Starting from Xi’an and Having Presence across China—Chinese Dietary Dream of South Korean Businesswoman Gun Gyu Hua


Exterior of BBQ Bibimbap Coffee Shop


Interior of BBQ Bibimbap Coffee Shop featuring unique decoration


Gun Gyu Hua

On the first floor of Servicemen Service Center shopping mall of Xiaozhai, a business district of Xi’an with much popularity, there is a coffee shop named BBQ Bibimbap Coffee. The shop, run by Gun Gyu Hua, a businesswoman from South Korea, sells not only nice coffee, but also simple snacks like bibimbap (mixed rice) and noodles with soybean paste, which together with the simple but classy ambience has attracted a large number of consumers. As to why she chooses Xi’an for her business base, Gun Gyu Hua said with confidence, “A South Korean as I am, I do hope to create in Xi’an a Chinese national brand that starts from Xi’an and has presence in China.”

Agreeable cultural characters made her choose Xi’an

Five years ago when instant rice grew rapidly in South Korea, attracted by the blue sea, the Gun Gyu Hua family who was engaged in international finance and trade decided to take the convenient and healthy food of South Korea to China.

“Due to low awareness and acceptance of instant rice of Chinese consumers, direct promotion did not produce the desired effect,” said Gun Gyu Hua in fluent mandarin. Then she got an idea: to open a restaurant where coffee and mixed rice would be served. In the gradual improvement of her business plan, she defined her shop as a venue where the traditional South Korean mixed price would be turned into a modern and healthy diet.

The key word for her shop is “tradition”, which has made her choose Xi’an out of a lot of candidate cities of China, because the features of the ancient capital city agree with the expectation of Gun Gyu Hua and what is more, Xi’an has not owned its own brands of foods that are well known. So in 2013, the 34-year-old Gun Gyu Hua came to Xi’an with her enthusiasm and the newly registered brand BBQ.   

In favor of Xi’an without regret despite difficulties

The first two years saw little progress in her business. She began her site selection with great expectation.

Positioning the shop as the provider of food and beverage, coffee and snacks that match the modern dietary culture, with health, sanitation, taste and nutrition highlighted to meet the needs of youths, Gun Gyu Hua decided to base the shop in Hi-tech Zone where there are many workers or Qujiang New District where there are many young visitors. After many rounds of checks, Gun Gyu Hua picked Qujiang New District in 2015 because it is not only a calling card of Xi’an in terms of culture and tourism, but also one of the favorite destinations for local residents and tourists. But to her surprise, no owners of large scale commercial complexes in the district were willing to lease space for her business due to the possible high risks caused by the new brand. “They would rather rent the space to other brands with better popularity, so the negotiation was very difficult, but it was not their fault, to be honest, the business environment of Xi’an was then on the conservative side,” said Gun Gyu Hua. 

It must be on the first floor, with street storefront, wide space…such harsh standard for site made the selection in suspension, which was the biggest headache for Gun Gyu Hua in doing business in Xi’an. She could not help sighing when recalling that period of time when she was rejected time and again by the owners of her desired space. She even shed tears in talks with friends, sighing, “Why am I denied a space even I have enough money to rent it?”

In her hesitant three years in Xi’an, she was advised by her friends to abandon the city and turn to other major cities in China such as Beijing, Guangzhou or Shanghai, where opportunities might abound. She returned to South Korea in 2015 frustrated, but she went back to Xi’an half a year later, to the surprise of others. 

As a good friend of Gun Gyu Hua, Wang Chunfang, the general agent of BBQ Bibimbap Coffee in Shaanxi Province, said that the reason for Gun Gyu Hua’s return to Xi’an was the willingness of Servicemen Service Center shopping mall to lease space to her, which kept alive her dream to do business here, and that the result is the BBQ Bibimbap Coffee that we see here today.

Keep improving for fulfilling a Chinese brand dream

From decoration to R&D, Gun Gyu Hua has got herself fully involved. In order to offer healthy foods, she spent 8 years doing research on ingredients, materials, flavors and tastes. The ingredients for food in her shop are all imported from Italy, New Zealand or other countries except vegetables. For a taste suitable all appetites, she kept inviting friends and guests for test eating and her efforts paid off with the delicacy featuring nice taste and little fat ultimately presented to us.

