The net profits of fast food chain Cafe de Coral surged 12.02 per cent to HK$123.62 million in the six months to September 30, compared with last year, defying the economic downturn that has hurt so many other firms. Chairman Michael Chan Yue-kwong said the group would open 16 to 20 branches next year in Hong Kong to capture more business. But he said it would focus on developing its mass market during the economic downturn as there was more room for growth. 'We used to open more specialised restaurants like Spaghetti House. But we'll open more Cafe de Corals next year instead. The market for fast food is bigger with an increasing population from [factors such as] the influx of immigrants,' Mr Chan said. Spending per head in Cafe de Coral is about HK$25 while Spaghetti House is about HK$80. Mr Chan, who last week won the executive award of DHL/SCMP Business Awards 2001 said specialised restaurants such as Spaghetti House and Ah Yee Leng Tong, another group-operated restaurant, once posted double-digit increases in turnover, but this growth had slowed down. 'I think the market [for specialised restaurants] is saturated. We want to target more on the mass market,' he said. However, the group is considering opening Spaghetti House operations in China. Mr Chan said they were discussing the plan with partners in Beijing and expected the first store would be opened by the next financial year. Mr Chan said the group would spend about HK$50 million in expanding the scale of Manchu Wok, its business in the United States. The group would open more free-standing shops in California and Atlanta through mergers and acquisitions. 'We hope to open 20 to 30 units [of Manchu Wok] . . . we are aggressive in expansion as there are more investment opportunities [in North America] especially after the terrorist attacks of September 11. We have more choices,' he said. But Mr Chan said the group was always cautious on investment as it only considered projects that could bring return on assets of at least 20 per cent. The company has about HK$400 million cash on hand.