January 20, 2014 5:00 pm JST

Wu's Gourmet Master serves punters faster

KAZUNARI YAMASHITA, Nikkei staff writer

Wu Cheng-Hsueh, chairman of Gourmet Master

TAIPEI -- Wu Cheng-Hsueh is a person of ideas. His Gourmet Master Co. operates a coffee shop chain, 85C Bakery Cafe, that has expanded all the way to the U.S.

     There, the chain is dubbed the "Starbucks of Taiwan." It offers cups of coffee for half the price of Starbucks, hoping customers spend the savings on pastries and other edibles.

     The cafes are small, and the business model aims for high customer turnover than its competitors.

     The low-price strategy, which is contrary to Starbucks' policy, was formulated by Wu, 45, the chairman and founder of Gourmet Master.

     Wu comes from a farming family in midwestern Taiwan. "I'm very fond of thinking about a new business," he said. After running a barber shop and a pizzeria, he opened his first coffee shop in 2004. "Our target is not corporate employees in a big city but ordinary people," Wu said. His chain has created a base of customers who would not visit Starbucks.

     Rapidly expanding its networks of shops, primarily in mainland China, the chain has about 750 cafes in five economies.

     Wu is touted as a rising young star in Taiwanese business circles. Taiwan's president, Ma Ying-jeou, even mentioned Wu's achievements in a speech.

     But these days, 85C Bakery Cafe's profits are falling, mainly because the Chinese economy's slowdown has decelerated the pace of shop openings.

     This year, Wu plans to take another tack: upgrade the cafes and make their interiors more luxurious. In addition, higher-price menu items are planned. Wu is giving himself a year to bring the entire chain upscale.