PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 April, 2005, 12:00am

Cafe owner faces expansion blues

Anthony Au-yeung Chung-bong quit his job and spent most of his savings to take over a struggling cafe and bar. So far, he's been rewarded with strong business growth at Le Bleu in Lyndhurst Terrace in the heart of Central, but there are clouds on the horizon.

'I strongly believed the market could not be worse than the time during Sars,' he said, explaining his decision to buy the business.

'It has been my dream for a long time to own a cafe. As a matter of fact, it was a very good deal when I took over from the owner.'

The former assistant manager of a hi-fi company, who had no experience in catering before Le Bleu, said he tried hard to control costs in the first few months of doing business when the market was weak.

'For example, I would avoid waste from excessive ordering and carefully compare the price of ingredients,' he said.

He also extended trading hours to 1am on Friday and Saturday.

Le Bleu's business has grown strongly since the beginning of the year.

'Besides having more customers, people are ordering more. They order dessert or more expensive drinks,' he said.

His main concern now is rising business costs, including rent, wages and ingredients.

'The cost of ingredients has already increased by an average of 10 per cent so far this year. I also have to pay more to recruit staff to replace those who have left,' he said.

'On many occasions, my landlord has expressed his wish to increase the rent.

'I would like to move to a bigger place but rents in the neighbourhood have jumped between 20 and 60 per cent, making it very difficult.'

Mr Au-yeung also expressed concern that his business would be hit by the government's plan to ban smoking in all restaurants.