China and the World

Meet the MBA chef

DaDong’s Peking duck woos New York but its state-owned rival struggles


New Yorkers’s new love

Along with sweet and sour pork, roast Peking duck is one of the most well known of Chinese foods among foreign diners. Less known: more than 70% of the poultry used for the famous dish are Cherry Valley ducks bred by a British firm with the same name.

The original Peking ducks, introduced to Britain as early as the 1870s, had a high fat concentration and British breeders began to produce their own stocks. Founded in 1958, Cherry Valley Farms has succeeded in genetically improving the Peking ducks and producing ducklings which grow faster with less fat.

Even in China, the world’s biggest market for duck meat, Cherry Valley ducks account for over 80% of the supply. Such success, Economic Daily says, prompted a consortium led by the state conglomerate Citic Group to pay Rmb2 billion ($306 million) last year to acquire the Lincolnshire-based breeder, and its patents, so as to facilitate “the Peking ducks’ homecoming”.

More than 2.5 billion Cherry Valley ducks are sold every year in China. Indeed, only a few restaurants have insisted on using the original breed from Beijing to make their own roasted ducks. They include DaDong and Quanjude, Economic Daily reports, but in this respect the similarity ends for the two restaurants.

While Quanjude is a 154 year-old brand that was nationalised and still run by a state firm, DaDong, a more modern fine dining eatery, is a privately-run firm spun out from a former SOE.

According to Qiao Bao, a newspaper for overseas Chinese, DaDong was a restaurant founded by Wangfujing Department Store in 1985. It was privatised in 2002 with its general manager Dong Zhenxiang becoming DaDong’s chef and owner.

Born in 1961 and the son of a Peking duck chef, Dong is not only good at cooking but he also made a name for himself for being “the only Chinese chef with an MBA degree”. Having dinner at DaDong, along with visiting the Great Wall and Sanlitun (the Chinese capital’s answer to Lan Kwai Fong), has been hailed as the three must-do visits for foreign tourists to Beijing. The Michelin-starred chain has 13 outlets in China.

Encouraged by the popularity of DaDong’s roast duck among foreign diners, Dong decided to made a bold expansion: bringing his Chinese restaurant to midtown Manhattan (where he sources ducklings from Indiana). The first DaDong fine dining restaurant in New York was opened last month with a splash.

DaDong New York got more than 2,500 reservations inside two hours when it opened for bookings on October 11, the New York Times reported last month, and the place’s 440 seats are fully reserved until February. “The buzz about Manhattan’s DaDong, a palace devoted to the savoury Chinese treat, is already deafening,” a restaurant critic wrote on Bloomberg Pursuits.

The potential of the overseas market is not unknown to Quanjude either. The state-owned company had opened shop in Los Angeles in the early 1990s but the branch was closed after a few years. Since 2016, Xinhua said it has opened at least three outlets in Canada under the “QJD” brand.

Meanwhile, Quanjude has been trying to reinvent itself at home, but with limited success. For instance, the dining group launched a delivery service in 2016 to allow customers to order online. But the lossmaking trial was stopped in April last year. An attempt to expand into the ‘leisure food’ market, by selling mooncakes, has also failed to take off.

According to Investor Journal, the company’s share price hit a six-month high in November last year. But the announcement of disappointing third-quarter results, which pointed to stagnating profit growth this year, led the company’s market value to shrink nearly Rmb1 billion in one month. Its market cap stood at Rmb5.5 billion as of this week.“When it comes to traditional roast duck brands, most people would immediately think of Quanjude,” Investor Journal notes. “However, the company’s appeal to Chinese consumers has been on the wane in recent years.”

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