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Fast food a long haul for Asian café

PERTH’S weather, childhood experiences and tragedy make an unlikely threesome, but they have combined to bring the city its most successful restaurant franchise story in 10 years.

The owner and manager of several Chinese-Thai restaurants in Adelaide, Ian Han sold out in 1995 to try his mixed Asian food venture in Perth, mainly because he preferred the weather to that of South Australia.

Opening the first Han’s Café in Murray Street, Mr Han found himself involved in a venture as unpredictable as those of his youth.

As a child, Mr Han helped out in his cousins’ restaurants in Cambodia and, when just 19, prepared meals for 2,500 refugees in a Thai border camp. Himself a refugee, Mr Han was the only surviving member of his family, but describes himself as “lucky” to have come to Australia.

Arriving in Adelaide, Mr Han first worked in laundry and dry-cleaning, to save the money for an Asian restaurant.

Now in Perth, with a history of restaurant successes in two Australian States, Mr Han still works 80-hour weeks, striving towards success in additional business ventures.

Hard work is one of the ingredients Mr Han lists as essential to the success of the burgeoning chain of Han’s Cafes, with the others being staff and chef training, attention to layout and design and a unique variety of fast food.

The popular fast food Oriental eateries may not remain exclusively dine-in, either, with Mr Han keen to try a drive-through outlet.

While Mr Han says this will not happen until there are 20 Han’s Cafes in Western Australia, with 13 already thriving and new ventures planned for Subiaco, Belmont and Joondalup this year, we may not be waiting long to sample a Laksa egg noodle on the run.

But that definitely won’t be with fries. Mr Han maintains part of his franchise success is due to Perth people wanting a change in fast food. Compared with a family food restaurant chain which has been forced to pull in its belt during the past three years, Mr Han says his menus offer more exciting food at a lower cost.

His workers also recognise opportunities within the Han approach. Personally trained by Mr Han and rewarded with weekly and monthly best performance bonuses, Han’s Café workers often approach their boss, keen to lease a new franchise from him. Many would-be franchise lessees are from the Cambodian community and, like Mr Han, have previously operated family businesses or franchises.

Mr Han says it would be futile to approach him without a capacity for hard work and a minimum $100, 000 on hand, but with more than 20 hand-picked locations available for new franchises, the hands-on director has plenty to offer.

Mr Han is definitely aiming at the fast food market, with franchises in shopping districts and near popular cinemas in Cannington, Fremantle, Leederville and Perth city.

Neither the locations nor the success have gone unnoticed by Australian retailing giant Westfield, which has approached Mr Han to set up his cafes in eastern states shopping centres containing cinema complexes.

“When I first started, I was thinking of all around Australia,” he said.

The personally owned and operated Carousel café already is achieving annual turnovers of between $1.5 million and $1.8 million.

Despite the success of the Han’s franchises, Catering Institute executive officer Vicki Mayell says she does not see general restaurant franchising as a trend for the industry.

Franchising only works for low-price and fast food type venues, Ms Mayell maintains, with most restaurateurs preferring to open a second outlet under a different name if wanting to expand.

"Perth’s size and the fact that the city already boasts the highest rate of restaurants per head also limits the number of different food franchises that can operate successfully in the market," she said.

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