Through some exquisite contemporary design and advanced techniques, Arte by Padaria turns the humble cake into a culinary and artistic masterpiece. Karli’s team can curate a cake for you based on a photo, a logo, a concept – heck, just about anything. Take a look at the photos below or Arte by Padaria’s Facebook and Instagram pages and you will see what I mean.
If you, like me, are living in Hong Kong and plan a special celebration that involves a gift, a feast, or simply just a self-indulgent craving for great cake, Arte by Padaria is for you. And after such a rotten year in 2020, it’s the perfect re-torte.