After almost two and half years of no seeing a profit, Colin Flahive and his business partner, Kris Ariel, have seen their business bounce back. Mikail Tosun, another local business owner, was surprised by his customers’ enthusiasm only weeks after he opened his Turkish cafe.
The Culture Alley in Kunming, the capital of southwest China’s Yunnan Province, is commonly known as the “foreigners’ street” for its exotic restaurants and cafes serving a variety of cuisines and thus attracting many foreigners, tourists, and nearby college students.
Flahive and Ariel both came to China to travel and have been in China for over 20 years. In 2004, fascinated by the mild temperature of Kunming, they moved their cafe, Salvador, named after the renowned artist, from the province’s Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture to Kunming.
Salvador is one of the oldest foreign-owned cafes in Kunming. With boutiques around it, the cafe became a hot spot within the tourist area.
However, the COVID-19 outbreak disrupted the business of the cafe. “In 2020, our order number was probably 30 to 40 percent less than expected, and in 2021, it was 15 to 25 percent less,” said Flahive.
Tosun came across similar issues, and his Turkish restaurant, which has been in operation longer than his cafe, only had half the number of customers than before the epidemic. For this reason, Tosun and his business partners had to come up with a new plan to revive their business.
Impressed by the diverse culture and cluster of cafes, Tosun decided to rent a store and started to make traditional Turkish coffee in June of this year.
“The customers’ reaction to our new cafe is surprising,” said Liu Yuehan, one of the cafe’s waiters.
“The cafe has been profitable since day one,” said Tosun.
Whenever customers order Turkish coffee, Tosun will stand at the storefront and brew the finely-ground beans in a cezve by using the sand-filled pan, and his special cooking method often attracts passersby.
Business in the restaurant has also benefited from the popularity of the cafe. Liu says there was a considerable increase in the salary of her colleagues at the Turkish restaurant.
“There is a huge market opportunity in Kunming because few people knew about Turkish coffee before,” said Tosun. “It’s one of the oldest coffee cultures in the world and I want to introduce it to the Chinese people.”
Flahive and Ariel’s restaurant saw an increase in sales, seeing profits grow for the first time in over two months.
“We even saw more customers than the same period of last year,” said Tong Zhihong, an employee at Salvador’s cafe.
With more customers, and business improving, Flahive and Ariel have been motivated to improve their service and food quality.
“When we first came to Yunnan, there were few western restaurants and cafes,” recalled Flahive. “But now similar restaurants are everywhere, which requires us to provide a better service for our customers.”
Now, with three restaurants under the same name along the Culture Alley, Ariel also hopes their employees can be better off as the business grows.
“I just hope that our staff will also reap the benefits and their quality of life will improve because they are like family,” said Ariel.
“I’m glad that I’m in Yunnan, this province which has a long history of coffee culture shares many similarities with my hometown,” said Tosun.