In a city where bubble tea and gimmick eats dominate the local food industry, one man fearlessly goes against the grain with his ventures in health and wellness. More than four years ago, Locofama Group founder Larry Tang believed that Hong Kong needed a health revolution. Now, with restaurants Locofama (Sai Ying Pun) and Sohofama (PMQ) running strong, Larry’s hard work and entrepreneurial thinking have helped to build an ecosystem of wellness that thoughtfully engages everyone in the community, from farmer to foodie. We talked to Larry about everything under the sun, from his favourite dishes to Locofama Group’s plans for 2019.
You’ve proven through Locofama that comfort food can be healthy and hearty, so what is your favourite healthy reinterpretation of a dish so far?
It feels like you’re making me pick my favourite child. My all-time favourites are our rendition of Korean short rib served with lettuce leaves and our bolognese with organic egg on rice, which we make with grass-fed beef. But because I’ve been trying to cut down my consumption of red meat, I find myself going for the coconut organic chicken, which is a creamy braise served with spinach and quinoa.
With Sohofama offering Chinese comfort food, which dishes make you feel the most nostalgic?
You’re making me pick a favourite child again! Everything on the Sohofama menu means a lot to me because a lot of these items were created with my dad in my mind. When he had cancer, I did a lot of research on his treatment and eating plan, and this inspired the creation of Locofama. The problem is that my dad doesn’t consider pasta and salad comfort food. Before his illness, my dad used to make a lot of crab dishes, so I wanted to create dishes that reminded me of the food he loved. That said, the mud crab with sticky rice reminds me of him the most. By the way, he’s completely cancer free now!
Being a community-centric restaurant, what has Locofama planned for its community in 2019?
We’ve been doing a puppy adoption day every Sunday (which has now extended to adult dogs, senior dogs and even cats) for a few years now. On average, two or three dogs and one or two cats are adopted each time, so we will continue hosting this for the community.
On the restaurant side, we’re going more local on the menu at Locofama. We learned that people tend to choose where to eat based on a cuisine – like they’ll say, “I want Thai food, Vietnamese food” rather than a very general, “I want Asian food”. So this year at Locofama, we will be focusing more on local Hong Kong flavours in an atmosphere that is less of a café and more of a restaurant. We’ve gone full circle from starting as a restaurant to becoming a café, then transforming back into a restaurant.
And speaking of the community, can you tell us more about the farmers you work with to source produce? What has the experience been like basing your menu on seasonality in Hong Kong?
Locofama is actually a play on the words “local” and “farmer”, because indeed we work with local Hong Kong farmers. But “fama” in Spanish means fame, and through Locofama we wanted to put the spotlight on the farmers whose knowledge and skills have provided us with the good organic produce we use. Our sourcing manager, a biodiversity expert, locally sources our organic vegetables, however, he directly sources our organic seafood, meat and some fruit from farmers all over the world.
Seasonality has not been too challenging as we tend to adapt our menus to the season, aligned with the philosophy of Chinese medicine. As a healthy restaurant concept, balancing what customers want with what customers need is the challenging part. For example, wintertime is dry and cold, so during winter we serve herbal soups that are known to warm up the body. On the other hand, wintertime also happens to be hairy crab season, which is not necessarily the healthiest thing to have. We want to serve something that is delicious yet beneficial to our diners, and striking that balance is not always easy.
Can you share your top tips for achieving a healthy and balanced 2019? Are there any particular dishes or meals at Locofama that are great for kick-starting a healthy diet?
It’s hard to give a blanket solution because I believe that nutrition is very personal. At Locofama, we’re working on a couple new menus, including a ketogenic menu facilitated by a qualified nutritionist for people with diabetes and high blood pressure. He strongly believes that you can reverse these illnesses with this diet when it is done right. For me, I usually just eat less carbs and red meat, which is difficult because I do like my rice.
If there’s one message you want your diners to take away from Locofama and Sohofama, what is it?
Every dollar you spend goes to your future. Be conscious about what we eat and how it affects your future and that of the food industry and the environment.
Do you have any new ventures that people can look forward to this year?
The Locofama Group always had this vision of developing an ecosystem of wellness, so awhile back we put up an incubation programme and co-working kitchen, called Famas Kitchen, that hosts start-up F&B brands. This year, we want to help them to scale up through various projects, including a weekly subscription box service of organic goods and a food court that serves food that benefits the people of Hong Kong.
We also recently submitted a proposal to PMQ to host a night market out in the courtyard to serve local delicacies such as egg waffles. I think it would be a nice touch to PMQ for both locals and tourists alike.
How has social media affected the operations and food of Locofama and Sohofama over the years?
It was a huge part of Locofama at the beginning, because we did something right and our number of followers increased tremendously each day. Eventually, through social media, we made a lot of partnerships and joined fitness events and markets, and this resulted in many more followers. As a business, if you’re not on social media, you’re invisible. But it shouldn’t be everything. I personally believe in building a solid database and sustaining it with a loyalty programme. We plan to launch a newsletter this year because we want to reach all our followers.
Looking back at your journey from café in Sai Ying Pun to your current enterprise, what has been the most rewarding part of this whole experience?
The most rewarding thing was seeing this ecosystem of health and wellness take form. Back when I was in advertising, I’d travel to major cities and see how far behind Hong Kong was in the wellness scene. Nowadays, Hong Kong has a lot of wellness ventures. When we opened Sohofama, we had this personal desire to represent Hong Kong in Chinese cuisine, restaurant design and branding. That pushed us to develop a menu that was as healthy as it was tasty, develop a hip and trendy vibe with the interior and even have unique features like our hydroponic wall. We wanted to show tourists and locals alike that Hong Kongers are forward thinking. Looking around Hong Kong, seeing that there are more wellness entrepreneurs and big restaurants serving healthier food, I believe that our presence in this movement made a dream more of a reality for other business owners. That, in itself, feels rewarding.