by Chua, Alvin
Crystal Jade is one of the most prominent restaurant chains in Asia, with over 80 outlets across nine countries. It began as a Cantonese fine-dining restaurant in Singapore, and has since expanded its repertoire to include Teochew, Shanghainese, Hong Kong and Korean food, as well as a range of mid-priced restaurants, casual dining outlets and bakeries. Its various businesses are consolidated under Crystal Jade Culinary Concepts Holding. Ip Yiu Tung is the principal shareholder with a controlling interest in the company.
Crystal Jade’s first restaurant was established in 1991 at the Cairnhill Hotel and managed by Alfred Leung, who had come to Singapore from Hong Kong more than 20 years before. The 4,000-square foot restaurant did not do well, however, as it was located in a low-traffic area. In 1992, the restaurant encountered financial difficulties and sought investment. Leung brought in Ip Yiu Tung, his brother-in-law and the chairman of a clock-making and watch factory in Hong Kong. Ip invested S$2 million in the business and took a 49% share in Crystal Jade. There were a number of other partners in the business, including Leung with a 17% stake. At that time, Crystal Jade’s annual revenue was S$3.6 million.
Expansion in Singapore
Soon after, Crystal Jade closed the restaurant at Cairnhill Hotel and opened two new outlets in malls along Orchard Road - a more casual restaurant, Crystal Jade Kitchen, at Isetan Scotts; and a flagship restaurant, Crystal Jade Palace, at Ngee Ann City. The new restaurants quickly became known for quality cuisine and good service, and in 1998 the group expanded beyond its traditional Cantonese cuisine, opening Crystal Jade Shanghai Restaurant at the Great World City mall. This was followed by Crystal Jade Golden Palace (serving Teochew cuisine) and Hu Cui (Shanghainese cuisine) at the Paragon and Ngee Ann City malls.
The casual dining concept of Crystal Jade Kitchen proved to be popular, and by 2003 the group had 10 Kitchen outlets and five La Mian Xiao Long Bao eateries serving handmade noodles and dumplings. The casual outlets featured simpler décor and a more affordable menu compared to Crystal Jade’s fine dining restaurants, but retained the Crystal Jade reputation for quality. This allowed the group to grow while restraining restaurant management and opening costs.
In 2001, the group introduced Crystal Jade Cakery, a bakery featuring Hong Kong and Taiwanese-style bread and cakes. The bakery evolved into the Crystal Jade My Bread chain, and is the only facet of the group’s businesses that is available for franchising. In 2003, Crystal Jade registered a turnover of over S$100 million, having grown every year in the previous decade.
Crystal Jade opened its first restaurant overseas in November 1996, after being approached by the Legend Hotel Saigon in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The restaurant was not profitable initially but the group began turning a profit after two and a half years of losses. By 2004, the group had six overseas outlets, in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta. At the time, overseas operations represented some 20% of Crystal Jade’s revenue, and a S$7 million, 25,000-square foot restaurant in Beijing was its largest investment. The group later expanded into Seoul, Tokyo, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.
In 2009, Crystal Jade’s turnover was estimated to be around S$240 million, with around 4,000 staff worldwide. The Singapore market contributes around half of Crystal Jade’s revenues.
Crystal Jade maintains its cuisine and service quality levels by not stinting on its ingredients or staff. This focus on quality has meant that Crystal Jade operates on tight profit margins of between 5% to 6%.
Crystal Jade’s success came despite an initial aversion to publicity. The business regularly declined interviews and did not invite media to restaurant launches, with managing director Leung maintaining that Crystal Jade’s food should speak for itself. Some commentators linked this reticence to an incident in 1996, when the wife of one of the company’s partners was photographed parking in a lot reserved for the disabled in Ngee Ann City, creating a wave of negative publicity in the media.
Expansion is largely funded internally. While the company utilises banking credit lines, it is keen to avoid significant debt. Ip has espoused a philosophy of expanding when market conditions are right rather than for the sake of expansion. Largely because of this strategy, Ip has not publicly listed Crystal Jade or accepted investment from private equity sources despite being approached numerous times.
In 2003, the restaurant trade in Singapore and the Asian region was badly affected by the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus. The experience shaped Ip’s handling of the company during the global economic crisis of 2008/2009, when the company did not expand much due to the recession.
In June 2004, Alfred Leung left Crystal Jade, citing differences with group chairman Ip Yiu Tung. Leung’s wife Hera, and brothers Jimmy and Vincent, who held management roles in the group, also departed. Alfred started the Imperial Treasure restaurant group and later sold his minority stake in Crystal Jade, while Jimmy and Vincent founded the My Choice Chinese Cuisine restaurant. Ip took a more executive role in Crystal Jade, becoming managing director as well as group chairman. He reversed the no-publicity policy in the belief that engagement with the media was good exposure for the business.
Crystal Jade’s various restaurants have garnered many awards over the years, including being named in Singapore Tatler magazine’s Singapore’s Best Restaurants list, and Wine & Dine magazine’s Singapore’s Top Restaurants list. IS magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards named the Crystal Jade group their All-time Favourite Restaurant in 2007, and the AsiaOne Peoples’ Choice 2009 listed Crystal Jade Golden Palace top in the Chinese restaurant category.
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The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
Commerce and Industry>>Industries
Food industry and trade--Singapore
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