Upscale Sichuan Chain, South Beauty Has 50 Locations In China
In only 11 years, cook-turned-entrepreneur Zhang Lan has revolutionized Sichuan cuisine, and built a powerful culinary empire, with her ever-growing chain of South Beauty (俏江南) restaurants. Powered by Zhang’s aggressive style of branding and her son Wang Xiaofei’s European-influenced philosophies of food preparation and presentation, South Beauty currently operates around 50 restaurants in 15 Chinese cities, and looks to prove that Sichuan food can occupy the same upscale surroundings as French or Japanese cuisine.
Recently, Jing Daily analyst Betty Chen exchanged a Q&A with a South Beauty rep via email, covering the company’s positioning in the Chinese cuisine market and its plans for the future. (Translation from the original Chinese)
JD: Can you tell us about your customer base and target market?
SB: South Beauty mainly targets businesspeople, because they tend to pay more attention to the tastefulness of the environment and the atmosphere. We don’t only cater to the demands of businesspeople in terms of ambiance, food quality, price and service, but also in terms of location. We generally choose to open locations in “business districts” that are easily accessible to people working nearby. South Beauty restaurants are convenient for holding business dinners, but also offer an elegant dining environment in which white-collar workers can have lunch.
JD: You’ve said before that South Beauty sees itself as an “innovative” restaurant. In what sense do you feel you innovate?
SB: South Beauty tries to create new Chinese cuisine that pays attention to the experiences of sight, smell and taste. After being around so long, we’re well aware of the changing needs of Chinese diners. The period of simply trying to fill one’s stomach is gone. In the past, people might have asked why we spend money on Starbucks rather than just making coffee at home. Similarly, why go out to eat on Chinese New Year rather than cooking at home? In today’s society, people’s lifestyles have changed. No matter who you communicate with or what you’re trying to say, people will simply communicate differently in a more creative atmosphere. That’s one thing we try to foster with the environment of our restaurants.
JD: How do you see the current state of the high-end Chinese restaurant industry, in terms of your competition? What challenges have you come up against when marketing your brand?
SB: Any industry has challenges along with opportunities. Over the past decade, the Chinese restaurant industry has faced very intense competition. Many renowned restaurants have ended up to be short-lived. Also, recent food safety scares such as the cooking oil scandal and Sanlu milk powder scandal have had a negative impact on the catering industry. However, in the long run I think the industry has improved for the better as a result of these events.
JD: Many premium brands are expanding into second- and third-tier cities after gaining a foothold in top-tier cities. Are you pursuing a similar expansion strategy?
SB: South Beauty has long been in cities like Tianjin, Shenyang, Qingdao and others. We plan to continue to focus on the second-tier market.
JD: Some Chinese companies plan to expand into overseas markets after they get to a certain size within China. Have you considered expansion into international markets?
SB: South Beauty has no such plans at the moment. The most important thing for us is to lay a solid foundation in the domestic market. Plus, we’d encounter lots of new concerns if we were to open a restaurant in a foreign country. However, we do hope to bring authentic Chinese cuisine to people around the world at some point in the near future.