Jackie YUN

Cafe chain owner

About This Project

I’m the youngest of a big Cantonese family and very spoilt. The only way to become independent and grow up was to leave my comfortable Sydney life for a faraway place. In 1999, I enrolled in a one-year Chinese course in Shanghai, and have been here ever since.

 

In late 2001, I was offered a job to manage a café called Wagas, located in the Shanghai CBD. I saw an opportunity − to bring a piece of Sydney café culture to Shanghai. I became a partner in the business and today, we own/operate over 75 café/bakeries across 10 cities in China.

 

Running a western café in Shanghai in 2002 was vastly different to today. Back then up-selling a turkey sandwich with cranberry and (uncooked) salad to a Chinese customer was as easy as up-selling pickled chicken feet to an Aussie at a backyard BBQ! Our regular customers were really just the team from the Australian Consulate-General upstairs.

 

How to sell sandwiches to Chinese customers without compromising on the core product and how to operate a café in a developing city was both interesting and challenging. Learning on the fly, through trial and error was essential. And keeping a good sense of humour was, and is still, key. Understanding, accepting and respecting cultural differences was one of my earliest and most valuable lessons. It’s built into my daily compass and continues to help me navigate how to do business here, especially now we have expanded into other cities.

 

I remember clearly a Chinese shushu (uncle) who ranted at me for serving him un-cooked lettuce in a sandwich back in 2001. Today, Wagas has become a lifestyle brand for the growing middle class, where kale, quinoa and avocadoes are the norm.

Mum always taught me never to forget where we came from, or how things started. I feel very lucky and grateful for every opportunity this amazing country has given me. And to have helped influenced a healthier eating culture in China, is something we feel very proud to have pioneered. Oh, and the first Australian Flat White.

 

Jackie Yun is Co-owner and Managing Partner of Wagas Group.

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