HONG KONG – Keiji Kida glows with satisfaction whenever a customer savors his Japanese-style gelato.
“Thank you very much,” the 35-year-old entrepreneur beams while seeing his customers out of his ice-cream store in Wan Chai, a bustling commercial and residential district here.
“People in Hong Kong like the flavors of tofu, green tea, curry and rice, pumpkin and sweet potato,” Kida told Kyodo News.
Despite the fact that it originated in Japan, curry-flavored ice cream is not so popular there, according to Kida.
“But many people here try this flavor. Hong Kong people are perhaps more adventurous and like to try new things,” he said.
Having opened Kida Garden in mid-June, Kida never expected that the introduction of Japanese-style ice cream to Hong Kong would be such a hit.
But Kida began turning a profit from the second month of operation.
Some 700 customers visit his ice-cream parlor on a daily basis, with more than 1,000 visiting on Saturday and Sunday.
Kida spends hours making his products, sleeping just three hours a day in order to meet demand.
“On the first day of business, there were just a few customers although many people came to take a look. I was so shocked,” recalled Kida, who experienced many sleepless nights over his enterprise.
Operating under the motto of providing “natural, healthy and tasty” ice cream for his customers, the Nara Prefecture native firmly believes there is a business opportunity for him in Hong Kong.
“I have enjoyed eating ice cream since I was small. My Hong Kong business partner and I eyed the market here for gelato, which is popular in Japan,” Kida said.
Yet he did not know how to make ice cream when the business idea struck him two years ago.
Kida used to work for his Nara family business, which supplies restaurants with cooking gas.
In the 1990s, he started investing in the Japanese and mainland Chinese property sectors, chalking up handsome gains.
He said, however, that he was cheated out of his money by a friend’s father in Japan in 1998.
“Many friends left me after my business failed. That’s inconstancy of human relationships. I was very upset,” Kida said.
Having decided to link up with a Hong Kong business associate to open an ice-cream parlor in the former British colony, Kida began looking for a specialist school in Nara to learn how to make gelato.
His search was in vain, however, prompting him to seek a job at a hand-made ice-cream store.
Kida was turned down everywhere when prospective employers found out he was more than 30 years old.
“They didn’t want to hire a person who is ‘too old’ because there is seniority in the Japanese culture,” Kida claimed.
Despite these setbacks, Kida did not give up.
He finally came across a job advertisement placed by an established ice-cream store in Nagoya. He called up the manager there at once.
“The receiver stayed silent when I mentioned my age,” Kida said. “I begged the manager over the phone and succeeded in persuading her to grant me a job interview.”
During the interview, Kida told the manager, a woman in her late 40s, about his plan to open a shop overseas.
“She simply told me to work hard and learn diligently upon hearing that,” he said.
His first three months in Nagoya were tough.
“I thought of quitting several times,” he admitted.
After working for 10 months, Kida planned to go to Hong Kong to set up his new venture in March, with the Nagoya store having closed due to a corporate merger.
But the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome bludgeoned Hong Kong’s retail market, with many people shunning eateries and restaurants for fear of infection.
Kida and his Hong Kong partner decided to go ahead with their plan anyway, though at a slower pace than they originally planned.
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