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Mad Dogs goes west to bask under Texas sun

MAD DOGS owner Laura McAllister has her sights set on Texas for her first pub outlet outside Hong Kong - but the plan has nothing to do with 1997 handover jitters.

Ms McAllister, 41, has spent the last month in San Antonio, where the British-style outlet is slated to open by the end of the year, according to Steven Lewis, projects manager for Mad Dogs International.

Mr Lewis said Ms McAllister had considered several Asian countries before deciding to expand to the United States.

'Assuming that San Antonio goes well, we'd love to open more in the States,' he said, adding that other American sites have yet to be selected.

'It's a market we understand. In Hong Kong, we are principally expat-oriented. Instead of being a niche retailer in an Asian market, you go somewhere like the States where the potential is enormous,' he said.

Ms McAllister's move abroad was prompted by market saturation in Hong Kong rather than by concern about the business climate in post-1997 Hong Kong, said Mr Lewis.

'There's only so far you can go in Hong Kong with a concept like ours before you reach saturation,' he said. '1997 is largely irrelevant.' San Antonio was chosen as Mad Dogs' first American outpost because it is the home of Ms McAllister's business partner, Belton Kleberg Johnson. Mr Johnson walked into Mad Dogs Kowloon on a visit to Hong Kong in January and, impressed by the decor and operation, asked to see the owner.

Mr Johnson owns the San Antonio Hyatt Hotel, where the pub will be located. It will have the same Victorian ambience as the Hong Kong pubs.

Some of the Asian cities considered - including Tokyo, Bangkok, Jakarta, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, Beijing and Shanghai - lacked suitable local partners or sites, said Mr Lewis.

Bureaucratic red tape made others unattractive, he added.

'There's nothing explicit, but to get anything done or approved, it's going to involve money under the table,' he said. 'We're not comfortable with that.' Ms McAllister opened the first Mad Dogs in Wyndham Street, Central, in 1984. That has since moved to nearby D'Aguilar Street.