Mon, Feb 28, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Local chain rides the doughnut craze

By Jackie Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Huang Mei-chun, co-owner of the doughnut shop Tien Chiu Fang, sells fried confections in Taipei's Ximending district last week.

PHOTO: JULES QUARTLY, TAIPEI TIMES

Since the famed Japanese doughnut chain Mister Donut entered Taiwan late last year and created a nationwide sensation, most people -- even those who do not have a sweet tooth -- assume that it's the only place they can get delicious doughnuts.

But actually, one year before the imported business started to create a craze, local doughnut shop Tien Chiu Fang (甜久坊) started cashing in on people's love for the treat. Since then it has quickly expanded its turf by franchising.

"We have 15 branches in the greater Taipei area and a total of 70 nationwide," said Chang Chia-chien (張家健), the 30-year-old founder of the doughnut chain.

Tien Chiu Fang's first outlet was launched in September 2003 in Taipei's Ximending district, a magnet for the young who love trying novel things.

Everyday at 1:30pm, when its door open, a queue starts growing in front of the glass cabinet, where the steaming hot fried donuts are soon snatched away. Business always peaks after 4pm when people take some time off for a tea break, Chang said.

In contrast to the Japanese-style sweets sold at Mister Donut, Chang said his recipe is based on the traditional confection, with a crisp outer layer and chewy texture inside that richens the taste.

"The crispy part makes it even more tasty. The only drawback is that it's fried and therefore a bit greasy," said a woman surnamed Liao () as she waited in the queue.

Chang is proud of his golden crispy confection, which are sprinkled with white sugar.

"They require ten ingredients and special `fen hsin' flour (粉心麵粉) to make, not just normal flour," he said. He refused to disclose any further details on his secret formula.

A former salesman in traditional markets who used to hawk mushrooms and clothes, Chang said he's had rich experience on how to do business as customers are always attracted to "different but good quality" products. Applied to his doughnut world, that rule means providing different but delicious flavors.

After working with friends in southern Taiwan selling traditional doughnuts, he decided to explore the market in the north.

Following months of research and development, he and his wife Huang Mei-chun (黃美淳) opened their first shop in Taipei with milk crisp doughnuts as the trademark offering. Inside the cabinet are also 20 kinds of fried pastries stuffed with fillings including sesame, pudding mochi, apple pie and cheese.

With initial capital of nearly NT$400,000 (US$13,000) in the store, the Chang family broke even within two months. Now the shop sells an average of 1,000 doughnuts a day while its other outlets sell some 700 a day.

His sophisticated business sense is also reflected in the shop's logo, which was designed by the well-known cartoonist Chang Jung-kuei (張榮貴), creator of the popular character A-Kuei (阿貴). To protect this valuable property and ward off copycats, Chang has applied for copyright protection.

"Many customers said that wherever they go, they look for our sign to get donuts," he added.

Indeed, the small shop has quickly proliferated to cover 70 locations, most of which are run by couples. Now Chang is in charge of the business in the north, while his brother-in-law takes care of branches in central and southern Taiwan.

While Chang was being interviewed by the Taipei Times, a man in his 30s waited nearby to ask for information about franchising and tips on fulfilling his family's dream.

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