Following waves that it made in China, cheese tea and bakery cafe Nayuki officially opened its first overseas store in Singapore’s VivoCity last Saturday (Dec 8) in partnership with BreadTalk Group.
The China-based cafe is renowned for its tantalising fruit tea and soft-euro bread pairing, and has opened nearly 200 stores in its hometown.
Its founders have created an empire based on sweet treats, but unbeknownst to many is the even sweeter story behind how Nayuki came to be.
Every end has a beginning
Co-founder Peng Xin’s entrepreneurial journey did not begin in the F&B industry.
Previously a director at an IT company in Shenzhen, Peng, who is in her early 30s, realised that it wasn’t what she wanted to spend the rest of her life doing.
Fascinated by the art of tea-drinking and how it became an integral part of the Chinese culture, Peng eventually resigned from her job, with a bold mission of starting her own tea business.
She spoke to mall managers and business owners, but even after four months, she was still unable to find support for her tea bakery concept.
The hard-nosed entrepreneur was unwilling to give up though. She continued seeking the right person who could help her develop the brand, and that’s when she met businessman Zhao Lin through a friend.
He turned out to be the right person in more ways than one.
Armed with 10 years of experience in the F&B and real estate industries, Zhao, who is in his late 30s, saw potential in Peng’s ideas. But tea was not the only thing they agreed on in that meeting.
“We clicked within the first two hours that we first met,” Peng told Business Insider in an email interview.
And just like that, romance brewed and they got married six months later.
“It took only a short while for him to propose, and naturally, I agreed,” she added.
The couple found a way to marry their passions, and eventually started Shenzhen Pindao Food & Beverage Management.
But that’s not the happy-ever-after in this story.
Fruits of labour
The co-founders initially received major objections when they spoke to people about starting a cafe which focused of pairing tea with bread.
“(We) even had a senior in the F&B industry warn us about pioneering the concept of pairing tea and bread, telling us that nobody had ever taken on the concept… and that most of our customers will choose to takeaway and not dine-in at our store,” Peng said.
“Having large physical stores for a tea brand was uncommon a few years back as most tea stores were located by the roadside, and the bigger spaces in malls were often reserved for coffee brands,” she added.
In the face of rejection, the business partners’ hopes were almost dashed. But they soldiered on.
The couple started by combining their resources, emptying their bank accounts and even mortgaged their home to start the business.
In 2015, they were running seven Nayuki stores. But by 2018, they had close to 200 stores across China.
In a span of three years, the couple has also grown their team to around 7,000 employees. Every Nayuki store is situated in top-notch shopping malls in first-tier cities, with an average space of 200 square metres. Each store generates an average monthly sale of RMB1 million (S$200,000).
The other half
Nayuki’s success shows that Peng and Zhao complement each other not only as a couple, but as business partners as well.
“He is truly my strong pillar of support in both my career and life,” she told Business Insider.
As Zhao is more experienced and has a better grasp of business-dealings, he handles the business operations, new store locations and operations and training. Peng manages the research and development (R&D) and brand development, leveraging on skills she picked up in her former career.
In fact, her experience working at an IT company has “majorly influenced” the development of the brand.
“I tend to apply the way I managed the digital world to my problem-solving (in F&B), in areas ranging from R&D to operations and marketing,” she said.
Her experience has also given her “unconventional ideas” such as the concept of selling tea paired with bread, she said.
Peng said: “I am in the lab with the R&D team every day, leading every product’s development. After multiple trials for the best match, I will analyse and record the data immediately.”
Oh, and she estimates that she probably drinks a dozen teas a day.
The “Asian hand”
The cafe prides itself on a young and modern concept, styled to keep China’s long-lived tea-drinking tradition vibrant and alive amongst the younger generation.
With a 60 per cent female customer base, Nayuki’s brand is marketed towards young women professionals.
As a result, special attention has been given to packaging. For instance, Nayuki’s research has resulted in the development of slender cups which provide a better grip “for the more delicate Asian hand”.
Even the design of lid-stoppers was thought through – a heart for women and a sun for men.
Nayuki’s bread and tea are also a healthier alternative to other F&B outlets.
“We noticed the rising popularity in healthy eating amongst the current generation, hence we chose to combine the European baking method of using less oil, less sugar and less salt, together with the Asian-style of prolonged fermentation period to achieve the soft, springy texture.
“Vegetables, fruits, nuts and various grains are added to impart different flavors and colors,” she said.
Expanding to Singapore
As Nayuki makes its first venture overseas, Peng said she hoped to be able to introduce new products and fun experiences to continually engage customers.
“We have been moving forward, launching new products faster than others, and are constantly reviewing and refining, launching a new product every month,” she added.
When asked why the founders chose to open its first overseas outlet in Singapore, Peng said: “We see a lot of potential in Singapore’s tea market, as it has the openness to accept new ideas, and has a huge market space.”
Practical reasons aside, Peng chose to venture into Singapore as wanted to spread the love for tea-drinking to the world, starting with Singapore.
“Being an advocate of the tea-drinking culture has always been my original intention… The entry of Nayuki into Singapore is a significant step in promoting tea culture.”
And she hopes customers can create a ripple effect and promote tea-drinking to the rest of the world.
“I began an unyielding pursuit of the best quality tea in China and across the globe… with the goal of making a spectacular tea-based beverage.
“This was in hopes that more people will start enjoying tea-drinking, and are willing to introduce this culture to the people around them and become ambassadors of this culture,” she said.
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