The merchandisers and fashion designers that frequent Sham Shui Po in Kowloon have a comfortable spot to chill out, grab a bite, and get that all-so-important caffeine fix!
Cafe Sausalito is the first independent coffee house to open in Kowloon’s gritty Sham Shui Po district.
The coffee house was opened in 2014 by Michael Tam, who was born in Hong Kong. At the age of 10, he emigrated to Northern California, where he finished primary school and attended junior and senior high school.
After graduating from secondary school, Michael majored in Management Science at the University of California at San Diego.
“Those were beautiful years,” he recalls over espresso at Café Sausalito on Tai Nan Street in Sham Shui Po on the Kowloon Peninsula in Hong Kong.
Michael’s first job was at a coffee house next to the Apple headquarters in Silicon Valley. His second job was at another coffee house run by an ex-V.P. of Apple.
Michael returned to Hong Kong in 2011 to help out with family projects, including the renovation of a residence, which took two years to complete.
“I had to learn interior design on the spot,” Michael says, adding that that included floor designs and 3D renderings.
When the project was finished, he decided to stay on in Hong Kong – for the time being, at least.
Tai Nan Street
Michael drove down Tai Nan Street in Sham Shui Po several times, noticing that it was pretty quiet on weekdays and empty on weekends.
The only exceptions were a couple of shops called Brothers Leathercraft, which taught people how to make belts, handbags, wallets, aprons, and other leather products.
Street fares started in late 2013, but eight times out of 10 attendees were told by members of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department to go home.
“There was a nice vibe on Tai Nan Street,” Michael thought. “We thought were was a party going on, but there was no place to hang out and have a nice cup of coffee.”
When the owners of a shop selling belt buckles at 201 Tai Nan retired in early 2014, the space became available. That’s when Michael decided to make his move.
“We came up with the concept in April, construction started in June, and we soft-opened in October,” Michael says.
“The grand opening was in November.”
Back up a few decades, and it was impossible to get a decent cup of coffee in Hong Kong – much less a place to sit down and enjoy it..
That started to change in 1993 when Thomas Neir of Seattle, Washington – legendary home of the Starbuck’s chain – opened the first Pacific Coffee Company (PCC) outlet on the ground floor of the Bank of America Tower in Central on Hong Kong Island.
There are now roughly 125 PCC outlets scattered about Hong Kong, Kowloon, and the New Territories. The chain has also expanded into China, Cyprus, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Starbuck’s only arrived on the scene in 2000 – after it had already invaded the China market.
What has changed in recent years is the increasing number of independent coffee houses, which are starting to pop up around Hong Kong.
As Café Sausalito illustrates, not all of these independent coffee houses are located in upscale commercial zones – or artsy-fartsy districts such as SoHo and Sheung Wan.
Hong Kong’s Next Hot Neighborhood?
Sham Shui Po was once home to hundreds of garment factories, which produced clothing and fashion accessories almost exclusively on an OEM basis.
Factories started moving north of the border to Guangdong province in the 1990s, but the shops in Sham Shui Po supplying fabrics and other items to them remain.
Is Sham Hui Po Hong Kong’s Next Hot Neighborhood?>>
“The fabric industry is not doing well,” Michael says.
“It’s getting slower each year.”
But merchandisers and fashion designers continue to prowl the gritty streets of Sham Shui Po. There are also frequent school trips of design students from Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore.
As the older generation of wholesalers retire and shop fronts become available, they are being replaced by young entrepreneurs with creative ideas.
They are more likely to engage in retail than wholesale, and they want to create their own brands rather than produce things on an OEM basis.
But the floodgates have yet to open. It’s still just a trickle.
“The fashion designers will remain,” Michael predicts.
“The wholesalers will remain. It will remain the garment district.”
But when asked if Sham Shui Po was Hong Kong’s next hot neighborhood – where SoHo was 20 years ago, Michael shrugs his shoulders.
“It could go both ways,” he says.
Cafe Sausalito, 201 Tai Nan Street, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Telephone: (852) 6305-1887. Restaurant Website: Cafe Sausalito.