“What I intend is not a restaurant with a short life, but to build BBQ an exclusive brand of China as KFC or McDonald’s, which will go on for decades or centuries,” said Gun Gyu Hua, adding that in other countries 70% of restaurants are chain stores but the proportion in China is merely about 30% with a short life span, so she and her shop have to keep improving and making perfect. What she said turned out not to be empty words. In the preparation for the shop opening, she once had a whole wall dismantled and re-designed the next day when she noticed there were some rough points of the decoration.  

Apart from the surface design, she also pays much attention to the choice of food materials. In a visit made to the kitchen of BBQ yesterday, the journalist of this story found all the vegetables were in uniform length, all roots and stems of lettuce removed, even the vegetables with mark of folding “eliminated”, to ensure the freshness and pleasing look of each leaf of the vegetable in the service plates of customers.  

According to Gun Gyu Hua, the shop space with a total floor area of 160 square meters costs her RMB 800,000 yuan in rent and water and electricity bills and the investment for the restaurant has been up to 30 million yuan so far. Despite a lot of repeat customers attracted, expense is still higher than income. However, she remains to be as passionate as ever. “I am not expecting to make money from this but only to publicize the brand, so that everybody knows there is a brand of healthy food in Xi’an for their choice.”

Presented at exhibition with new high administrative efficiency felt

In the campaign “Blooming China Fascinating Xi’an” that was launched yesterday in Qujiang New District, the exhibition booth of BBQ caught the attention not only of visitors but that of Wang Yongkang, Secretary of Communist Party of China Xi’an Municipal Committee. 

“Many of my friends who have had meals at BBQ all accept the quality of the shop so they told me there was such a campaign for business promotion to see whether I was interested,” said Wang Chunfang. She also said that similar exhibitions earlier that contacted Gun Gyu Hua were all rejected with the saying “it is not the time”, and that this time she said yes with pleasure because after her work in Xi’an for two years she believes it is the time to introduce the brand to the public by promoting the philosophy of “three minute healthy food” on this platform.

On April 16, BBQ began its building of exhibition booth on receiving notice for attending exhibition. They denied the uniform booth layout offered by the organizer and “moved” their shop in a smaller size to Qujiang. Their hard work of several days paid off and the booth received positive responses from visitors, who made selfies and purchases one after another right there.

Gun Gyu Hua had her friend who comes from Ukraine to give service in the exhibition and that foreign face successfully drew the attention of Secretary Yongkang. Learning the painful story of BBQ in choosing site, he immediately asked the director of Qujiang New District Administrative Commission to exchange business cards with Gun Gyu Hua and reminded Gun that she should take care whether there was telephone number printed in the business card so that both sides can have easy communication. At 6pm yesterday, on contacting Gun Gyu Hua the commission in question proposed she could have cooperation in Great Tang All Day Mall and then extend her business to scenic spots and cultural projects in Qujiang. 

The work efficiency of the government deeply impressed Gun Gyu Hua, who sang her praise, “I am very grateful to Xi’an government for their attention. For past years I have worked alone, but now with the support and aid from the government, I am much confident about my shop.”

Rapid growth of Xi’an makes her confident about investment

“The few years I stay in Xi’an are the witness of the great changes here, the city has not only fast economic growth but also better environment,” said Gun Gyu Hua, who also added that the bad air quality haunted her when she just arrived and she can feel the good changes of air after the multiple measures taken by the government. As to the urban development, what strikes her most is the traffic, which has increased considerably from the few numbers of vehicles she saw on the roads of Qujiang, and the increase of vehicles reflects the progress of the city.  

It is the small and accumulated changes happening in Xi’an that make Gun Gyu Hua love the city deeply. According to her, BBQ in Xi’an is the Phase One of her investment and she will make the Phase Two investment of 300 million yuan to launch instant rice when general agents are up to a certain number in Xi’an and other cities. She said with confidence that despite strong preference of flour noodles by Shaanxi local people, they will become returned customers once they eat the instant rice; that because now 98% of the such materials used are imported goods, so for the Phase Three investment she hopes to get all materials and workmanship into China to establish a production base in Xi’an, which can reduce her cost and provide better materials to other restaurants; and that the last step or the ultimate goal of her is to make BBQ a national brand by forming an industrial chain which combines raw materials, ingredients and recipes.

As to a variety of possibilities in the future, Gun Gyu Hua said that the support from the local government has made her see the unlimited opportunities for the development of Xi’an; that she hopes to form a chain consisting of 2,000 stores across China starting from Xi’an; and that she has started her site selection work for such stores. “What interest me this time are Saga, Qujiang and Hi-tech Zone, and we hope to get what we want with the help of the government.”

[Source:Xi’an Evening News ]