Sweet Success

by Anton D. Javier
Images courtesy of Janice Wong
10 Mar 2017

Chef Janice Wong, Singapore’s undisputed queen of desserts, is experiencing sweet success in two of the most mature food markets in Asia — Hong Kong and Tokyo. Here’s her secret.

A few months ago, while looking for the main entrance of NEWoMan, a commercial space in the heart of Shinjuku in Tokyo, I did a double take when I saw a familiar name on the sign of a yet-to-open establishment: Janice Wong Dessert Bar.

Despite the initial excitement of seeing a Singapore brand in Japan, I was not surprised that Janice Wong was opening an outpost in Tokyo—as well as COBO HOUSE by 2am: dessertbar in Hong Kong—given that she spent her formative years in both cities while her father was stationed there. But that’s not the only reason. “I decided to bring the brand to these places because they’re established markets with a strong food culture. In Hong Kong, they have a very ‘late night’ culture where they hang out and enjoy food and wine late at night. Meanwhile, Japan has a unique sweets culture that’s all its own. People there eat sweets early in the morning, and you don’t really find that elsewhere. These markets are also a little more sophisticated, and it was easy for them to understand what my brand is all about,” shares Janice.

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Timing was also a crucial factor for Janice, who insists that finding the right moment was as tantamount to figuring out how to position the brand. She says, “We have been in the business for almost a decade and have spent a good amount of time doing our lab works, as well as research and development. If we opened seven years ago, it probably wouldn’t have worked out. So the main reason for opening in foreign markets now is because we’ve come prepared.” And the most important lesson learned in the years of research? “Quality and standard are a given, but we also have to know how to adjust according to the market—in terms of palate and expectations. You can’t expect to bring the same dish from Singapore to Japan and expect it to immediately become a success.”

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All the years of hard work have paid off because, despite being open for only a few months, the establishments in Japan and Hong Kong are receiving rave reviews. Janice recalls, “There were no hesitations on my side. For me, it was always about working to achieve plan A. Just like any business owner, sure, a plan B was always there if things didn’t work out, but truthfully, I kept looking forward.”

In order to keep the momentum going, Janice surrounds herself with business partners who share her vision of uncompromised success—she regularly discusses plans for the brand in Singapore with one of her investors, Manoj Murjani, co-founder of TWG, while her business partners overseas ensure that operations are going smoothly when she’s not around to tackle both the creative and administrative sides of the business.

At a time where venturing into the F&B business has never been more alluring, Janice leaves those dreaming of a successful path in the industry with something to ponder on. “A short-term goal is easy, but you really have to plan about five years ahead. At the end of the day, what was important for me was building the brand—not building the restaurant.”